New York Fashion Week: Dazzling artistry, bold ideas, gorgeous styling ... and Kanye

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

(c) 2015, The Washington Post.

(EDITORS: Robin Givhan, The Washington Post's Pulitzer-winning fashion critic, is covering New York Fashion Week. Follow her on Twitter: @robingivhan.)

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NEW YORK -- Peter Copping left a single red carnation on every chair before his show at the Prince George Ballroom -- a romantic gesture that reflected the lavishly feminine spring collection that he would present for Oscar de la Renta. Narciso Rodriguez created poetry with a few confident strokes of his designer's hand. With an eye for simplicity and precision, he conjured up clothes that hold the imagination.

Michael Kors expanded his vision of all-American luxury with a collection brimming with embroidery, lace and a hint of Old World exuberance. Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez presented a dazzling Proenza Schouler show that was bursting with ideas and audacity.

And there was Kanye West.

Fashion has the capacity to tell many different stories about who we are as a culture. And as the spring 2016 collections have been unveiled this week, stories about forgiveness, redemption, traditions and diversity have unfolded in lace, linen and cotton poplin. But as fashion week moves into its last days, the social messages have mostly given way to a more impressionistic display of technical wizardry, aesthetic ingenuity and the desire to simply make the landscape more beautiful.

Well, except for Kanye West.

For many designers, such creative bravado means doing more and adding more. But for Rodriguez, his great skill is in stripping away the excess and deeply considering what remains.

An ivory tent dress has a gently angled hem that allows it to catch the air and gives it ease and lightness. White trousers are paired with a sleeveless white top that has a series of crisp folds at the neckline and bodice suggesting that the garment has been molded to the body. A simple sheath takes on the look of a work of art thanks to a single line of Rothko-esque color that almost seems to vibrate with energy.

Rodriguez forces the eye to look closer at a simple white ensemble by cutting it in two different kinds of fabrics, taking advantage of the way texture and volume affect our perception of color. He shows us the complexity of white.

Kors is typically a restrained designer as well, though not as austere. But the collection he presented Thursday morning was imbued with an energy and playfulness that was especially striking. It was in keeping with his vernacular, but it spoke in different ways.

His full skirts were adorned with floral embroidery. His flapper skirts were embellished with silver washer-like decoration. There were peasant-style bodices on dresses, a beautifully simple white shirt with a tiny drawstring neckline, and swimsuits and tunics in a warm shade of chocolate brown.

Instead of focusing only on his usual earthy tones, he included a rich, deep shade of red that was wonderfully bracing against the familiar khaki. There was butter yellow and lapis blue as well. It was as though bits of a typical Michael Kors Collection had been irradiated with color.

In his second collection for Oscar de la Renta, Copping maintains the brand's uptown sensibility is beginning to bring more of his own spirit to it. One could see his informality and insouciance in bedazzled espadrilles, sweet cardigans topping slim skirts instead of more formal blazers, and a bit of Bohemian frivolity to evening wear.

It is not a massive upheaval for the house. But it is a change, one signified by shifting its show from its long-time Midtown location to farther downtown where the landscape is on a more human scale, the cacophony not quite as overwhelming and the atmosphere more relaxed.

But it was Hernandez and McColllough who really made one want to lean in and get closer to the clothes as they whizzed by. The designers piqued the audience's curiosity with elaborate embroidery, intriguing fabrics, construction techniques that played tricks on the eye and a look that called to mind Spanish toreadors, downtown hipsters and uptown ladies.

The clothes weren't always beautiful -- at least not always in the ways in which we are comfortable. Sometimes they were jarring. Cropped trousers in Issey Miyake pleats? Others looked undone: Is that jacket unbuttoned? Is that strap supposed to hang off the shoulder? Or overdone. They kept you guessing, and they pulled you in, in wonderful ways. Clothes capable of doing that create a sense of intimacy. They are humane in their grand flourishes.

Into this swirl of flowers, embroidery, petals and feathers stepped Kanye West. His presentation was a last-minute addition to the fashion calendar, and it had the industry tied up in knots. His show time conflicted with that of other designers. The promise of an audience filled with celebrities had folks braced for chaos at the entrance, and the promise of West's unpredictability made the show impossible to resist. He had us.

His front row was adorned with Seth Meyers, Common, Debbie Harry, Courtney Love, Michael Stipe and various Kardashians and Jenners. And there were countless fans lining the street, cameras raised, trying to get a look at the proceedings.

The clothes in his Yeezy Season 2 collection, which he produces with Adidas, have not changed very much from those in Season 1. There were cut-off shorts, sweatpants, oversized jackets, body wear and desert boots in faded hues of olive, tan and blush.

He once again worked with the artist Vanessa Beecroft to create a stark setting, this one in the basement of a Chelsea studio. The models were called into formation by drill sergeants who commanded them to fall in line and march forward: Left! Left! The only soundtrack was recorded white noise and the live murmurings of a fussy North West.

The first group of models, all wearing blush tones, were platinum-haired and ivory skinned. The next group, in a sort of sandy hue, had brown hair and honey-toned complexions. The final group, in faded black, were all dark-skinned.

The effect was to both emphasize skin color while also declaring it just-a-color. It's an idea that is an interesting conversation starter -- and in this case, far more interesting than the clothes.

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