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c.2013 New York Times News Service
NEW YORK — Much of fashion is now designed, produced and experienced on a computer. When Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler held up a fuzzy sweater seamlessly connected to a leather hem and said, "It's done on a computer," he meant that literally. A machine had been programmed to punch fine hairs of yarn into leather until the harder surface of the leather gradually dissolved into a soft knit.
In a matter of a few seasons, Hernandez and his partner, Jack McCollough, have become the best sleight-of-hand artists in U.S. fashion. Some of their tricks are not successful, but they are willing to take that risk. In the prehistoric '30s, designers also had to try new fabrics and techniques before they got things right.
Today what the visual consumer of fashion loses — and that's the majority of people, including die-hard fashionistas — is the tactile experience. The best digital imagery cannot capture the granular, snow-crust texture of a woven tulle skirt in the Proenza lineup or the compacted quality of a boucle that the designers successfully used for coats and jackets. Even to the naked eye, the boucle looks like something sinisterly industrial. You have to touch it.
High fashion has always been the preserve of the intrepid few and the babied rich, but at a time when shows are accessible to anyone with a smartphone — and when designers and their image-makers are adept at styling up a collection for a visual jolt — the sense of touch becomes an experience that can't easily be shared. That's interesting in a business that is always seeking exclusivity.
The recent designs of McCollough and Hernandez are also proof of the long-term value of fabric research. A year or two ago they did some woven leather pieces that looked amazing but frankly felt stiff. They refined the idea, and this time they created coats and dresses in woven suede and leather, the pattern resembling tweed. A kind of lace made from satin-back crepe heated to a biscuit hardness was less successful, in my view. Still, the idea may lead them somewhere else.
There is also greater harmony this season between the fabrics and shapes, especially those pieces made in the boucle and tulle, and some easy-fitting dresses in white wool crepe buttoned to one side and shown with knit dickeys. (The dresses will be produced in longer lengths for stores, the designers said.) Those styles, along with clean, round-shoulder coats and jackets, hint of vintage couture — I was thinking early Givenchy — but they are appealing all the same. The newer fabrics just make them surprising.
Ralph Lauren went to the merchant marine, or a chic facsimile of pea jackets, sailor pants, leather and salty-dog knits. Dressed in the style himself for his bow, Lauren will invite headlines like "The Old Man and the Sea." Well, he's the boss.
The masculine bits of the show looked familiar, but swirls of Bordeaux, black and deep-green taffeta with delicate pleating were worth the wait — and worthy of a modern red carpet.
Georgina Chapman's gowns for Marchesa dominate red carpets, and she is capable of the most feathery confections, or something grander. Blood-red Goya was her muse this time, and she handled the historical references cleverly, and with up-to-date verve, as she combined an embroidered white suede corset with a white gauze shirt and suede pencil skirt, or naked-looking tulle with red-satin tailoring. Elevating the blouse for evening was a nice touch, but one wished she had kept that mood going a bit longer before the fancy skirts swept in.
It's easy to question a designer's style when it changes often or the clothes look pretty but lack authority, as Reed Krakoff's so often have since he started his label. But he appears to have finally relaxed. Largely a contemporary uniform, with lanky jackets, V-necks and shells in knits or fur, and cool wear-forever wrap skirts with deep paneled hems, this collection seemed more fully realized and grown-up, and not stuck on minimalist theory.
The Calvin Klein models looked very good in their wide-belted, somber wool coats and matching flared skirts, despite the conspicuous bulk of the wools and alpacas.
Francisco Costa was clearly out to make a statement of female strength — in the belted bandeau tops that crisscrossed in back, in the black boots that were a blend of biker and couture, in the mega belt buckles.
And just when the oversize cut of the clothes seemed too much, the scale suddenly became the point. Costa did many things with this collection. He created grid effects with creases. He pumped up volumes. And he recast some of those masculine styles for leaner evening styles, like a black blazer with wide satin pants. But ultimately, he hammered out a demanding silhouette.