Thursday is the official start of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week fall 2013 shows—meaning the tents at Lincoln Center are open for business.
I arrive an hour earlier than I need to for my first show, assuming there will be a sizable wait, as there always is, to pick up my press credentials. After freezing my butt off yesterday, I'm dressed for the occasion in my Tess Giberson hooded wool coat topped by a black Mongolian lamb vest (also by Tess). I'm laughing my ass off at Daniel Vosovic's Twitter rant about people so desperate to be shot by street style photogs that they're walking around the Garment District in open-toed shoes, sans coats (can you spell "lame," boys and girls?), and look up as my cabbie reaches Lincoln Center to see that there's no line (I repeat: NO LINE) at the press trailer. What the what? In nearly a decade of covering the shows, this is the first time I've ever waltzed right in to pick up my press pass. Richard Chai, here I come!
But while there isn't a line for credentials, there is a big line for Richard Chai's 11am show. On my way up the stairs, I'd spied the entire edit teams of Vogue, Elle and InStyle spilling out of the tents but the Lincoln Center lobby is more packed then I've ever seen them this early in the morning, full of outlandishly dressed hangers-on who are clearly more interested in preening and being photographed then in taking in a fashion show. Who are these people and where did they come from? And why won't they get the hell out of my way so I can enter the venue, already? Geesh.
I take my seat in the nosebleed section (literally, the seventh—or last—row) and await the start of the show. The redhead seated to my left announces she's going to go find a better seat until they "start to shimmy" (whatever the hell that means), flounces down the steps and plops down in a front row seat. Ballsy bitch. I watch as Chai's publicist, Megan Maguire Steele, escorts a tall, thin blond in sequins and hooker heels (totally appropriate kit for a mid-morning show—not!) to a front row seat in the Teen Vogue section. Then the redhead is back, asking if there's still room for her to squeeze into the row. There is. She announces that the blond is, in fact, a "newly skinny" Ashlee Simpson. An usher invites me to move up to a sixth row aisle seat, and I happily accept.
After peeping Jim Moore, Cathy Horyn, Suzie Bubble and Kate Lanphear (among others), the lights dim and out come the models—male and female—in handsome olive drab wool coats, great plaid suiting for the guys and slim wool peplum pencil skirts in black and a dazzling shade of purple for the gals. My favorite piece is a women's metallic poliamide/wool bomber with ginormous, face-framing collar. And I get a chuckle out of an evergreen suit with boxy, double-breasted jacket and cropped pants that looks like an homage to the clothing favored by RC's bff, Phillip Lim. There are subtle touches of embroidery on some of the men's coats and sweaters, and really terrific outerwear (always a strong suit in Chai's collection). I grab a copy of the discarded run-of-show notes off someone's chair on my way out (they only provide them to guests in the first and second row) and am surprised to see the colors described as powder blue, lilac, citrus and lavender. Clearly it read darker from where I was sitting (or maybe Chai is colorblind?). The fabric descriptions don't make sense, either. Did I just have a hallucinatory experience? I email his publicist to ask about the discrepancy and learn that the program notes are, indeed, incorrect (his team printed out last season's notes by mistake) and the colors are military green and pewter and charcoal and mercury. Whew. I thought I was losing my marbles for a minute there.
Over lunch at The Smith across from Lincoln Center (where I order the Fashion Plate Special (heavy on the fish) and read in The Times' Thursday Styles section that Chai takes out a row of seats at his show to widen the runway to give the clothes a more "sweeping effect." Not sure why a designer who specializes in daywear (with nary a space-hogging ball gown in sight) would require said "sweeping effect" but that explains the tight squeeze, seating-wise. I also peruse the debut issue of the Deborah Needleman-helmed T mag, which looks fantastic (love the redesign) and appears to be full of interesting articles (which I won't get to actually read until Fashion Week ends).
At Kimberly Ovitz, I'm seated next to the DJ Chelsea Leyland and we chat about our mutual friends Annette and Phoebe Stephens, designers of the jewelry line Anndra Neen (Chelsea and I are both wearing Anndra Neen necklaces, though hers is definitely more of a show stopper). As for Kimberly's show, well, it is a show stopper, too. Truly. I am besotted from first look to last, and that rarely happens. Full of sensuous, cocoon knits and trailing, dripping layers of swagged jersey in beautifully blurry, bright-yet-organic shades of lapis, azure, lagoon blue and sulphur, KO has scored a K.O. with this outing (sorry, I'm helpless in the face of a bad pun). I pop backstage to congratulate the designer on a job well done and tell her I want every. single. piece. "It was all about the protective responses of animals and insects" she explains of her trapunto stitched jackets, webby knits and exoskeleton-like dresses, which could be termed sophisto-goth.
Next stop: The Harvard Club, where I take in the 40th anniversary celebration of the tennis line, Boast, which is helmed by a quartet of partners that includes Ryan Babenzien and Andy Spade. "It's fun with a little twist," CEO Babenzien says of the modern prepster collection, full of kangaroo-pocket polos, sporty shorts, colorful bombers and stripey knits. He tells me that Boast's president is a member of The Harvard Club and that they are the first-ever brand invited to do a Fashion Week presentation in its hallowed halls. After saying hi to Peter Davis and his sister, Minnie Mortimer (who helped with Boast's womenswear), I head downtown to Milk Studios for the Costello Tagliapietra show, passing an amazing installation of Marilyn Monroe in NYC photos in the Penn Station subway tunnel.
I don't have time to go backstage afterwards so I pop in beforehand to wish the boys (Costello Tagliapietra designers Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra) my best. Jeffrey and I talk about the ridiculous number of shows on the NY calendar this season then I join my colleague Rachel Felder in the front row and people watch while waiting for the show to start. Inspired by maps, topography and aerial views, the collection features gorgeous painterly prints, sophisticated knit caplets, teddybear skirts and coats, and lots of sexy secretary silhouettes. Standout pieces include a purple-blue and voilet draped waist dress, a gray-brown v-neck draped dress and a zipfront alpaca teddybear cape, which looks so plush and luxe and cozy that I want to wear it immediately. I tease Rachel (who is famous for her bold red lip) that she was clearly the muse for the makeup—the model's lips are so bright they're practically neon. Also attention-getting are the shoes, made by Schutz for CT.
I hoof it down to Industria for the NYFW debut of Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation winners, Tome, where I bump into the Anndra Neen gals in the flesh on my way in (Tome designed the jumpsuits featured in their spring 2013 presentation). The Georgia O'Keeffe-inspired collection is austere—full of sculptural shapes and a purity of line—without feeling cold or untouchable. Neat trick, that. The staging is also terrific, with the models standing side by side in individual spotlights, which results is an interesting play of shadow and light and makes the girls feel connected yet separate, allowing the viewer to easily see them as individuals and a cohesive whole.
I cab up to the Novis presentation in Chelsea and am, I must admit, sadly underwhelmed. I had wanted to check out this show after loving the vibrant and colorful spring lineup on the designer's website. But while this collection is ok—with lots of fit-and-flare crinoline dresses and velvet, houndstooth and leopard print separates—it's a little too retro and derivative to warrant much excitement. Even the models' hair feels like old news (unless you find Jane Birkin and Anita Pallenberg-style tousled tresses noteworthy).
Decidedly more in the present tense is the Dezso by Sara Beltran jewelry collection. Inspired by the concept of the Nahual, a sacred element that lives within each of us and helps protect our souls and guide us toward our truest selves, Sara found her Nahual in India—and it's this special relationship between woman and place that informs her fall collection. Showcased in wall-mounted display cases, in evocative photos of Indian elders and worn by a handsome young Indian(esque?) male model, who sits cross-legged on a painted bench, the pieces blend semi-precious stones, shells, resin shark's teeth, gold and neon cording into jewelry that feels both personal and universal in a preconscious, old-as-time kind of way.
My last stop of the day is the Haus Alkire presentation in the brand's Soho storefront. I'm surprised to see only four models standing on the raised wooden platforms and when I ask if this is the whole collection, a staffer tells me there are 24 looks in all, being shown in groups of eight, and that four more looks should be out shortly. After what feels like an interminable wait (but is probably only 10 or 15 minutes), I head backstage to see what's up. Turns out one of the models had fainted just before I arrived, then began convulsing. Needless to say, the designers (husband and wife team Julie Haus and Jason Alkire) are totally freaked out and waiting for the EMTs to arrive before resuming the presentation. Two minutes later, the EMTs have arrived, and while their production team tends to the ailing model, the duo shows me their mood board and explain the genesis of the collection, which was borne from the 10 days of darkness, quiet and solitude that enveloped lower Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy. So in addition to prints based on a dying Banksia flower, there are images of a dark building lit by candlelight, a "Dream Tree" park graphic and others based on overexposed images of the uncollected trash and newspapers that littered the streets of Soho for weeks after the storm. They also explore texture through the use of eel and anaconda skins, flat furs, fused wool and hard crystals (which is why there are three Swarovski reps taking in the show). They also cite The Elephant Man as an influence, as it is one of two DVDs the couple owns, which they watched ad nauseum during the blackout on laptops they'd charge at their 38th Street office each day. "It was about finding beauty in something that's normally not so beautiful," Julie says. "Making a happy moment from something somber." Mission accomplished, J&J! And on another happy-from-somber note: the fallen model has recovered by the time I'm getting readt to leave and insists on rejoining the lineup at the front of the house.
Sadly, I do not fare as well and suffer a major fashion fail on my way home, when my usually comfortable Rick Owens booties threaten to hobble me, once and for all. Maybe it's the fact that I'm wearing two pairs of socks to beat the cold or that I've been running around town and on my feet for the better part of eight hours, but my toes are totally numb and the balls of my feet feel like they're on fire.There are no cabs in sight and I am, quite literally, limping up Broadway and trying not to cry when a Lady Foot Locker suddenly appears in front of me like a vision from heaven (cue angelic trumpets). Though I've been trying not to do any impulse shopping, I gimp inside and buy a pair of Liberty print Nikes. It's either that or sit on the sidewalk crying until a good samaritan offers to pick me up and carry me home.
I'm supposed to go back to the West side to see Erin Barr and La Perla, but the thought of being on my feet a minute longer than I have to is unfathomable. So I carry my booties onto the subway and call it a (very fashionable) day.
photos © Lauren David Peden/The Fashion Informer 2013