The Crazy Quilt of Fall Fashion

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

A recent post on Pinterest highlights the image of a lanky young woman celebrating the Burning Man festival dressed in a spangled bandeau top and shorts. Her zany striped hose are yanked up past her knees; a collection of hand-tooled silver bracelets snakes up both arms, and the turbanlike affair coiled around her head is fringed in a mass of cornrow braids.

Vera M., who posted that image, accompanies it with a playfully brazen fashion tip. “Take LSD,” she urges, “then get dressed while tripping. put everything you bought on. every bracelet, every accessory. layer and layer it. forget that you are freezing cold in this silly outfit. put a fur coat on over it.”

Had the desert heat or some substance-fueled vision colored her musings? Not so much, it seems. M.’s exotically tinged notion of festival style is of a piece, in spirit at least, with the collective vision of an influential coterie of designers whose fall collections are a bazaar-style synthesis of patterns and weaves, bubble-wrap-like techno knits, tassels, fringe and tribal motifs — a mix suggesting nothing so much as an ultrahip, modern-day wayfarer.

Subtle and worldly at the same time, fashion’s artful mash-up was reflected on the runways by designers like Dries Van Noten, who paraded a panoply of optic pieces mixed with Nordic sweaters and psychedelic florals; Kenzo, where zigzag designs mingled showily with abstract patterns that conjured a vibrant coral reef; or Alexander Wang, who played vaguely tribal geometrics against bubble-textured knits — to name but a handful whose inventive imaginings have threaded their way into an eye-popping, and alluringly tactile, fall tapestry.

Ken Downing, the fashion director of Neiman Marcus, characterized this new global mix as the antithesis of cookie-cutter design, a crazy quilt of textures, layers and shapes that he said “point more to a kind of multicultural melding than just a fashion trend.” The fashion equivalent of fusion cuisine, albeit a bit rowdier, it is, he said, “the most important message of the runways for fall.”

Anarchic though it sometimes seems, the new global fusion is in tune with a currently modish anti-fashion attitude that makes hash of the rise and fall of hemlines, and revels in transcending conventional boundaries of time and place.

“It’s bits and bytes from everywhere,” said Linda Fargo, the fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman. Noting that it is hardly unusual these days to be abreast of and influenced by developments in Beijing, São Paulo or Mumbai — or Brooklyn, if it comes to that — Fargo argued that fashion’s tangy stew of cultural and style inspirations is the positive expression of an increasingly global worldview.

Nods to globalism turn up at every level of the marketplace, embraced by luxury conglomerates and, not less, by international retail giants like H&M and Topshop, which highlights on its website, among other exotic elements, an Aztec blanket jacket and a “Marrakesh-print” shirt. Mango has chimed in with a peasant blouse with Balkan-inspired embroidery.

“We’re seeing a lot of response to a multicultural mix,” Downing said. “It’s a moment that brings patterns and textures together, and customers are responding early to that trend.”

Some may be taking their cues from style-setters like Taylor Tomasi Hill, who routinely turns up on Pinterest boards wearing a relatable mix of uptown blazers and crew-neck tops with tie-dye and totem-pole prints.

However folk- or tribal-infused such a style may be, it does not by any stretch represent an homage to the Birkenstock and granola generation, resisting tired labels like “hippie,” or “counterculture,” which in the palmy days of Woodstock served as badges of subversion. Current runway incarnations are far less literal and certainly more sophisticated than the fringed shawls, Hopi coats, dashikis and Mexican wedding dresses that were staples of the hippie wardrobe or, for that matter, a student gap year.

For sure there is a degree of exoticism in Emilio Pucci’s mixed geometrics, embellished with tassels and trims, or in Joseph Altuzarra’s leather dress with its multiple tiers of fringe, but in many such instances, those nomadic references are balanced, indeed anchored, by conventionally tailored blazers, coats and furs.

As often as not, a web of loosely ethnic references is underscored, and simultaneously undercut, in the same turnout by crinkly techno fabrics or novelties like popcorn knits and shaggy faux fur, elements improbably mated in their turn with abstract twigs and floral designs, animal patterns and optic motifs.


Such unlikely blends are an eyeful, all right, one that has every chance of mainstreaming, of appealing, that is, to much the same crowd that has warmed to a movie like “The Hundred Foot Journey,” about an Indian chef who penetrates the hermetic world of Gallic cuisine by infusing classical French fare with a subtle medley of Mumbai flavors. The fusion of cultures and tastes and, in this instance, culinary styles may well be, as the filmmakers imply, the inevitable outgrowth of modernity.

Julia Chaplin, the author of the “Gypset” series of books, which explore the fashions and lifestyles of vagabond jet-setters, thinks of fashion globalism as a colorful antidote to the soullessness endemic to the celebrity culture, a blandness propagated by magazines that, she said, “tell you to be like Kim Kardashian.”

The style can be opulent, albeit in an offhanded way. “The idea of looking for luxury has changed,” Chaplin said. “People want something more individual and expressive. Maybe some of them have the money they had before 2008, but they want to spend it differently.”


The trend to a global pastiche runs counter to high-end minimalism of designers like Christophe Lemaire, Reed Krakoff and Raf Simons of Dior, with their understatedly sumptuous, emphatically neutral fabrics and emphasis on purity of line. At the same time, it flies in the face of the studiedly unfashionable “normcore” trend, that amalgam of playing field and locker-room staples.

The new hybrid aesthetic is, in fact, rooted in much the same swoony romanticism that gave rise a few seasons ago to the raffish, whipped-up-in-the-blender style adopted by designers as disparate as John Galliano, during his tenure at Dior, Roberto Cavalli and Altuzarra, whose past collections were garnished with tassels, gilt, swashbuckling drapery and festoons of coins.


But the movement, if it is that, has its homegrown evangelists, early adopters like Chloe Garcia Ponce, a fashion buyer whose style has evolved as a brash, sometimes deliberately clashing composite of runway pieces, found treasures and judiciously chosen fast-fashion trophies.

“I mix ikat prints and a lot of batiks with modern pieces,” Ponce said, including comparatively austere styles from Yohji Yamamoto or Comme des Garçons, her go-to Japanese designers. “For me, mixing those elements is a way of experiencing the world, of sampling foreign cultures.”


Kate Schelter, a stylist and fashion consultant, has spent several years living and working in California, a stay that inspired her freewheeling mix of West Coast pastels, floral dresses and assorted caftans. She wears them in winter, as well, adding chubby furs, chunky boots and a Balenciaga biker coat to ward off the elements.

Her look, she said, tends to mirror the runways in that it is unpredictable and seemingly uncontrived.

“It’s a confident way of dressing,” Schelter said. “It expresses where you’ve been on the planet. It’s like, you know, ‘Oh, this is my Masai necklace, this is my jacket from Morocco,’ even if you haven’t been anywhere. She sighed wistfully. “Or, who knows, maybe you’ve just been to H&M.”