c.2013 New York Times News Service
c.2013 New York Times News Service
NEW YORK — Kinky Ralph?
It’s a passing thought, but only a passing thought, that the king of bourgeois taste was flirting on the last day of Fashion Week with a sexy schoolgirl look. Those black knee-highs, Mary Janes and a black leather jumper with a matron’s necktie?
Ralph Lauren steered firmly away from this thought, though toward what was unclear. Black-and-white striped cricket jackets led to floral prints on patent leather that were less Mod than wallpapery. Then Lauren dived headlong (and belatedly) into the neon color trend. You don’t want to see the full length of Karlie Kloss advancing toward you in royal blue party silk.
But look away, as Melissa McCarthy famously said in “Bridesmaids.” Focus instead on the brisk proportions and shorter hemlines of slightly flared skirts with trim double-breasted jackets: Lauren absolutely gets this key shift for spring.
“Layers and layers and layers,” Francisco Costa said after his energetic Calvin Klein show Thursday. “It’s Basquiat, Picasso and Madonna: all the things that influenced me when I first came to New York, layered together.”
What worked so well with this collection was that the layers were not obvious. The many shift dresses were raw and beautiful, totally relative in an urban landscape that has those same virtues, and — though in materials like woven leather and snakeskin — plainly light and summery.
Costa reinterpreted the T-shirt as a loose, nearly sheer black knit with extra-long sleeves worn over a black micropleated skirt. That same pleating was used for a raw-edged shift with a wide, darker band below the waist. Because of the rough, woven textures, as in a black jacket with multicolored yarn fringe at the hem, one thought of American heritage handicraft. But it could have been African handicraft, too.
And you don’t have to know the difference. Costa, who is celebrating his 10th year at Calvin Klein, picks up the things that interest him (urban tribes, art, radical chicks from the ’20s) and blends them, keeping his eye on fashion. One of the nicest outfits was a sleeveless top in papery woven snakeskin with a matching skirt. Another, in black silk broken by black fringe, vaguely evoked the ’20s.
Four years after starting his own label, with backing from Coach, Reed Krakoff is still trying to win over his audiences. He has spent millions of dollars, and now he has new backers. A news release this week described them as a group of “world-class growth investors.”
But if Krakoff is to be a designer on those terms, he needs to put a more individual stamp on his clothes than he has done so far. His vision of modern dressing isn’t all that unique; it’s a pared-down wrap skirt in bonded satin (or leather), a nice blazer, a track suit in a seemingly unexpected fabric like organdy and a neutral palette spiked with chartreuse (or maybe bright blue).
Refinement of those ideas has been his fallback position, because so far he has not demonstrated a natural ability to propose and create new things that excite people.
Designers like Narciso Rodriguez, or Christopher Kane in London, have the ability to work freely within their aesthetic, to respond to a host of current influences and then move the fashion needle. Not only do these designers understand the value of a new proportion, but they also know how to achieve it. And that basic skill, among others, is missing from Krakoff’s toolbox.
For spring, he offered pretty, feminine dresses gathered at the bodice and trailing filmy skirts. He is right to try something in this vein, but trying isn’t enough; besides, it’s a territory owned by other labels, like Nina Ricci. Krakoff can hire people to shape his world, but he still has to decide what exactly it is.
I’m always intrigued by the work of Georgina Chapman, the designer of Marchesa. She’s a romantic storyteller with a gift for planting a Philip Larkin-like love thorn in the midst of the prettiness. Or that’s what I often see. There’s an extra emotional kick in her designs, a note of regret, even malevolence, when she injects a drop of black into something. And it’s not always on display — she has dud seasons, too — but it exists nonetheless.
And it’s difficult to be an evening-wear designer. It’s a costly, laborious business, subject to the fiercest winds of change. What I especially liked about her new collection, drawn from the silhouettes of the 1920s and early ’30s, is the way she captured the depth of a single color, pale blue or gray — for one dress, by layering a hand-painted silver lamé slip over a silk tulle gown with hand-painted roses. The effect was lovely and smudgy, and a bit wistful.
It’s a pity you rarely see Sophie Theallet’s runway clothes from the back. She has added wide black leather straps to her favorite print dresses, joining them in back like a harness. The low back of a black silk evening dress is edged in black lace. But Theallet is too sophisticated to harp on the bad-girl thing. What you mainly notice in this fine collection is how far she has come. There are more knits, including some sexy skirts with flounced hems, great blouses and a well-done pantsuit in white silk cloqué.