The last day of New York Fashion Week kicks off with that most American of designers, Ralph Lauren. The carved wooden picture frame backdrop gives no clue as to what to expect from his fall collection, but the opening music—the theme song from Downton Abbey—sure does. The first looks out are all tweedy jackets and plus-fours worn with argyle knee socks and newsboy caps, though this walkies-in-the country look quickly segues into citified three-piece pinstripe suits, complete with bowlers and briefcases. These give way to borrowed-from-the-boys topcoat and tails (avec walking sticks) and, finally, to a gold beaded turtleneck worn with a pleated leather skirt, liquid bias-cut satin evening gowns in deep magenta, and a gorgeous gold-beaded cardigan worn with a white button-down, black trousers and tie (Lady Sybil would surely approve). The show's to-the-manor-born style and pacing harkens back to a slower, more elegant era, despite the incessant camera flashes and tweeting that accompany the classical soundtrack.
Lunch is followed by a visit to the Chado Ralph Rucci showroom in Soho, where the designer often referred to as "America's only couturier" (in both the figurative and literal sense of the word) presents an assuringly elegant vision of womanhood (emphasis on woman), vis-à-vis a paneled lambskin leather circle skirt worn with a pristine white pique blouse, a fit-and-flare black leather coat atop a barguzine sable liner—itself boasting a painted calligraphy lining that can be removed and worn separately as an evening coat—and a zip-front black day dress with trapunto satin details (trapunto being a recurring theme here) that calls to mind a very sexy scuba suit. Other standouts—and there are many—include a sage green shirred mink pullover, an alabaster and spice-hued coyote-lined raincoat, a cracked-print double face cashmere jacket with chocolate leather skirt, a black reptile-and-tulle moto jacket worn worn with a flirty pleated mini, and an astonishingly weightless knitted honey sable jacket with matching scarf. It is, in a word, glorious.
Thankfully, for we non-heiresses who married for love, not money, there's Elizabeth & James. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen present their E&J collection at Industria via clothing hung on racks (with an emphasis on cozy sweaters, tweed trousers, fur-collared coats, borrowed-from-the-boys blazers and knitted fur jackets that are sure to set you back far less than those by Mr. Rucci), along with a handful of looks worn by models. These include a spare white shirtdress topped by a trompe-l'oeil coat, a floral slipdress worn with scrunched socks, ladylike heels and a fur-trimmed parka (shades of Altuzzara!), a slim burgundy suit atop a matching cardigan, day-for-night pajamas (shades of Tommy Hilfiger!) and a crisp white button-down tunic paired with voluminous pants and a louche fur collar. The Olsens have proven themselves more than capable designers with The Row, and Elizabeth & James makes their elegant-edgy aesthetic accessible to a wider range of women—and I am told they're adding handbags to the mix next season, to accompany the shoes and sunglasses they already produce.
I'd received an email earlier in the day alerting me to the fact that Occupy Wall Street was planning a demonstration near the Calvin Klein show, and that I should come early prepared with a printout of my seat assignment and a photo ID to get through the heightened security that was expected. My cab lets me off at the Eighth Avenue side of 39th Street, which means I'm able to bypass the OWS drama on my way into the venue. Rooney Mara, Lara Stone and Emma Stone are also on hand to see Francisco Costa's latest collection, which is, I think, his best to date. Costa seems to be channeling Mara in his models' makeup (severe slicked back hair and ruddy eyeshadow) and Stone (both of them) in the collection's womanly silhouette, which updates the classic Fifties hourglass via structured, 21st century materials, including glazed wool, technical viscose, bonded crépe, shaved shearling, laser cut wool and stiff leather, with the volume reigned in by thick hammered silver belts. Pants are full and cropped a few inches above the ankle, and a few of the black cocktail dresses have mesh panels of the sort Ms. Mara favors for the red carpet (there are poppy and cerise frocks that seem just the thing for Emma Stone's next film premiere).
The Occupy Wall Streeters are lying in wait at the Seventh Avenue side of the venue, but I'm able to bypass them pretty easily and jump on the 7 train to Stephen Burrows Park Avenue presentation, which is my final show of the week. Held in the glass walled Audi Forum in full view of the street, Burrows' models sass their way down the auto showroom-slash-runway in polka dot pencil skirts, chevron print sweater dresses, sexy short shorts and python-print jeggings—done in collaboration with Raven Denim—topped by flirty fur shrugs. It's a fun, feel-good presentation and a delightful way to end the week.
photos © The Fashion Informer/Lauren David Peden 2012