After a two-year hiatus from the runway, Vera Wang returned on Tuesday in response to a pair of prompts. This year marks her 30th year in business, so the show made for something of a milestone marker (survival rather than celebration, she noted recently). And, as an officer of the CFDA board, Wang wanted to send a message of support at this moment of strategic transition for the organization and American fashion overall.

Given her recent focus on tailoring, here Wang introduced an oppositional element, in pursuit, she said backstage, of establishing “a tension between extreme structure and the softness and delicacy of lingerie.” She called the concept “layering to reveal.”

She also called it California Dreamin’ — a concept a little harder to grasp, unless she meant dreamin’ through a reverie of Goth, Victoriana and brothel chic. But what’s in a name? It’s not an overstatement to call this collection a masterful piece of work, its intensity heightened by the compelling minimalist set — a vast black box spliced by austere columns of white light.

Working mostly in black (yes, a shocker), Wang commingled the most delicate laces and tulles with mannish tweeds, austere wool suiting and a sash of chainmail. Often she punctuated the seductive combinations — sheer over sheer, over suiting, over skin — with dangling garters. And within this hyperfocused story, she offered a considerable range of great wardrobe pieces. While most of the clothes-buying universe will consider the expensive shorts runway-only, not so the power jackets in black wool with macramé sleeves or gray herringbone with elongated sleeves, or multiple takes on short dresses and skirts. Wang carried her in-pieces approach into evening, often treating exquisite gowns with a separates sensibility. As for ladies who take a purist approach to nights out — lose the shorts, add a slip, and good to go. (Something Vera could lose on the runway: the impossible shoes.)

Innerwear as outerwear is hardly a new concept. Its well-established position in the fashion vernacular makes the power of this collection all the more impressive. Wang is both practitioner and student not only of fashion but of clothes. She works obsessively on silhouette, construction and fit, even when the fit is intended to look haphazard, as was the case here, the careful consideration of each piece, each seam, each nuance, on full display. Beautiful, seriously designed clothes, presented with gutsy panache. Welcome back, Vera!

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