NEW YORK CITY -Contrary to what I had hoped, this is not a glowing review of She by Shereé, the new fashion line by a star of the hit reality TV show Atlanta Housewives.
The 20 womenswear looks that Shereé Whitfield unveiled Sunday for spring 2010 were, she said, inspired by the classic and timeless qualities of the calla lily. But the clothes were neither classic nor timeless. They were throwaway urban streetwear reminiscent of the early days of Baby Phat, minus the strong reference point and before the level of taste improved.
It’s not that the collection was without a point of view. It just wasn’t consistent with the image Ms. Whitfield tried to project. She aimed for “…bold, strong…sexy…” What came across was shrill, forced, and juvenile. I couldn’t envision her in most of the looks, which is problematic because you can always envision Herrera in Herrera, von Furstenberg in von Furstenberg, Kimora in Baby Phat…you get the point.
There were some signs of promise in the collection. One was a bustier romper in canary yellow, something that a slim, chic college girl might wear to a nightclub.
But more attention should have been given to concept and execution of the entire line. Ms. Whitfield, who usually looks great on Atlanta Housewives, missed a golden opportunity to make a great first impression.
The technical aspects of the presentation deserve brief discussion because they must matter to anyone who wants to be taken seriously by the fashion industry. They are as relevant to image as the clothes themselves.
Rumors were circulating Saturday that the two-hour Sunday event had been cancelled. When I emailed the RSVP address that evening to gain clarity - the only contact point provided — I received a response that the show was still on for Sunday. But the time and location had been changed. Did they plan to let guests know? If so, when?
When I arrived at the Red Bull Space in SoHo after a cab ride from Midtown, her front-of-house workers had no run of show or other written information customarily offered. Inside, models posed three at a time on risers as music played and guests milled about, some snapping photos. Around noon, when the event was halfway over, Ms. Whitfield was announced, posed for photos flanked by her models, and then struck a few self-conscious poses alone for a few moments as cameras flashed.
I had to leave then for another show. Unable to arrange an interview with Ms. Whitfield, I sent detailed requests to the email address Sunday evening. As of this writing, I still have not received a reply.
After I left the show venue, someone stumbled into the place with a Kinko’s box full of information sheets, according to a colleague who was there. Also distributed were T-shirts emblazoned with Ms. Whitfield’s now-famous TV line, “Who gone check me, boo?”
In spite of the glaring shortcomings, many of the elements were there for a successful fashion brand launch. They just didn’t come together because apparently no one knew how to pull them together.
But all is not lost. Ms. Whitfield can salvage her brand and her reputation by working with better design and PR teams. She also needs to find her voice as a creative director. Some of today’s biggest names in fashion started with a limp and learned how to gallop, and so can she.
NEW YORK CITY — Maria Pinto was obliging a photo request, stepping to the center of the room in an elegant black ensemble and standing on rose petals strewn across the floor of this rented space in Manhattan’s meatpacking district.
As a dozen perfectly styled models wearing ensembles from Ms. Pinto’s spring 2010 collection came alongside and behind her in perfect pose, the petite fashion designer smiled and cameras flashed. Something artistically and emotionally arresting happened in that moment beyond a mere photo op, and spontaneous applause began. It grew, accompanied by cheers, until it reverberated through every inch of the space.
Most of those present that Wednesday evening probably had not heard of Ms. Pinto three years ago, before the public became intrigued by Michelle Obama’s fashion choices and learned that Ms. Pinto was one of her favorite designers to wear. And while the First Lady’s endorsement has given Ms. Pinto more name recognition and priceless publicity, the designer has been making beautiful clothes and winning prestigious design awards for years.
So when word went out that Ms. Pinto planned to debut her spring-summer collection here during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, style watchers, trend forecasters, and the industry’s fashion-curious dared not miss it. And anyone who attended the informal presentation during the three-hour window got a chance to see first-hand what all the fuss is — justifiably — about.
There’s no major and minor in Ms. Pinto’s design ethic. While some designers privilege style over substance and others esteem function over form, she understands the need and desire that modern women have for both in equal measure. Combining that with comfort, versatility, durability, and a soupcon of edginess, she created a collection that should have wide appeal and perform well even at recession-ravaged retail.
Argentina inspired her, from polo to the tango, as she sought to fuse seemingly opposing elements — the classic and the forward, the simple and the intricate, the delicate and the durable. A difficult balancing act, yet ultimately a succesful one if success can be measured by the expressions of approval on the faces and lips of so many guests at the preview.
Ms. :Pinto knows the art of editing, She showed about half of the actual collection, carefully selecting, styling, and arranging each showcased look for powerful visual impact. Her less-is-more approach allowed guests to appreciate the craftsmanship and beauty of each piece, from a romantic cami-style top with a rose pin in peony charmeuse worn with a breathtaking crystal embroidered peony organza skirt to a dazzling mimosa jacquard long coat over matching shorts with a steel charmeuse cami to an elegant black orchid dress sculpted from an unusually light and forgiving form of jersey.
Whether the economy is robust or stagnant, it makes sense to buy clothes that can be interchanged with existing pieces and that have a shelf life longer than chocolate milk. Ms. Pinto positions herself well ahead of the pack with these kinds of clothes that happen to be irresistibly elegant at the same time.
More spring looks from the runways
NEW YORK CITY — Before most other fashion designers discovered crystals and before the high-sparkle trend re-emerged in U.S. fashion, Mark Badgley and James Mischka were the kings of bling.
The pair’s Badgley Mischka cocktail dresses, gowns and eveningwear at one time had a virtual lock on dressing young starlets. Their frocks had everything essential for red-carpet dazzle: great color, sexy fit, modern flavor, and high-wattage gleam that conveyed wealth, success, and confidence.
Well, now it’s 2009 and a season of economic recession. Badgley Mischka has adjusted similarly to other luxury brands by turning out clothing that turns down the wattage on jeweled embellishment and relies more on fabrics with built-in shine and innovative design and tailoring.
The new strategy saves time and money for designers. But the best part, at least for consumers, is that these new looks veer toward being more affordable and less dated. And the clothing, as Badgley Mischka demonstarted here yesterday at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, is still interesting enough to turn heads.
The brand is giving women a lot more stylish options for dressing up next spring and summer: black silk shantung wide-leg pants with a white shantung cap-sleeve, mandarin-collar shirt; a sleeveless black shantung jumpsuit with a ruffled neck; a salt-and-pepper silk-cotton tweed suit with a belted jacket and dramatic jeweled necklace; an ivory lace and taffeta “clover” dress with a white tank top andd a skirt that moves like a sea of floating petals.
The collection was mainly black, white and ivory. But the duo delivered on color, as well, with a pretty lilac-and-smoke satin chiffon gown with a sparkling criss-cross back and jeweled neckline; a lovely shantung dress with tiered ruffles in a red shade called “pimento” (pictured here); and a sleeveless dress and jeweled cap-sleeve gown in “shocking pink” shantung — both guaranteed to make a dramatic entrance.
Speaking of dramatic-entrance dress, Pamella Roland sent out a breath of fresh spring air in a colorful line of gowns, dresses and separates inspired by renowned arrtist Georgia O’Keeffe. Ms. Roland is one off the best at borrowing menswear looks and translating them into charming styles for women, and she does so for spring with silhouettes that bring to mind couture designs of the 1950’s and ’60’s.
She’s spot on the trends with beading, ruffles and metallics, and her embroidered pieces include oversize floral motifs that pay homage to O’Keeffe’s bright paintings. Some designers find it difficult to balance drape, embellishment and color, but Ms. Roland has a knack for bringing it all together tastefully.
The designer showed 53 looks, more than the average designer, and those ensembles were redacted from a larger pool. We’re glad she didn’t edit it further, although buyers will be in a snit about what to order in coming weeks.
What were some of the most memorable looks? A poppy orange ombre silk-wool cropped pant with a matching bustier festooned with a humongous bow; a hot pink silk wool pantsuit with a crisp white stretch cotton shirt and a big gold purse; a white Lurex tweed trench with matching skinny pant and a large silver handbag; a gold Lurex tweed skirt with a champagne silk organza blouse with jewel buttons; a lemon-honeydew-mint ombre beaded minidress with a cowl back; a white silk faille evening coat with a standing ruffle collar and lapels over a white silk charmeuse gown with crystal beaded trim; and a hotter-than-hot gunmetal-silver-pearl ombre beaded halter jumpsuit with a gunmetal silk-wool trench coat.
Some other spring looks from the runways
NEW YORK CITY - The best artists are those who find inspiration in the seemingly mundane and translate a vision into a beautiful work of art. For fashion designers, artists whose medium is fabric, there’s the added challenge of making the creation practical and wearable.
The pressure to continually prove oneself can push a designer to extremes, resulting in bland safeness or garish overreach. Or, as Carolina Herrera showed here yesterday on the fifth day of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, it can keep a designer fresh and relevant yet still true to the signature style that has made him or her successful.
Japanese baskets got Ms. Herrera’s creative juices flowing for her spring 2010 collection. A woven texture was incorporated in daywear and evening looks, on jackets and dresses and skirts and belts in soft natural colors such as amber, caramel and rose. Elegant, pretty and slimming are her trademarks, and the collection was infused with just the right amount of glamour and richness thanks to embroidery and other softly luminous finishes.
She introduced a silhouette not seen elsewhere this week, tea-length dresses fitted at the top and in the bodice and then fanning out in a wide circle that hovers high enough to show off fabulous heels. There was a gorgeous version in the unexpected combination of silver and redwood jacquard and belted with a redwood leather rope, another in a celestial ivory raffia fils coup, another in a sumptuous berry pink jacquard with gold embroidery.
Some other fabulous looks in the five-star collection: an ivory satin toile long-sleeve blouse with matching skirt; a sleeveless quartz striped organza dress; an amber triple-layer chiffon blouse and matching skirt; an amethyst satin toile gown and a caramel fils coup floral top with fully beaded rope weave print shorts that puts a new twist on warm-weather cocktail.
If Tracy Reese can be judged by her designs, then she is a happy woman who believes in romance. Her collections always reflect a sunny, optimistic joi de vivre, and her new spring line is in the same vein.
Like many other designers, she tapped into the trend that combines body-consciousness with relaxed drape, innovative manipulation of fabric, and new variations on color and shine. It could have been a hot mess. But like her inspiration, French Post-Impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard, she walked the tightrope without falling.
Ms. Reese went well beyond her usual fare of pretty skirts, dresses and coats. There was a passionfruit trench over little black shorts; a black zebra jersey A-line dress; an ecru draped dress with an exaggerated portrait collar, a wide black belt and pockets; cute little macramé and lace dresses in antiqued chartreuse and a pale yellow-green; and, in new twists on cocktail, a fetching watercolor floral sequin mini slipdress and pants in the same fabric shown with a black burnout camisole and an oversized black cardigan sweater.
The only discordant note was a ruched bubble dress in a periwinkle trailing floral motif. It appeared on the runway like an old mule in a sea of young stallions, jarring in its poor fit and unapologetic ugliness. Its sole redeeming quality was that it succeeded in making one appreciate the beauty of everything before and after it.
Some other looks from the runways
NEW YORK CITY - Black is dark and intimidating, mysterious, serious, and elegant.
And when all is said and done, it is the color of New York City. Carmen Marc Valvo’s spring 2010 womenswear collection, presented yesterday evening at NASDAQ on the fourth day of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, was a glamorous tribute to the most popular fashion color and the most famous city in America.
Staging the show at NASDAQ in the nation’s financial and fashion capitol was a creative coup. Actress Vanessa L. Williams, along with her mother and many other guests, stood along an informal runway as models walked the second-floor indoor space in cycles. Some viewed the collection on nearby flat-screen monitors while others gazed through floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the heart of Times Square as the ensembles were broadcast on several jumbo LED screens to the bustling masses below.
But even more brilliant than the multimedia planning and execution were the clothes. They are the reason Mr. Valvo is among the top-selling brands in the category of evening, cocktail and red-carpet dressing. While in recent years he has ventured successfully into eyewear, swimwear, lingerie and home décor, his special-occasion looks are what have won the loyalty of long-times devotees such as Ms. Williams and continue to attract the attention of ordinary and famous women of style around the world.
There was plenty to admire in this newest collection, from black bikinis, a black lamé trench coat and glitzy racerback tank tops to a khaki suede safari jacket, a khaki metal embroidered cocktail skirt, and a metallic leather sequin embroidered anorak.
And those frocks. A sparkling black “multimedia” crystal beaded cocktail dress, a dazzling glass window beaded cocktail style, a black suede safari dress with a crystal beaded hem, and a series of Wilhemina Slater-worthy embroidered, ruffled and ruched gowns in royal blue, pewter, silver and gold lamé.
Ensembles were accessorized with earrings, bangles and other jewelry pieces in rose gold, red gold, yellow gold and chocolate gold. They were crafted by a variety of designers – Charles Garnier, Barbara D;Oro, EuroCatene, and Mattioli, to name a few — supplied by the World Gold Council, a co-presenter of the show along with NASDAQ.
The 26-look preview was effortlessly cohesive, evoking a sense of the impressive architecture and towering buildings that characterize the city. That it was presented as the sun set and darkness descended only added to its allure.
There may be no one on the planet more intriguing and magnetic than the type of woman Diane von Furstenberg describes as “feminine and powerful,” “spirited and strong,” one who “commands with her presence, but is as fleeting as a mirage.”
This is the woman Ms. Von Furstenberg aims to dress, and her inspiration for spring 2010 came from a desert oasis, marbled temples of the Orient, and sunset on the Nile. Her point was, as it has been, that women can be comfortably glamorous from day to evening and from casual to dressy settings.
Of course, the designer presented her most popular silhouette, the wrap dress, in fresh colors and prints. But she’s never been a one-noter, this time adding pretty alternatives such as a black zebra appliquéd rope dress, an eyelet chiffon dress in sunset colors, black drape dresses in chiffon and slick jersey, macramé dresses in yellow and a gorgeous grass green, and a chic beaded harm shift with leather paillettes cut and colored to resemble gold coins.
Layering is a basic concept of smart dressing, and Ms. Von Furstenberg shows how to do it without being stuffy or frumpy. There was the palace tiger Thai silk coat over a golden silk charmeuse bomber and leopard chiffon jodhpurs; the red-tan palm tree beaded dress under a blazer of the same color; and the combination of a patchwork brocade jacket, sunset madras cotton shirt and sequin jersey pants that may not work for most women but was fetching, nonetheless.
Accessories have upstaged the apparel at some shows this week, but here was a case where jewelry complemented as it should. The designer combined pieces from her own fine jewelry line, DVF by H. Stern, with items from the Vital Voices Collection of African Women Artisans.
More spring looks from fashion week runways
NEW YORK CITY - Two of America’s best designers debuted their spring 2010 womenswear collections simultaneously yesterday evening, bringing some sartorial sunshine into the gloomy weather that has tarried here in Gotham for the last few days.
Henry N. Jackson and Ralph Rucci showed on different scales during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, with Mr. Jackson presenting 25 ensembles to an intimate gathering of about 125 people in his Midtown Manhattan showroom and Mr. Rucci introducing 54 looks to a crowd of more than 1,000 a few blocks away in the tents at Bryant Park.
But what they had in common was an enthusiastic reception of clothing beautifully and carefully made. Both men are incredibly gifted and skilled designers, their names known primarily to the relative few with knowledge beyond the mass-produced, trend-driven, hyper-advertised fashion that gluts the market.
Their deviation from the norm, though, doesn’t mean these designers don’t have something fresh to offer. They just have bites bigger than their bark, in the process giving Americans the closest thing to couture that we have.
In a tribute to First Lady Michelle Obama, who recently acquired several of Mr. Jackson’s designs, he sent out gorgeous gowns and dresses in earthy shades and prints and brighter colors such as pink, orange and red. There was beauty in the variety, from an exquisite black print butterfly cape dress to an indigo-print cowry shell strapless gown to a pink-and-raisin “zigzag zebra” raglan coat over a soft pink “flower plexus” sundress.
Many looks were Africa-inspired, and behind the impeccable tailoring, detailed embellishment, and sophisticated drape of each garment it was clear that these clothes were fashioned to look good on a wide range of sizes and shapes. How refreshing - and intelligent!
Meanwhile, Mr. Rucci was serving up the same sort of maverick elegance that has made his Chado Ralph Rucci brand a sensation in high society here and in Europe. He, too, is appreciably thoughtful in his approach, evolving his design process over time by taking a key technique or silhouette from the previous season and refining it in the next.
In this collection, embroidery motifs inspired by the human anatomy grew more complex — but not complicated — as they rose upward from the hems of dresses and other garments. His silk tulle, silk chiffon and silk gazar day coats, dresses and gowns became all the more interesting as he eschewed surface decorations such as crystals and beads for the careful tucking, sculpting and stitching of fabric in ways that produced unusually lovely depth, shadow and texture. While looks such as a taupe feather dress and a black-and-gold kabuki gown would give new meaning to a dramatic entrance, less dressy but no less gorgeous pants, skirts and suits in black mohair, white silk, and gray wool crepe provided even more options for his customer.
Fashion can not move forward without the steady infusion of new voices and new approaches, and The Academy of Art University runway presentation each season treats guests to capsule collections of the San Francisco school’s top students.
Seven emerging designers in AAU’s fashion, textile, and knitwear design master’s degree programs showed creative and colorful spring womenswear looks yesterday, their aesthetics shaped by personal experiences around the world and, for some, internships with brands and designers such as Elie Tahari, Zac Posen and Anna Sui.
Each student produced some impressive looks: Bulgarian Marina Popska’s jacquard designs, German-born Kara Sennett’s swimsuits and tunics, Californian Amanda Cleary’s black and aqua overlay dresses, Filipino Richelle Valenzuela’s pieces in blue organza, Jie Pan of China’s horsehair frocks in black and silver, Sawanya Jomthepmala of Thailand’s tops and bottoms in neon and pastel colors, and chic plaid taffeta dresses and ruffled jackets by Brittney Major of the Carolinas.
Who knows how many of these young talents could one day become household names?
More looks for spring ‘10
NEW YORK CITY – In reporting New York Fashion Week and attending more than 1,100 shows over the last 10 years, I have rarely sung the praises of a designer in constant refrain. When I have done so, it has not been because a personality clouded judgment or because the industry had brainwashed me to see a golden child’s dreck and call it genius. It has been because the kudos are so richly merited, and no other spectator in his or her right mind could deny a display of pure genius.
That said, I can enumerate on one hand the number of American designers whose new clothing launches I would shlep 12 blocks in the rain to see. Yesterday, Zang Toi reminded me why he is in that number.
Mr. Toi, whose brand was established in New York 20 years ago, designed his spring 2010 “Toreros” womenswear collection as a tribute to the matador. One by one, he sent 31 beautiful looks down a white staircase in his 57th Street showroom. The intimate audience — numbering fewer than 75 and including Ivana Trump and Miss Universe Stefania Fernandez - erupted in spontaneous applause several times, initially when a stunning cocoa-hued model in towering heels appeared in a fine-linen ivory suit that combined a cap-sleeve blazer and wide-leg pants with a handkerchief linen, upturned peak-lapel blouse.
Each ensemble was a feminine, finely tailored twist on the matador theme with a judicious touch of embellishment. Beads, fringe, epaulets, tassels, ruffles, velvet ribbon darts and other matador trim adorned jackets, sweaters, short dresses, skirts and gowns. Trousers in cotton canvas, twill and silk shantung were palazzo wide and pencil skinny in lengths short, capri and almost to the floor.
Black and ivory anchored the line as signature colors, but there were appreciable doses of color: trousers, a peak-lapel blazer and a short-sleeve mini trench in floral pink; a multi-silk gazar mini-shirtdress with pouf sleeves and a beaded silk organza evening tunic in multicolored stripes; a chartreuse strapless mini-dress with jet-beaded matador borders; a dramatic silk organza ruffled evening flamenco skirt in floral pink and berry; and pieces in amethyst, emerald, sapphire , scarlet, turquoise and navy.
Mr. Toi is a red-carpet favorite of numerous celebrities, and his latest creations are sure to find their way into the wardrobes of more than a few. While some designers continue to send out cookie-cutter collections and wonder whether they will survive the recession, he can look forward to many more years of success because he is intentional about offering everything women crave in designer clothing: uniqueness, superior craftsmanship, long-term wearability and unquestionable quality.
Attendance was much larger this season than in February, when the ARISE Promise of Africa Collective first showed at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
Presented by ARISE magazine and its parent company, Thisday Group, Friday evening’s spring ‘10 show featured impressive looks by four black African designers: Nigeria’s Folake Folarin-Coker and Lisa Folawiyo, Madagascar native Eric Raisina and South Africa’s David Tlale, who won the ARISE Fashion Award for Best Designer this year and the Elle New Talent Award in 2003.
Ms. Folawiyo’s line, Jewel by Lisa, incorporated hand-embellished Ankara prints in contemporary shapes that would make a statement for a confidently chic woman in any major city around the world. Some of her best looks were a batik-inspired silk dress with crystal-embellished strap detail, and a pink paisley biker jacket paired with skinny trousers. She’s known to invest 120 hours in completing a garment, yet her looks manage to remain unfussy.
A honeymoon in his native land was the inspiration for Mr. Raisina. He drew on impressions he gained living in Africa, Asia and Europe — as well as his current place of residence, Cambodia — to create a cosmopolitan collection rich in color. Some of his hottest looks were a crocheted yellow-and-chartreuse flower dress with a fringed skirt and a silk chiffon-trimmed, front-pleated long halter dress in dark aubergine and silver.
The designer’s aesthetic is informed by a master’s degree in textile and fashion design from the Institut Francais de la Mode in Paris, and his presentation is influenced by working on shows with the likes of Kenzo, Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior and Christian Lacroix.
Diana Ross in “Mahogany” and Nigerian artist Kolade Oshinowo were on Ms. Folarin-Coker’s mind as she crafted floaty silk chiffon, fine Chantilly lace and metallic weaves into voluminous skirts, billowy sleeved dresses and abstract-print caftans, dresses and pants for her Tiffany Amber collection.
There are four stand-alone Tiffany Amber stores in Nigeria. Come spring, tourists will be lured inside by designs created for city nights and luxury resort living, from a yellow silk chiffon wrap dress with handkerchief sleeves to a traffic-stopping purple jumpsuit with turquoise woven detail. We wonder how many other law school graduates are having as much fun as Ms. Folarin-Coker.
Mr. Tlale paid homage to Africa’s cultural diversity and rich artistic wealth with 18 cohesive looks, including short and long fringed dresses in cream and black, a duchess silk organza ruffled blouse over wide-legged pants, and a handsome olive green organza suit with a black shirt - one of only two looks for men in the four collections.
A favorite of South African celebrities, Mr. Tlale specializes in unpredictable, glammed-up readytowear created in his Johannesburg atelier. Last year he inaugurated a plus-size range, the Green Collection.
ARISE is presented on several stages in major cities around the world, and it provides a valuable platform for talented designers whose roots extend centuries deep into the mother continent.
More looks from the New York runways
NEW YORK CITY - Some trends in womenswear for next spring and summer have begun to emerge in the opening days of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week here.
Those looking high and low for any indicator of economic recovery might see a glimmer of hope in the profusion of vibrant colors and lively prints sent down the runway by the likes of BCBG, Mara Hoffman, Whitney Eve, Lyn Devon and Farah Angsana. The lively, optimistic shades and hues are a U-turn from the predominantly neutral palette of the last two seasons, a drabness that tends to come about in times of economic severity.
Another possible sign of better days ahead are innovative and experimental manipulations of fabric. Designers are taking textiles in joyful colors and bold prints and cutting, stitching and draping them into garments that evoke memories of happier times in prior decades. Fashion inevitably references the past, and the best designers add their own twists, tweaks and touches.
Fits are across the spectrum, from looser, less structured, more voluminous dresses, skirts and tops to breezy goddess gowns and bubbly, hip-widening skirts draped, tucked and folded to emphasize the hips and define the waist. There are high-waisted bottoms, tailored second-skin dresses and details such as modified portrait collars that give looks an edge but are always soft and feminine.
The shift dress just may be spring’s must-have, showing off the shoulders and legs and sporting an interesting neckline and subtle embellishments.
Along with the color rush is a continuation, perhaps even a greater abundance, of metallic glimmer, shimmer and shine. Take Whitney Eve’s collection, which features young and pretty daywear and cocktail looks such as a Lurexy silver-and-cream vest and matching tiered skirt, a breathtaking sparkly blue halter dress, and rainbow shorts with a matching vest with lapels.
Inspiration from cultures past and present is not new to fashion, but lately seems to be increased interest in Africa. Monique Lhuillier, whose reputation for elegant bridalwear and special occasion looks precedes her, based her new line on the intricate draping of attire worn by Masai warriors.
The concept could have gotten lost in translation, but for Ms. Lhuillier’s gift for execution and restraint. The silk jersey, fringe, twill and tweed dresses, gowns and other pieces she crafted are sure to perform well at retail because they are flat-out beautiful.
A sampling of the collection: A flapper-esque sunflower yellow halter dress with a macramé necklace; a rust silk jersey asymmetrical draped gown with a corded waist tie; a black embroidered bolero over an antique gold “armor” embroidered strapless cocktail dress; a tiger sequin chiffon cocktail dress with a cowl and sexy low back; and an A-line trench coat and strapless A-line cocktail dress, both in a chic leopard-print twill.
Ports 1961 usually serves up a visual feast on the runway that loses some of its edge by the time it hits stores in the U.S. (Their foreign customers aren’t as timid.) But it would be a shame to compromise anything between the catwalk and the sidewalk in this magnificent collection.
Designer Tia Cibani is one of today’s most thoughtful and creative talents. For spring, she drew heavily on nature for lean yet shapely silhouettes that reference 1930s couture; soft natural and manmade silks, organzas and tropical wools; water prints and textures such as jacquard lame and chainmail weave; and architectural accessories such as belts, purses and brooches imaginatively crafted from bamboo shoots, vachetta leather and stingray.
The brand collaborated with award-winning shoe designer Julia Lundsten of FINSK for pumps, sandals and ballet flats, as well as with Japanese fabric artist Ritsuko Hirai. Together they completed an unusually large collection of 50 looks, from a cherry tropical wool dress with a buff clutch and suede peeptoe pumps in a pale shade called “dew” to a belted, butterfly-like kimono dress worn with sandals and a gorgeous trench coat with a matching lace dress in a hue called “cloud” with a bamboo and vinyl belt and suede sandals.
Elsewhere, Max Azria’s BCBG collection showed more of his signature short, boxy drape dresses popular among the 20-something set, and some sexier styles that veered close to the body-glove looks of his recent Herve Legér collections.
And Michael Angel was notable for lovely print mixing that looked like abstract paintings ripped from their frames and stitched into fresh and alluring dresses, skirts and tops. It was a fresh take on cocktail, with looks such as a pleated top and tulip skirt complemented by Manolo Blahnik’s custom peeptoe stiletto booties in colorful prints and Alexis Bittar’s bold, colorful earrings and cuffs.
If the sort of looks shown these first days of fashion week continue through next Thursday, fashion retail just might push itself into recovery come spring.
NEW YORK CITY — Do desperate times really call for desperate measures? They apparently do, if you’re a failing French luxury brand.
On the eve of the start of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week here last night, it was announced that Lindsay Lohan is now the paid muse of the house of Emanuel Ungaro. The actress and notorious party girl can’t sketch or sew, but no biggie. She’s bound to attract lots of media attention to the label because of her penchant for landing in the news, even if it is for something negative.
Ms. Lohan will serve as “artistic advisor” to new chief designer Estrella Archs. Interestingly, Ms. Archs was hired after Esteban Cortazar - the genius who was chief designer of the house for three years - quit in July. Insiders say he had strongly resisted efforts to bring Ms. Lohan on board, and the company’s decision against his wishes was more than he could abide.
Apparently, company higher-ups value the star power of a popular yet unpredictable 23-year-old media magnet over an extremely talented creative force. Given adequate time, Mr. Cortazar could have reinvigorated the once-soaring, now-sagging label, a darling of monied, stylish French women for more than 40 years.
The average age of the Ungaro client is 60, and company executives don’t deny that they’re trying to save the brand by courting younger women. That does make some sense. The company is hemorrhaging money, earning only about $200 million annually, mostly via cheap product licenses in Asia rather than sales of its high-end runway collections.
Ms. Lohan isn’t the first Gen Xer hired in recent months to give the brand a more youthful face. Last year, another American actress, Reese Witherspoon, was chosen at the age of 32 as the face of Ungaro’s newest men’s and women’s fragrances. The scents were a collaboration with Avon, a move that probably ran off even more Ungaro devotees.
Anyway, the first Ungaro collection designed with input from Ms. Lohan will debut in October at Paris Fashion Week. How much her perspective will influence the brand’s chic and sophisticated aesthetic remains to be seen. In her own words, “My fashion school has just been my experience with people in fashion, working on photo shoots and creating my own style.”
Farah Angsana’s bejeweled beauties
The designer threw down the gauntlet yesterday, presenting a line of stunning cocktail dresses and evening gowns the day before the official start of fashion week. The collection, presented in the darkly elegant lobby of the Royalton Hotel, was inspired by Hinduan culture and how a Balinese goddess might attire herself.
Most of the 25 looks reinterpret the goddess-dress trend of recent years by adding gorgeous gold metal threading, mirrored embroidery and detailed beadwork hand-applied to airy silks in shades of ivory, turquoise, coral, tangerine and stainless steel.
Two other noteworthy silhouettes that added some nice variety to the collection were an elegantly jewel-embellished magenta silk dupioni evening coat with three-quarter sleeves and a turquoise silk dupioni kimono-collar jacket with matching pencil skirt that Audrey Hepburn would undoubtedly own were she alive today.
The clothes could seem complicated based on the sheer amount of labor that obviously went into making them. But Ms. Angsana told me she was intentional about making them “very simple” to wear. “Easy to zip up, easy to take off,” she said. “No complication.”
And that’s what women today are looking for in every aspect of dressing.
Swag alert: Jimmy Choo and Project PEP
Delivered to my hotel yesterday by American Elle was a handsome black eco-tote with a colorful print, an item from a small collection of products designed to support funding of the Simelela Rape Centre in South Africa through the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Jimmy Choo is donating 25% of net sales from Project PEP to the center, which was set up last year to administer HIV-preventative pep medications (post-exposure prophylaxis) to victims of rape and sexual abuse. Funding also will help provide the infrastructure for medical, counseling, and legal support.
The items will be for sale starting in November at Jimmy Choo stores worldwide.
New York’s fashion week officially kicks off Sept.10,and this one is significant because it’s the last season it will be staged at Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan.
Before Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week relocates to the Lincoln Center beginning with the fall’10 collections in February 2010, the final hurrah at the park will see many familiar faces.
Michael Angel kicks off the tent shows at 9 a.m. Sept.10, and Tommy Hilfiger closes the week on the 17th at 8 p.m. Between are nearly80 other scheduled shows at the site, including swimwear labels Rosa Cha and Gottex, Ports 1961, Cesar Galindo, Zac Posen, Diane von Furstenberg, Tadashi Shoji, Anna Sui, Ralph Lauren, and Ralph Rucci.
Max Azria has once again designed three collections that will be showing, including his signature line, Herve Leger, and BCBG. Among those showing off-site, some independently from event organizer IMG, are Rachel Roy, Zang Toi, Farah Angsana, Halston, Peter Som, Richard Chai, Marc Jacobs, Kai Milla (Stevie Wonder’s wife), and New York-based international designer Henry Jackson with a tribute to Michelle Obama.
Designers and their staffs put months of planning and tens of thousands of dollars into what on average boils down to a 12-minute show. But creating a buzz about their brand and being the subject of photos transmitted around the world is, many find, worth the stress and expense.
To most designers, fashion week is a chance to share their vision of how you and I should dress. Molly Grad is debuting as head of swimwear design for Gottex. She brings to the brand undergraduate and graduate degrees from London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and design stints at Stella McCartney, Stefano Pilati at Yves Saint Laurent, and Gianfranco Ferre.
“Gottex has an amazing heritage,” she said. “I am going to take the DNA of the brand and give it a fresh direction without forsaking its incredible past.”
Many designers are promising lots of colors to reflect optimism and an upbeat attitude. Says Milly designer Michelle Smith: “My spring collection is inspired by intoxicating exotic colors, luxurious fabrics and rich textures translated into accessible city-chic shapes; offering women a channel of escape with fresh and sophisticated combinations in modern silhouettes.”
Rebecca Taylor pays homage to the city girl with urban feminine looks features strong shoulders and hourglass waists. She’ll be sending out architectural stretch dresses, corset-inspired bustiers, flippy print skirts, leather minis, sporty cashmere sweaters and towering print sandals. A mélange of points and textures are punched up with colors such as apple red, electric blue, shocking pink, peachy orange, jade and desert tan.
Tracy Reese explores the ying and the yang, juxtaposing structured and relaxed, sheer and opaque, soft and hard. She’s doing layers, lively prints, bold colors, embellishments, ruching and draping.
And she promises more of the impeccable dresses that have made her a household name. “A passion fruit surplice frock in a relaxed, draped silhouette with textural embellishment is the perfect piece to kick off the season with a look that is elegant with edge,” she said.
Cesar Galindo fuses fantasy and fun with tailored gowns, cocktail dresses, and suiting in silk charmeuse, foiled linens, chiffons and other fabrics in shades of red, fuchsia, orange, gold, silver and taupe and accented with metal, beads, and mesh.
“The current moment dictates original design desires, and my clientele expects pieces which take them places and allow them to be feminine, beautiful, captivating, and not basic at this point in time,” he said. “They seek looks which are classic, forward, and filled with fantasy. Fantasy is part of the modern movement currently at hand, and I intend to reflect on it with this collection.”
The main lobby of the tents is the hub of action and lots of freebies. The TRESemme booth will return, as well as McCafe Coffees for the second season with free beverages. Maybelline New York and O.N.E. Water are new to the venue while Chambord is once again the official liqueur of the event, with the spotlight this time on its black raspberry liqueur and free special fashion week cocktails made from it.
Throughout September, scores of fashion and style events are scheduled across New York that capitalize on the global media spotlight. Many are listed on the exhaustive Fashion Calendar, which costs $100 to buy and is compiled and circulated independently of IMG.
One of the many events of note is a sale of Susan Farber Collections handbags on Gilt Fuse beginning Sept. 3. Fringes are hot, and many of her soft Italian leather bags feature them and other fashionable design elements. It’s no wonder the line is a favorite of stores from Henri Bendel to Harvey Nichols and fashion magazines such as Elle and Lucky. Click on the promotional link http://www.giltfuse.com/thestylearbiter using the promo code thstylearbiter for special access.