“Look like th’ innocent flower. But be the serpent under’t.”
Joseph Altuzarra got it half right — his invocation of Lady Macbeth, that is. His collection was spectacular, though wanting of innocent flower types.
Contrary to the Lady’s counsel, Altuzarra’s women seldom feign innocence: certainly not here, in a dazzling display that had the high style and subliminal badass-ness of epic TV. Transport “The Tudors” to the here-and-now, and Altuzarra’s ladies could storm the screen. There’s a word for that kind of gripping sartorial storytelling. It’s. Fashion.
Altuzarra was inspired by the stern-looking gals of Renaissance portraiture (all steely, no-nonsense glares atop those stiffened neck ruffs), which he started looking at on a whim. “I became interested in the costume and the mood,” he said during a preview. I wanted to explore a tension, having the richness and rigor of those portraits but also the more real aspect as well.” And a soupcon of his Parisian upbringing, specifically, a movie called “Life Is a Long, Tranquil River,” which, he said, sounds better in French. The connection between the 1988 film, his upbringing, and the 15th century? Headbands, apparently very Seventh Arrondissement.
The results soared. Altuzarra worked tropes derived from Elizabethan regalia — round-shouldered tailoring, breastplate constructions, lavish collars, period-derived jacquards and embroideries — against grittier elements achieving the desired rigor while telegraphing the subtle fetishistic sensuality that pulses through his work. His Elizabethans are the stylistic descendants of the courtly power brokers for whom negotiating sexual politics was all in a day’s treachery.
They dressed for success and high interest: a sheath with corset lacing over an argyle sweater; short coat with big, mismatched toggle closures; tricked-out red peplum sweater over biker pants. There were sleek tailored suits, languid velvets and intricately fashioned knits. And there was ample decoration, as Altuzarra lavished the clothes variously with studs, pearls or intense embroideries, or fastened with wide satin bows.
The clunky footwear heightened — but didn’t create — the collection’s currency. For all its decorative flourish, the prevailing mood was one of strong, unfussy glamour. Whether sleepwalking or wide awake, Lady Macbeth couldn’t have conjured chicer she-serpents.