Ready To Wear: My Fashion Week Rundown

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.

The Full Fashion Report: Thakoon, Wang, Mandy Coon, & More

Only during Fashion Week do you see industry folk bright-eyed and dressed to the nines on sub-zero, it’s-so-early-it’s-still-dark-out weekend mornings — all in spite of hard-partying the night before. You can catch them dashing like trained athletes between shows at Lincoln Center, Milk Studios, and various other obscure venues for hours on end, fueled by copious amounts of caffeinated beverages (sometimes spiked – I mean, who’s really that chipper in the am?).

It’s all for good reason, though, since some of the most hotly anticipated FW11 collections showed on Saturday and Sunday, like Alex Wang (see the show recap here) and Thakoon. But in case you couldn’t bear to give up your sacred R&R for 48 hours of fashionable mayhem, me and my fleece-lined tights (they’re lifesavers, trust me) were there to brave all the shows, parties, and eerie doll encounters for you.

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Rachel Antonoff Stages the High School Dance We Always Wanted When someone invites you to a party that’s meant to remind you of being a teenager, your first instinct might be to cringe. Admittedly, I winced a few times before RSVPing, but only because I was jealous of the girls that have Rachel Antonoff in their lives to make them look way cooler in high school than I ever did. But unlike the lunch table-isolating mean girls from yesteryear, the designer filled her presentation in the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School gym with happy, cool kids that just really like to dance. And she covered every last detail to make it as authentic as possible, from puppy love slow dancers (inspired by a still from Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides), to shy students observing from the bleachers, to a live chick band – all dressed in Antonoff’s whimsy-prep collection. This has to be one of my favorite themes for a presentation yet.

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Alexa Chung (who’s good friends with the designer) and two adorable looks from the collection.

The band couldn’t have been a better fit for Antonoff’s retro theme: The Like. The ’60s-inspired pop band, who performed playful tunes that got even the most straight-faced editors tapping their feet, includes the designer’s friend and the face of her recent footwear collab with Bass, Tennessee Williams. Here’s a moment I really liked:

Mandy Coon Dresses the Futuristic Globetrotter Next up was Mandy Coon at Lincoln Center. It was a looping presentation like last year, so new guests were able to see the complete collection at various times. And each time, French singer and composer Émilie Simon was behind the piano, performing the same beautifully haunting song, causing me to stick around for a few encores. Just as captivating were Coon’s highly-structural designs, which reminded me of some kind of nouveau crusader, complete with outerwear for the sequel to Blade Runner that I really wish was happening.

image A corseted leather tank, a jacket for the hard-edged Eskimo, and a tie-dye-to-die-for maxi dress.

image As proven by last season’s vivid splashes of print, Coon has an eye for introducing color in creative ways. Here, she adds a burst of unexpected hot pink to an otherwise muted color palette – a major theme for FW11.

Charlotte Ronson Throws it Back Again No one does recent retro like Charlotte Ronson. Last season was straight out of an episode of My So-Called Life, and this season edges into the same ’90s territory, but with a dash of inspiration from the ’60s. In addition to flowers, plaid, and holey tights (sometimes found all in one look), the designer introduced a collection of oversized angora knits that would blend right in at any vintage store. Another throwback I was delighted to see was Irina Lazareanu’s return to the runway for two looks, even linking arms with Ronson’s half-sister and nightlife fixture, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, during the end parade. The designer again commissioned her twin sister, Samantha, to direct the music for the show, which started with a tune by Adele.

image Irina’s finale look—and I spy a Man Repeller!

Belve and Baubles with Bijules Although I was spent by the end of Saturday, I couldn’t miss BlackBook friend and fierce jewelry designer Jules Kim’s presentation at Gramercy Park Hotel. Her latest line of fine jewelry pieces, called “The Seize Kind,” were circulated throughout the event (more party atmosphere than presentation) on silver platters held by suited men. From single ear pieces to edgy-elegant pendants, designer Jules Kim delivered another collection of covetable accessories. Combined with an open Belvedere Vodka bar and a packed after-after-party at Rose Bar downstairs, I couldn’t think of a better way to unwind after a marathon day of shows.

image Kim and some of her designs.

Art Imitating Life at VPL Sunday morning started with a trip to Chelsea Piers to see the always innovative Victoria Bartlett’s latest effort. The collection was inspired both by progressive artists Piero Manzoni and Joseph Beuys, and by the human form, evident in her stretch-and-constrict designs that shift with the body’s motion. For fall, the VPL girl is wearing layers upon layers, wrapped in a plethora of textures in a range of neutrals and well-chosen hues like vivid orange and bordeaux. As each look came down the runway, myself and everyone around me was quite and focused—as if we really were at a sculpture exhibit. We all started to clap as the music faded and the lights dimmed out, until suddenly the loud beat returned, the room went bright, and out walked an army of latex-clad models in classic VPL cutout bathing suits, culminating with a primitive finale piece that was a nod to her interest in evolution.

image Layers, suspension, latex, and a furry close to VPL.

Timeless Thakoon at the Historic Plaza Although Sunday night was jam-packed with NYFW events all over the city, there’s no doubt that Thakoon was not to be missed. As I entered The Plaza Hotel for the show, I felt the history within those walls. After all, it’s one of two hotels considered a National Historic Landmark (the other is Waldorf-Astoria), and it’s where The Beatles stayed during their first visit to the U.S. As a designer with a deep respect for the past, it makes sense that Thakoon Panichgul would select such a venue for his show, which drew an equally historic crowd of fashion influencers, there to witness Panichgul’s designs.

image This collection felt very Baroque for its more regal details, but also had a cultural feel, especially with this yellow bustle skirt in an eye-popping floral batik print.

image There was also some heavy pattern-clashing, mixing stripes with plaid or paisley printed separates—or even more stripes. Cigarette pants were also a big focus for him, which just might be the next pant style designers will start experimenting with.

image And then there were Thakoon’s signature ultra-feminine dresses, like this delicately innovative silk taffeta tie-waist style.

Katie Gallagher Designs Life-Sized Voodoo Dolls Katie Gallagher has been a designer to watch for quite some time, due to her limitless creativity and no-boundaries design approach. Held at Milk Studios, her latest collection is called “Gris-Gris,” after the tiny doll charms meant to ward off evil in Voodoo culture. And her models definitely looked the part. In haunting eye makeup and witch-like hair, the mood was dark and a little scary, though the actual designs were beautiful. Gallagher’s signature leggings were back, sliced and diced in various styles in shades of grey, black, and nude, with an expected pop of color—another example of the season’s trend. I can only describe the collection, with its capes, cloaks, and tunics in moveable fabrics, as sporty witchwear.

image The voodoo dolls in action, which most guests were too afraid to look in the eyes.

Ken Doll’s Great Dream Date Debate My second encounter with life-sized dolls occurred at Christie’s auction house, which was quite a contrast from the doll situation earlier. In an event hosted by Mattel, Ken’s “Dream Date” party was part of the big PR push the brand’s been focused on as of late, themed around Ken’s desperate attempt to win Barbie back by reviving his wardrobe. All I can say is: It’s about freakin’ time, Ken! I mean, have you even seen the range of looks Barbie attempts while you’ve been wearing those same damn Hawaiian print board shorts? Believe it or not, the event drew a massive crowd of supporters thoroughly concerned with Ken’s heartfelt dilemma—or they just really liked the idea of Christie’s, free drinks, cupcakes, and music by Paul Sevigny. Either way, it was a perfect ending to my fantastic two-day NYFW bender.

image Designers like Billy Reid, Nicholas K, and Simon Spurr were commissioned to dress the new Ken doll for his big night.

image Ken can learn a thing or two from the always-dapper DJ Paul Sevigny. When in doubt, just throw on a suit and dance.

New Year’s Looks for the Legging Lady

For those of you who decide to opt out of the popular New Year’s dress this year, shimmery leggings are a great alternative. This is the first year where there’s a real array of festive leggings to choose from. We can thank the ever growing sparkle/sequin trend for giving us a viable alternative to dealing with a dress. Let’s face it, dresses can be a little annoying. Especially if we are reeeally trying to have a good time. So if you want to get the celebratory look without sacrificing comfort, go for a pair of sparkly leggings! Like these ABS by Allen Schwartz Allover Sequin Leggings, $85.

Young Fabulous & Broke Adele Leggings, $157.50. image

VPL Curvate Leggings, $178. image

I See London, I See France

I have often contemplated the acceptability of wearing my slips as dresses. And while my friends have voiced their contrary opinions, what’s the point of owning cute silk slips with lace trim and be-ribboned satin rompers if only to wear them around the house? Offering a solution to the whole underwear-as-outerwear debate is clothing brand VPL (which stands for Visible Panty Lines).

VPL designs both outerwear and underwear with lingerie in mind, embracing the frequently neglected category of underthings by combining the style of intimates with the functionality of sportswear. As of this fall, New Yorkers can visit VPL’s new Soho store, which designer and founder Victoria Bartlett has decked out in vintage gym equipment, at 5-7 Mercer Street; 212-966-2145.