Delivering Messages, Some at a Post Office

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

NEW YORK — Lodged in the bowels, or more precisely the great heaving stomach, of the James A. Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue on Saturday morning, I really felt for Prabal Gurung, who was showing there.

The guy has gotten a little taste of the validation Michelle Obama has also given Jason Wu, and lots of celebrities like his stuff. But the “buzz,” as they used to call it — now it’s probably more a frenzied tippety-tap — hasn’t reached urgent levels, and convening hundreds of spectators in this municipal location seemed like a grim attempt by his handlers to amplify it. (Also, I forgot those forms I was supposed to send via Priority Mail last week.)

A black racer-front cocktail frock, trimmed with organza and ostrich, was delightful, and the gowns that closed the show certainly were sellable. But the rest was, if not exactly frightful, confusing. Black leather, slashed on the diagonal, marked off awkward swaths of models’ flesh. Close-fitting, pieced-together pants purportedly inspired by, if not intended for, some kind of Himalayan trek were paired with mesh sweaters whose components had been jumbled, Mr. Potato Head-style.

“Aquafresh,” I thought madly as a dress in white and turquoise came down the runway, its wearer looking miserable, as most would if forced to wear scarlet eye shadow. In program notes, the designer tried to draw connections between the blistered new techno-fabric used to construct it and the topography of his homeland, Nepal. But at the moment he has lost his map.

Ralph Rucci was on far surer footing two hours later but a world away in his studio in the garment district: with its plaster mannequins and stacked bolts of cloth, it was a time capsule of an era when fashion shows were of interest only to trade publications and high-society clientele. In the house were the cooking celebrity Padma Lakshmi and Whoopi Goldberg, but also, rather cozily in this time of frenetic search for the new young thing, plenty of the Upper East Side old guard.

“Please make sure that you do not miss the small cut, bugle-beaded, hand-embroidered inside of the pink dress ‘screaming’ to get out,” Rucci’s adorably loopy, intimate manifesto enjoined these loyal patrons, citing T.S. Eliot’s line “garlic and sapphires in the mud.” Even if the plaintive bugle beads could not make themselves heard to this particular spectator, the perfectly tailored pantsuits and long-sleeved evening gowns, leavened by tulle, spoke a clear and soothing message of hermetically sealed international wealth.

The borders of Suno, the socially conscious label run by Max Osterweis and Erin Beatty, are much more porous, their clothes made not of fabrics, but of “textiles” sourced from around the world. In doing this, they are sketching the contours of a new elite, evident in the eclectic crowd that came to view their work on Friday night, hoisted to a large loft space on an industrial elevator like sweaty cattle.

They may be exposing navels willy-nilly, but I don’t see the women of New York going for the boxers-poking-out-of-drop-waist-pants look anytime soon. But bold plaid, on skorts and long overshirts over capri pants, was crisp and elegant, as were sun-umbrella stripes against a backdrop of swimming-pool blue. In the hands of Osterweis and Beatty, even ruffles and eyelet, usually flirtatious fillips, seem quiet and intellectual, and in this week’s din, that is considerable sleight.