Was it just a quirk of the season or is American fashion experiencing a Golden Age?
A whole lot of fabulous paraded across the runways of New York (and one distant L.A. outpost), clothes not only engaging in the moment, but with hindsight, an impressive feat at the end of another endless run of shows. To wit, many of the season’s best happened Stateside.
That’s on the brand level. On the consumer level, the American market, only recently considered a frumpy, mature second-best doyenne to those exciting glamoramas of developing capitalism, has regained its stature. Now, the great European luxury houses are again enamored with the U.S., and happily demonstrative with their affections. They’re upgrading stores and making client connections. By next month, the tony itinerants will have come calling thrice in 16 months: Chanel with its 2013 Métiers d’Art show in Dallas and its recent redo of the collection’s Salzburg show at the Park Avenue Armory in New York; in May, Louis Vuitton will show cruise in Palm Springs, Calif., a fashion honor even for a second-choice port of call (Vuitton scrapped plans for Seoul, perhaps rather than follow Chanel, which got on that city’s calendar first), and even if Dior, its LVMH sister powerhouse, scrapped long-standing plans for Los Angeles in favor of Saint Moritz.
In her own outward display of affection, Miuccia Prada chose New York as one of three locations for the latest installment of her Iconoclasts series, featuring the fanciful work of Michael Wilkinson and Tim Martin in her SoHo flagship.
Back to the runway: In an accidental expression of chic consistency, most of the American majors—both established and new—had stellar shows. Except for Ralph Lauren—he had two. At Polo, 62 models assembled for a spirited display of power wrapped in youthful charm and diverse fashion intended to debunk a common old misconception.
“I get stereotyped,” Lauren said. “It’s not all preppy.” For his own line, he spun a glorious sweater story (with a dash of Robert Altman’s Southwest) from luxed-up materials, often playing fanciful against plain.
Then there were the LVMH Americans—fashion is global, non? With her house in transition in terms of structure and reporting channels, Donna Karan showed a blockbuster, her best collection in years: an urbane, elegant lineup in black and gold that celebrated NYC while pushing forward with sartorial panache. Marc Jacobs, his house also in change’s throes under new chief executive Sebastian Suhl, did what he loves—unapologetic fashion, replete with sweeping, moody silhouettes, lavish adornments and a point to prove.
“We’ve been criticized for flipping 180 degrees,” Jacobs said, referring to the shift from his undone, cartoon military motif of spring. “But in the manner of the late, great, Mrs. Vreeland [the set featured painted renderings of her famous red living room], that’s what fashion is: You love it till you hate it; you hate it till you love it.” A good line, though it’s tough to imagine ever hating the mannish, jewel-adorned coats, staid sheaths shushed up with sequined stripes or the fur drapes, faced in deep-hued, embroidered brocades.
Michael Kors went lavish to more pragmatic effect.
“How do you wear opulent on a regular basis?” he mused. He figured it out, working the oxymoron of opulent restraint into a symphony of style: sweaters with deep fur cuffs, mixed men’s wear tweeds under lush stoles, jewel-encrusted pajamas.
Inspired by abstract expressionism, Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough’s Proenza Schouler escalated quickly from relative simplicity into an intense, fiercely decorated tribal reverie. Conversely, Narciso Rodriguez distilled an unlikely inspiration—Maharajah adornment—into his minimalist vision.
Vera Wang and Alexander Wang (no relation, though she often jokes that she’s his fashion aunt) showed two sides of darkness: hers, beautifully severe and tinged with grown-up Goth and references from street, sport, boudoir and Eighties Japanese; his, sophisticated cuts delivered with heavy metal attitude. Thom Browne was perhaps darkest of all, and suffice to say death became her. His signature theatricality becomes him, inserting a weird, well-produced presentation into the New York calendar.
Among the new majors, in addition to Wang, Jason Wu displayed increasing comfort with the mantle he has assumed, consciously or otherwise, that of smart American sportswear. Joseph Altuzarra evoked Swans (Truman Capote’s kind) and dandies, showing froth and flannel in concert and with kinky boots in a gorgeous exploration of sensuality and “the performative aspects of dressing.”
Then there were the cool contemporizes—the guys of Rag & Bone and Public School; the guy and girl of Opening Ceremony; Hood by Air’s Shayne Oliver. One can argue reasonably that they’re cooler than their clothes, but all in their way have struck a resonant chord that is impacting fashion significantly, and drawing attention to this American moment.
Punctuating the week, American fashion’s most glamorous expat, Tom Ford, returned home determined to trump the Oscars in their Sunday/Monday media monopoly. Two nights before the awards, he showed a site-specific, L.A. boho collection, inspired by his friend Lisa Eisner “although a lot of Carine, as well.”
Whether, given his London base, Ford can be really considered a part of American fashion—a technicality, and who cares? His sojourn west—in front of the season’s most undeniably glamorous crowd including Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Jay Z, Miley Cyrus, Gwyneth Paltrow and nominees Reese Witherspoon and eventual winner Julianne Moore—points to the growing credibility of Los Angeles as a burgeoning fashion mecca of international interest.
In aggregate, American fashion is on a role. Michael Kors remains a model of long-term, nose-to-the-grindstone mega success. Kering’s investment in Altuzarra and employment of Alex Wang at Balenciaga (for which, in my opinion, he presented a far better show than many credited him with) indicates the international appeal of young U.S.-based talent. Most importantly, there’s this quite special fashion season, when so many of the major names performed at their peak, resulting in a dazzling American fashion moment. May it continue.