Some Get the Point

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

NEW YORK — There is some cosmic justice in the fact that the spring ready-to-wear season is taking place just as women — and what they want — are becoming a focus of attention everywhere, from Hollywood (female action heroes pay!) to Congress (choice gets them to the voter booth!).

After all, “what women want” is, theoretically at least, one of the existential questions at the heart of fashion. We circle back to it, season after season. As a result, shows are not a bad lens for looking at the complexity of the issue, though some designers are clearer in their answer than others (for good or ill) and some more nuanced.

Certainly, it’s not a simple question — unless you are Tommy Hilfiger, that is (or to be accurate, his brand, since he is neither hands-on designer nor owner). If you are Tommy Hilfiger, the response can be boiled down to: She wants to be a groupie during the summer of love, following a (cover) band in Sgt. Pepper jackets, patent trousers, patchwork faded denim and striped Lurex minidresses.

It was a proposal of sorts, though not the right one. Most women, even the younger ones who did not live through the 1960s, don’t actually want to be a historical cliché.

As Diane von Furstenberg understands. With her new artistic director, Michael Herz, in the atelier, her collection retained the accessibility and straightforward spirit it is known for (energy! sexy! color! Riviera! etc.) but cleaned up and stripped down: the wrap dress abstracted into cropped wrap tops over full gingham skirts; or wrapped tops on sleeveless sheath dresses; the polo shirtdress resurrected, chopped to above the knee and best when embroidered in a black and white toile de jouy line drawing; all of it in the light, bright tones of the Côte d’Azur.

Some overly literal Brigitte Bardot detours aside, it was DVF with forward direction. At the very least, don’t most of us want to know where we are going?

Certainly, it’s better than muddling about with a little of this, a little of that (unless you are making a casserole), as was the case at Thakoon, where a variety of suggestions as to what his woman might want served to cloud the conclusion: to have an executive edge, thanks to wrap tunics and trousers in tie silks or shirting fabrics that also had a quasi-Oriental bent (Asia is a big market these days) ... or wait, no, maybe to be kind of arty and bohemian with lots of silk fringe swaying from the seams of skirts ... or wait, maybe to reminisce about her holiday, in a Tahitian banana leaf print bathrobe coat.

It’s great to have options, and many pieces were nice on their own, but seen one after the other, the whole lacked conviction.

At least at Carolina Herrera, you know exactly where you are: this season, in a graphic garden where blooms the sort of decorous good taste that has manners, and a pedigree, of its own.

Polite (but never sycophantic) white jersey and silk gazar A-line dresses came with matching cropped tops and rounded shoulders, a single large orchid silk-screened on the front; rose piqué gowns were unadorned but for raised seaming that traced the dresses’ roots from the inside out; and tulips and daffodils bloomed on silk jacquard.

Though Herrera can on occasion be a little heavy-handed with her fertilizer, and the final two ballgowns with broken mosaics on the front were a bit stiff, this season she mostly worked with a light, restrained hand, and the clothes were the better for it. They suggested you might want to have your lunch, eat it and go out and do something effective, too.

It wasn’t until the Row, however, that things got really layered. Literally and metaphorically.

Raw silks and linens in golden tones flowed over the body in loose coats and caftans, or swaddled the shoulders atop ankle-length empire gowns. Jackets wrapped at the waist over billowing shirts atop full skirts or fluid trousers, and knit tabards were slit up each leg to just beneath the breastbone to reveal the pants beneath. They were a little bit regal and a little medieval; “Game of Thrones” seen through urban eyes.

A wardrobe, in other words, for a woman who is queen of her own domain. Or knows life is better when you speak softly and carry a long scepter. The crown is just a state of mind, conveyed by clothes.