On my way into Manhattan, a well-dressed young man treats folks on the subway platform to a rousing soliloquy from The 300 ("This is Sparta!"). When none of his startled audience responds—but begins inching away in case he's crazier than he appears on the surface—he mutters something about his cousin Allen being in the movie. A pigeon coos and he says, in a mock serious tone, "Thank you, pigeon. I know you appreciate my ac-ting!" An elderly black gentleman offers a hearty round of applause, bringing a smile of delight to the thespian's face. "Thanks, man!" he says, offering a grateful fist bump.
Once I'm on the train, a certifiably crazy older woman (man? it's hard to tell beneath the many layers and hat) begins coughing and sneezing and honkingly blowing her nose (sans tissue) in a loud, extremely aggressive manner, purposely spraying nearby straphangers with her germs. Gross! Everyone on that side of the car begins moving away in droves or jumping out at the next stop, whether they need to get off there or not. The woman next to me starts exclaiming loudly in Spanish about her being loco. No shit, Sherlock. Another woman across the aisle warns the complainer (in Spanish) not to make a bad situation worse and tells the rest of us (in English) not to stare at the crazy lady or make eye contact. Good advice. Thankfully, the Loco Lady gets off at 34th Street, leaving the rest of us to ride in silence until Fourteenth Street. Ah, life in the big city. So glamorous.
When I get out of the subway, it's sleeting sideways. Nothing like a little freezing rain pelting your face to get you in the mood for a fashion show (though today I'm dressed for the weather in my cozy, shearling-lined Cole Haan duck boots and have ditched yesterday's fur vest for a more snowstorm-friendly hooded wool coat and trapper hat, as it's supposedly the start of Snowmageddon 2013).
Thankfully, my first show of the day, Sally LaPointe, more than makes up for my transportation and weather woes. Quoting the lyrics to Depeche Mode's In Your Room in her show notes—"In your room where time stands still/Or moves at your will/Will you let the morning come soon/Or will you leave me lying here/In your favorite darkness/Your favorite half light/Your favorite consciousness/Your favorite salve"—LaPointe sends out a stunning collection of edgy-chic, artfully layered pieces—bonded mohair dresses and jackets whose ocelot print looks like a cross between marble and an H.R. Giger print, crocodile tops with trailing camel silk shirts, sleek leather and suede blazers, dresses and jumpsuits in refined shades of camel, red and pink—some bisected by contrasting patent and mohair panels or architectural cutouts. The play of texture upon texture is beautiful, the colors softer in the beginning of the show before segueing to rich burgundy ombré and inky black—and the last passage features black suede and patent pieces or crocodile print cashmere with cool matte sequins. All the looks are worn with thigh high black or white leather gators, shoes designed in collaboration with Alejandro Ingelmo and jewelry by Made Her Think. It is, imho, the designer's best collection to date.
I sprint up the West Side Highway and make it to Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation winner Susan Woo's Pier 59 presentation with enough time to do a quick twirl around the room to check out her collection of sleek, tailored pieces with clever details (such as the mesh panel bisecting the waist of a black wool georgette sheath, the sheer snakeskin print torso and sleeves on a cream georgette blouse, or the charcoal and cement twill color block coat with black leather sleeves). I especially like a white poplin/georgette drop tail button down worn with perforated black leather shorts and a cropped wool turtleneck with attached wrap scarf.
Tess Giberson's hour-long presentation is taking place down the hall, so I jet over to catch the last 15 minutes. And good thing I did, as this is a tour de force (dubbed "Evolution") that follows the designer's progress from artsy-craftsy knitwear specialist to her more recent incarnation as creator of clean, modern clothing for empowered creative types. Fittingly, the first thing one sees upon entering the space is a quartet of colorful knits based on a quilt Tess's mom had made when she was a kid, including a multicolored intarsia collage sweater dress and a kick-ass black cashmere coat with multicolor hand knit sleeves (yes, please!). From there, the vignette segues to layered asymmetrical tunics over pieced leggings with fur or waxed cotton toppers. Then it's on to slightly less layered looks (heavy on the slashed, leather stitched knits and sharply tailored coats) in moody shades of olive, cement and charcoal. An all-black foursome of sleek cape dresses and drapey, fur-trimmed coats follows, culminating in a split back wool blazer with tonal floral print overlay and a pair of floral collage silk dresses featuring a print made in collaboration with Mr. Giberson (that would be her artist husband, Jon Widman). In keeping with the spirit of collaboration for which Tess is famous, an original soundtrack was created for the occasion by musician Sahra Motalebi, inspired by the birth of singing as heard through women's voices as they evolve from talking to singing tentatively to something more spiritual and transcendent. And while there are a few professional models among the 20 women standing on the raised wooden platforms, most are musicians or artists, which lends the event a welcome air of originality and authenticity, two qualities that are sorely lacking in most NYFW affairs. "I wanted to get back to the performance aspect of putting together a show," Tess tells me after explaining the idea behind the evolution concept. "Something collaborative and much more personal—more of an event." Between the thoughtful, well-designed clothes (which are self-reflective without being nostalgic), the non-model casting and the soaring score that fills the high-ceilinged space and resonates with the viewer emotionally, that is exactly what she's done.
I have three hours to kill before my next show so I hightail it to midtown to meet Mr. TFI for some afternoon delight (by which I mean lunch at Saju Bistro, people. Geesh, get your mind out of the gutter). Afterward, I accompany him back to his office where I spend a few hours writing up the morning's events (I have a laptop but hate toting it around during the shows and am loathe to thumb-type entire posts on my iPhone). After some mental to- and fro-ing, I decide to skip Cushnie et Ochs' Milk Studio show despite the lure of a front row seat in order to finish filing my story.
I watch Rebecca Minkoff's live-streamed show instead (think: leather coats, color blocked grandpa cardis, houndstooth boots, plaid balmacaans and print pants with matching tees). I'm surprised to see that the cameras zoom in on guests' cellphones while they're texting (to the point that I can clearly read the recipient's name and the exact content of their messages). I'm sure that there are signs posted all over the venue warning that the audience will be filmed but I'm not sure folks realize this means their private texts and emails are being broadcast to an audience of millions online. Big Brother is watching, indeed. As for the clothes, they're ok, if a little all over the place (and what is up with those poufy primary color dresses?). Minkoff seems to change sartorial direction each season, which isn't all that surprising for someone whose strong suit is accessories and only recently branched out into ready-to-wear. I think she's talented but am hoping she's able to solidify her vision in seasons to come rather than continue to take a "let's throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" approach.
By the time I get back down to Pier 59 for A Détacher at 6pm, the ground is covered in a fluffy white carpet of snow and the city feels hushed and peaceful (for now, anyway). This feeling continues inside, where designer Monika Kowalska unveils a collection of abstract camo and fur print jumpsuits and dresses, long 'n lean calf-length cardigans and cozy blanket capes to an audience that includes designers Tom Scott and Marcia Patmos (I'm surprised to see it's a full house, despite the hype surrounding the impending Snowpocalypse). I'm especially digging the refined sweatpants (worn with Kowalska's signature wooden heeled pumps and booties) and the oversized paperbag waist navy wool trousers topped by a slim orange and taupe striped sweater. And I am tickled to see yet another knit turtleneck dickie on the New York runways (this is the third one I've seen in as many days, which means it's officially a trend). Other winning looks include a series of dresses and blouses with a horizontal ruffle/pleat overlay running across the shoulders and down the arms, and the globe print finale jumpsuits and dresses, which, like the much of this outing, have a slightly louche, Seventies vibe. And while the two-tone mullets are definitely a don't-try-this-at-home trend, they're fun in the context of the show, which was styled by the incomparable Haidee Findlay-Levin.
The snow is really starting to stick by the time I leave so I jump in a cab to Soho for my final show of the day—the debut of knitwear designer Amanda Henderson. While in transit, I read on Twitter that the MTA has begun shutting down portions of the 5, 6, 7, J/Z and B subway trains. Gulp. I did a little feature about Amanda for Elle.com earlier this week and am really glad I made the effort to see her presentation, as her pieces are even more beautiful in person than they are in photos. Devoted to creating hand knit, one-of-a-kind items, the ethereal blond tells me she is expecting buyers from Barneys at the event but has no desire to mass produce her wares, preferring instead to work with a small number of retailers and boutiques to whom she'll offer exclusive styles in limited runs of five or so pieces. Smart cookie. In addition to displaying her finished pieces on a half-dozen models and an artfully curated wooden rack, the designer has also set up a selection of her incredibly elaborate beadwork (which she later translates to her knits), alongside a table showcasing her inspiration/mood book, sample beading stitched on pieces of felted wool and her fall 2013 look book. On the way out I pass a wall that's strung with her fanciful sketches, hanging from tiny wooden clothespins. I'm blown away not only by her talent but by the creative and thoughtful way Amanda chose to present her work to her first Fashion Week audience, which allows viewers to not only experience the designs themselves but to get a glimpse into the ideas behind them and to see firsthand the painstaking handwork that goes into making her concepts a reality. I exit on a cloud of fashion euphoria, knowing that I've witnessed the arrival of a uniquely gifted new talent—and for me, that's what NYFW is really all about.
Unfortunately, my fashion high is short lived as I bump into Andrew Mukamal (Kelly Cutrone's former assistant-turned stylist) on the 6 train, who tells me he was supposed to be working till 2 or 3am prepping for a Tuesday night show but the whole design studio was sent home after being told the MTA was shutting the entire subway system down at 8pm due to that selfish bastard Nemo. Seeing as it's 7:53pm and I still need to transfer to the train that'll take me home, I start to have a teensy weeny panic attack, jump off the 6 at Union Square and run to catch the last train out of Dodge. I make it with seconds to spare (whew!) and later learn that the subway system is not being shut down at 8pm (Andrew, you are a big fat liar pants).
A few hours later, I get confirmation emails from both Ruffian and Marissa Webb's publicists informing me that their early morning shows at Lincoln Center are scheduled to start on time tomorrow, as planned. Clearly, it's business as usual for the fashion crowd this weekend. Snowmageddon be damned: Nemo is no match for the juggernaut that is New York Fashion Week.
photos © Lauren David Peden/The Fashion Informer 2013