c.2013 New York Times News Service
c.2013 New York Times News Service
NEW YORK — People with a reasonably serious view of fashion often ask: Where are the new ideas? And more often than not, this question is directed at New York designers, who tend to copy or dress up generic styles.
But until there are real technical advances in fashion — new materials, alternatives to a sewing machine — there won’t be new ideas. A gifted designer like Miuccia Prada can generate an emotional response to her clothes by connecting them to available ideas in culture, but she’s not really dealing in new design ideas.
In his latest Dior show, Raf Simons questioned some of the most basic assumptions about fashion: What is individuality? How are clothes presented on a runway? But while his method is extremely stimulating (and getting big results at Dior), it is another way of examining fashion’s own properties. It’s not breaking out of them. And it can’t, so long as the various forms of clothing — jacket, skirt, dress — remain unchanged.
It seems quite enough to me that designers are sincere and straightforward, that they tackle the problems that relate to their own aesthetic (say, prints or knitwear), and that they have some ability to plant the hook of desire.
Tops in that class for spring, so far, are Joseph Altuzarra and Louise Goldin. Several times in the past few years, Altuzarra has moved away from dressy, hard-edge tailoring and embraced soft clothes with a sportswear feel. He is really better at the second approach.
For one thing, he is not afraid of something as ordinary as a skirt and a shirt, and, for another, he has enough curiosity to make them interesting. His reference point was the everyday clothing of Japanese farmers and fishermen. Turning the practical into high fashion has been a tactic since Coco Chanel, so it’s hardly new.
But Altuzarra refreshes it with superlight fabrics, like a blue or red striped cream silk based on a French ticking pattern, high-quality cotton shirting and a washed silk that has a velvety feel. The way these fabrics (or knits) were used together in a single shape or outfit was also part of his relaxed message.
Lately, designers have become a little wacky with bonded fabrics, in the belief they give a modern edge. That’s debatable. Altuzarra combined cream silk and light blue cotton in a long nipped-waist shirt that looked as sporty as a half-buttoned cardigan. The shirts may have evolved from the recent pajama-top fad. If so, Altuzarra found a smart way to advance a widely popular look. Either way, it was a simple idea, well executed.
Overall, there was an undressed feeling about the clothes. The below-the-knee skirts had side slits loosely closed with cords; in spite of their graceful line, they vaguely suggested sarongs. A tuxedo jacket was closed with a single strap at the bust. Sometimes the most naked-seeming looks were actually covered up. One such body-skimming dress came in navy washed silk, with a black knit pullover incorporated into the one-piece outfit. Though elegant, it looked as offhand and comfortable as a worn cotton undergarment pulled over the body.
Last week, Altuzarra’s company announced that Kering, the Paris group that owns Gucci and Balenciaga, among other high-end labels, has become a minority partner.
Goldin’s specialty is knits, and like Altuzarra, she’s good at filtering information. Nothing is ever literal. When she showed flirty white skirts in a dense, flat knit, I didn’t for a minute think of tennis, though it was her reference. If the pinks, grays and deep greens seem to have a Palm Springs cast, you’d be correct. Goldin visited the area while attending a summer music festival with her husband.
“There’s so much creativity in the mind,” she said. But it’s how she selects, and resolves, those ideas that make her designs compelling. Among the most successful were the white flared skirts, shown with sharp little cardigan jackets in a gray knit or a ribbed top; minis with rounded side tabs, and her interpretation of lace: squibs of fused jersey linked by tiny threads. The effect of her clothes this season was brisk and modern.
Alexander Wang also had an excellent show. He told a writer he missed the days when fashion wasn’t so serious. I don’t know. Wang always seems at his most enjoyable when he is playful. That’s how I read his repeated use of his logo, embedded in the pattern of a dress or top: as a riff.
What worked so well in this collection were the girlish shapes, like pleated miniskirts, crisp cotton tunics and athletic shorts, done minimally in shirting fabrics and classic gray uniform fabric. I suppose the show could be interpreted as an extended riff on a uniform, but the thinking was more sophisticated than that. And everything looked polished in spite of Wang’s plea for play.
Rag & Bone didn’t mess around. No big theme, no funny business; just great stuff, like cotton overalls (my favorite), cute skirts and exaggerated tennis sweaters over shimmery pastels. At Suno, Max Osterweis and Erin Beatty dwelled on flattering shapes while cooling down their ethnic prints. It was their most refined collection to date.
Prabal Gurung opened his show with models standing at attention behind clear plastic sheeting, and in a way airlessness was his problem. He wanted to capture Marilyn Monroe’s wiggly essence, in Pop Art colors. But his decision to use specially bonded satins and tweeds woven with a synthetic mesh failed to produce the desired modern attitude.
Gurung’s thought process was correct, and some of the slim, backless dresses in white and pastel cotton poplin were fine, but he couldn’t manage his concept. And it’s unclear what he gained from the bonded satins, some of which were backed in white. It was gawkily visible when the models walked.