What follows is a recap of my modest Mercedes Benz Fashion Week experience. Far from a fashionista, I tend to dip my toes into this frenzied eight-day-or-so scene, rather than diving in and drowning. I respect quality designs and am confident my personal style is in step, but this subject doesn’t occupy my mind 24/7. Indulging in the art of clothing is a guilty pleasure, a hobby of the highest order, but there’s only so much strutting I can manage (even on the observing side). I made it to six shows (fewer than usual due to an absence of ambition), the highlights of which you’ll be briefed on below.
Bright and early Saturday morning at Lincoln Center’s Studio was Ruffian, which didn’t disappoint. To begin, models rocked Converse high tops, lending the looks a carefree flair, some sporty to complement the oft twee toile prints in (independently) pink, blue, and yellow on white. Pants, skirts, dresses, blouses, and blazers all received the delicate treatment, intricate imagery that, as it happens, was influenced by Brooklyn. In the program, the designers explain that they sought “to explore our love of couture within the context of Williamsburg,” the neighborhood they live in. How very hip (hipster?) Victorian, no?
A foil to girlie girls, tomboys also showed off overalls, a welcome contrast to ruffles, lace and other über-feminine details, which undeniably dominated. Cotton ticking stripes and silk iridescent brocade also made memorable impressions, applied in various forms, sometimes from head-to-toe. I was especially taken by a tailored metallic boucle crop jacket. At times precious, the collection proves not only eye-catching, but also super wearable. The entire line left me with a sense of sophisticated-meets-street. The tees and lingerie, too, were fun and flirty, respectively.
Speaking of lingerie, Victoria Bartlett unveiled her VPL (Visible Panty Line) SS13 styles at Pier 59 Studios in Chelsea later the same day. Loosely based on the theme of exertion, her vision was a bit more meta. Bartlett is adept at thinking outside the box, refusing to be pigeonholed, and her latest iteration is no exception. The look and feel this season was one of subdued elegance. Models breezed by in attire that achieved the effect of graceful athleticism, the ladies like Olympic nymphs, unsmiling but absolutely alluring.
From voluminous free-flowing floor-length skirts billowing with every stride, to midriff-bearing knits; from opaque anoraks to sheer onesies; from parachute harem pants to angular and often boxy tops and dresses, Bartlett introduced a number of nuanced silhouettes. Her aesthetic straddled masculine and feminine sensibilities with an evident tilt towards the latter, despite the sharp geometric cuts. Fabrics clung in all the right places when necessary, but deliberately draped and obscured definition at times, too, igniting our imaginations.
Something standard photos of the runway won’t adequately reveal is the movement of the garments, as well as the peek-a-boo backs a lot of the articles possess. Cutouts were all the rage, hinting at (or explicitly exposing) the human canvas beneath the cloth covering. The color scheme stuck to a specific palette, highlighting bright oranges and yellows, mint and lime greens, and powder pink in addition to more monochromatic black, tan, gray and white. Bartlett also got girlie with sequins, distressed and otherwise, offering still more evidence that the woman within wins out. In sum, Bartlett’s forthcoming collection is remarkably strong.
Classic beauties sashayed along Reem Acra’s Lincoln Center Stage runway Monday afternoon, tresses swept into sleek ponytails, lips cherry red. It’s been ages since I last attended one of her shows and I forgot how magical they can be. Embellished and beautiful, this season she pared down her great big gowns, opting instead to introduce a few fairytale looks at the very end. I was pleased as I was partial to the edgy daywear, though I’ve no doubt I’m in the minority. (However, I caught up with stylist to the stars Robert Verdi at the end and he agreed, referencing the pervasive “Glenda the good witch trend” he’d been encountering all over NYFW.) Not to say those eveningwear wonders weren’t magnetic!
Acra’s openers were winning, featuring several sharp looks that could easily enable ladies to slip seamlessly from day to night without missing a beat. The motifs that stood out to me were sexy suiting, a tire-tread laser-cut pattern, an appreciation for varied necklines (bowed, peter pan, plunging, strapless, etc.), cutouts running from armpit to ankle (or knee), and navy, ivory, vermillion, and green. Despite taking cues from “Aaron Young’s famous series of motorcycle inspired works,” per the program, everything was fiercely feminine with an emphasis on fierce. Drenched in attitude, the everywoman could conquer the world in these spectacular pieces. Beyond silk, she did indeed hark back to testosterone with the incorporation of leather. Best in show? I fell for the two fil coupe dresses, as well as the midnight navy silk satin bomber jacket. Overall, it was a show worthy of the goddesses. A sheer success in my book.
On the topic of sheer, Milly by Michelle Smith didn’t shy away from mesh when she presented Wednesday afternoon also at the Stage. A departure from past presentations, SS13 sees her Upper East Side prep aesthetic receive a seductive-meets-sportswear overhaul. Cool (in both personality and tonality) the palette consists of black, optic white, silver and neon-meets-pastel coral, mentino, lapis and citron. Reflective tape accents add to the icy but mesmerizing modernity. Far from stark, however, the futuristic-looking line has heart.
According to Smith, with whom I spoke post-show, “I started off thinking about surrealism. I took a trip to Brussels and went to the Magritte Museum. Then, I spent time in Spain and the friends I was staying with had drawings by Dali. [Surrealism] was stewing in the back of my mind and I thought about what [the Surrealists] would be like today.” She added, “The use of reflection and a lot of the prints were reminiscent of dreams.” For instance, the digital smoke print, which she employs in two of her 42 looks.
So, there you have it, she re-imagined an art movement and applied it to her wares. Akin to VPL, she also showcased opaque anoraks (and transparent ponchos). This see-through idea sprang up amid the ample mesh she incorporated, as sleeves mainly, but also as tops to shirts and dresses. Bows were nowhere to be found this go around, ladylike qualities paid homage via heavy contour hugging. Belts were big, because bringing it in at the waist never goes out of style, even for the hypothetical Surrealists of 2012 (2013?). Maybe most fabulous, though it’s tough to pinpoint, were the black laser-cut chiffon on mesh racerback dress (with an eye-catching pop of neon green) and the silver reflective tech nylon cascade corset dress paired with the white power mesh elbow sleeve tee. As P’Trique would say, #TotesAmaze!
While Smith focused on the future, Anna Sui glanced at the past. The foremost eras rearing their heads at Lincoln Center’s Theater early Wednesday evening were, to my mind, punk and grunge. Leopard print partnered with black fishnets (often heavily holed), clashing patterns like floral and flannel/plaid, floral gone noir with black background worn with black lace cutoff tights, pants beneath dresses and so on. Sitting in my seat, my memory would whoosh back to the nineties TV show My So-Called Life, my eyes searching the front row for Jordan Catalano.
Here we witness sheer again, but black rather than white (hello, it’s Anna, the dark angel), as well as jumpsuits and jacquard and jarty parties (oh my!). Karlie Kloss herself strolled down the aisle in a full on Indigo Denim Dress with Baroque Pearl Beading. Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan. Several ensembles shined, like her Black Neoprene Motorcycle Jacket, Black Arabesque Lace Dress with Stripe Lining, Black Tulle Petticoat, and Black Neoprene Leggings. Though it isn’t something I would wear, it’s visually compelling. It works. On the whole, I wasn’t terribly moved by the collection. I want to fawn over it like many a critic did but I found it revisited fashion statements that should never have been made in the first place. Sui is owed a round of applause, however, for her use of faux leather as opposed to genuine animal hides. That’s always admirable in my book.
Of them all, I’m most apt to be seen sporting Milly, but I fantasize about Ruffian and Acra. VPL was something special, too, though less suitable to a frame like mine. Mad props to Bartlett for giving guests a great gift bag, which, in addition to containing nail polish from my favorite beauty brand, Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics, included a heart-shaped anti-fur pin courtesy of the Humane Society. Kudos to VPL and co. for drawing attention to this significant but often overlooked issue.