Fridays are usually a cause for celebration (TGIF and all that). But during New York Fashion Week, Friday just means you've hit day three in a jam-packed nine-day show schedule. Which is not cause for tears, mind you (oh, poor me, I have to sit through another day of inspiring fashion shows. boo fucking hoo) but no one who covers NYFW is in chillaxing weekend mode when Friday rolls around.
That said, my day gets off to a glorious start at the show of one of my favorite designers, Tess Giberson. I'm running late so decide to splurge on a cab and—after sitting through several traffic jams and banging a uey on 23rd to avoid another (which means we have to backtrack several blocks in the wrong direction before heading back to the West Side)—I find myself at Chelsea Piers, on time but $35 bucks lighter (ouch!). Tess has titled her spring outing "Remix," in which she aims to rework silhouettes, prints and wardrobe staples to create a new perspective on familiar pieces. To this end, she reimagines preppy classics—madras plaids, tennis skirts, collegiate sportswear—by giving them a downtown cool-girl spin. The plaid, for instance, is derived from a watercolor by the designer's artist husband, Jon Widman, and applied to silk chiffon dresses and intarsia knits, while the tennis dress is fashioned from white cotton ponte with sheer eyelet panels in a curved-hem shape. Elsewhere, classic suiting elements are repurposed in unusual ways, with blazer lapels appearing not on jackets but down the leg of pants, while trousers morph into dresses and jumpsuits. Tess also remixes her signature crochet pieces in innovative, new ways—as homespun sleeves on a graphic striped tunic, say—and puts a chic, urbane spin on classic athletic wear, crafting track pants from silk with organza side stripes and using perforated leather on elastic waist jogging shorts. The shoes—black and white criss-cross leather sandals with built-in spats and a high, chunky heel—are another fresh take on an old favorite. Post-show, I spy countless guests taking selfless in front of the crocheted backdrop, which was created for the occasion by set designer Andrew Coslow.
At the Duckie Brown show over at Industria, I'm seated next to my friend, Lauren Ezersky, who is looking resplendent, as always, in black Alaia pedal pushers and a pile of silver goth jewelry (with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she shall have music wherever she goes). The DB boys (Steven Cox and Daniel Silver) make music of their own with a collection that veers from the monastic (white denim work coats, pleated back polos and tuxedo t-shirts, buttoned to the neck) to the not so (basketball skirts, halter tops, a scallop edged jacket, drop crotch gym shorts). There's a cool passage of variegated striped pieces, and I especially like a navy lace mackintosh and a khaki lace work jacket worn with jute trousers and a printed burlap apron that reminds me (in the best way possible) of the potato sack dresses Lucy and Ethel wore on I Love Lucy. Duu-ckie, you got some 'splaining to do! Backstage, Daniel tells me that the jute apron was, in fact, inspired by the book Farm by Jackie Nickerson, which documents the lives of workers on African plantations. "They use coffee sacks as garments," he says while air kissing well-wishers. As for the other borrowed-from-the-girls looks? "The skirts are just basketball shorts opened up—and the halter is a sweatshirt without the sleeves." Clever, that. Outside, Florsheim (for whom Duckie designed all the patent oxfords worn in the show) has set up a Coolhaus ice cream sandwich truck (yum!), which show goers immediately queue up for, Fashion Week diets be damned.
I have lunch at Pastis, after which I drop my compact in the communal sink outside the bathroom, shattering plastic and powder all over the floor. D'oh! Thankfully, there's a Sephora on my way to the next venue, so I pop in to buy a replacement. The salesman—a very friendly, knowledgable guy named Kevin—insists of redoing all of my makeup to better demonstrate the virtues of Laura Mercier Smooth Finish Foundation Powder, which he promises will not settle into my nooks and crannies. I'm not a big powder person (I use it sparingly, on an as-need basis, to minimize shine) so by the time he finishes layering it on—a process that takes a full five minutes, versus my usual 15-second application—I feel like I'm wearing a second face on my face. The results look good but feel weird and constricting, like wearing a mask. Nonetheless, I leave with the powder, a Clinique Chubby Stick and a tube of Lancome Definicils Masacara (sucker, thy name is Lauren). I run into Duckie Brown publicist Deborah Hughes on Fourteenth Street and ask her whether it looks like I'm wearing an extra face on my face. "No, you look fine—great!—and it's sunny out here," she says. Ok, whew.
I think Deb's being honest (not just kind) but I'm not entirely reassured, so I ask Rachel Felder, who's seated in front of me at Sally LaPointe, the same question. "It looks fine to me but the light in here's not that great," she replies, gesturing to the dimly lit red and back stage set. "But who cares? It's so hot out you'll sweat it off before the day's over anyway." Good point. "I don't know about you, but I'm ready for them to get this party started," she adds with a glance at her watch. "I was hoping to have a Jeffrey moment before Cushnie." (She's referring, of course, to the designer emporium Jeffrey, which is right next door to the Highline Stages on Fourteenth Street.) Sally, who has been getting some great press as of late, unveils a collection inspired by deli flowers. Worn by models with long, center-parted Morticia Addams wigs, the collection features a techno jersey tuxedo dress and lambskin vest in past-its-prime rosebud pink, jackets and sheaths with tulip-inspired draping, petal bustier tops that float seductively around the wearer's torso and a pearlized patent leather vest, the color and texture of which recall both a bouquet of pink roses and the cellophane it came wrapped in. Wisely, the designer doesn't hammer her point home too literally, presenting plenty of other options—a black double-face jumpsuit, long ecru jacket with matching trousers—that nod to her tough luxe leanings while letting the accessories (pointy leather "long stemmed" collars, belts with petal-like waist folds) reflect her seasonal muse. She interjects a burst of color and shine with a passage of canary Lurex pieces before finishing with a series of lovely flower print cellophane organza dresses that feel beautifully melancholy, like a half-forgotten dream or a wistful memory that's just out of reach.
A publicist greets me at the backstage entrance and leads me through the cavernous backstage area, up several flights of stairs and down a long, twisting hallway where the designer awaits. Halfway there, I realize from his deferential demeanor and nervous chatter that he's mistaken me for someone else (read: someone higher up the fashion food chain). I don't bother to correct his assumption since I need to get my interview and hightail it over to the next show. "I wanted to capture an enticing sadness," Sally tells me while models pose for look book photos on the white seamless backdrop that's been set up nearby. "It's a little bit softer and more organic feeling, but it's still my DNA." I ask her about the reaction she's been getting to the terrific New York Times' profile that ran earlier in the week. "It's been amazing to see people connect to [my work] and understand it," she says with a smile. Also amazing is the fact that she included so many women of color in her lineup. This should be a non-issue in this day and age (hel-lo, it's 2013!) but sad to say, that is not the case, as model-turned-activist Bethann Hardison demonstrated in her recent attack on racism in the fashion industry. On my way to Milk Studios, I notice that Jeffrey is closed for Rosh Hashanah, so Rachel wouldn't have been able to have her Jeffrey moment even if she'd had the time (cue sad face).
At Cushnie et Ochs, the front row is full of It boys (Nigel Barker, J. Alexander, Jay Manuel) and It girls (Ashley Madekwe, Harley Viera Newton, Chelsea Leyland). I ride up in the elevator with Carly Cushnie's parents (she co-helms the line with Michelle Ochs). "The show is going to be great!" enthuses the PR who's escorting them. And indeed it is. Megamodel Karlie Kloss leads the parade in a white asymmetrical bandage dress with ruched elastic straps to the sound of Kelis crooning "C'mere copycat, you my puppet. You know I love it." This is followed by sliced white maillots and a neoprene body con dress with sheer organza cutouts covering the model's breasts. A grey buckled sheath and strappy nurse's dress follow, leading some in the audience (ok, me) to revisit their let's-play-doctor fantasies (oh, please, judgypants, like you don't have them, too). A pair of scribble print dresses looks like something a deranged child might have drawn, while a suite of super sexy black dresses with razor cut outs and restraints hew to the duo's more familiar kitten-with-a-whip proclivities. They soften up for evening with a trio of purple silk dresses, the last of which is worn by a nearly unrecognizable Chanel Iman, who's traded in her usual sunny smile for a sultry glower. "We were inspired by straightjackets," Carly tells me backstage after greeting Pamela Love, who designed the show's silver neck brace chokers. Are she and her partner feeling particularly unhinged these days? "Yeah,' she replies with a sly smile. "That's why there are all those straps and crazy scribble prints." I bump into Karlie Kloss on my way out and ask if I can take her picture. "Sure," she replies. "Just let me put my shirt on." Oh, fine, be that way. Carly and Michelle would not approve. PG-13 photo op completed, I walk ten blocks up Tenth Avenue to my next show. On the way, a photo in a gallery window catches my eye so I pop in to check it out. The sales guy and I start chatting about art and fashion and it turns out he's the ex-husband of one of my longtime fashion friends (they split up years ago, before she and I met). NYC is a very small town if you live here long enough—and I always love these Six Degrees of Fashion Week connections.
The VPL by Victoria Bartlett presentation is being held in the gymnasium of Avenues: The World School in Chelsea, a fancy schmancy private school for the offspring of Manhattan's international monied class (at least judging by the lobby and modern, incredibly well-appointed restroom, which has more than one mom in attendance exclaiming "this is the nicest school bathroom I've ever seen!" with obvious awe). Upstairs, in the equally impressive sun-filled gym, beneath signage with such inspirational phrases as "the only difference between a good shot and a bad shot is if it goes in or not" and "you miss 100 percent of the shotes you never take," Bartlett debuts her spring 2014 collection. Called "Onward," it pays homage to her label's origin as a fashion/activewear brand. To better demonstrate the sports cred of her garments' no-rub bonded seaming and seaweed-infused fabrics (which release vitamins A and E, providing a dose of skincare while you get your sweat on), Bartlett's models are put through their paces using resistance bands in routines designed by Bari Studio founder Alexandra Bonetti Perez. The tank tops, exercise bras, two-tone leggings and oversized shorts are sleek, colorful and more than a little sexy, especially when worn with elastic leg straps, which give the looks a Helmut Newton-does-SoulCycle feel. Sunglasses, neon headphones, open-toed sneaker sandals and rolled headbands of the Olivia Newton-John/Let's Get Physical variety complete the sporty chic picture. (And may I suggest you click the link just for a laugh even if you aren't an ONJ fan. Oh, the Eighties….)
A few blocks further up Tenth Ave, Novis designer Jordana Warmflash (yes, that's her real name) found inspiration in mid-century modern architecture and furniture design. This translates into a striking geometric map print that's used on t-shirts, pants, jackets and a vest dress. A larger, similarly themed geometric print appears on intarsia knit column dresses, and many of the silhouettes are long and lean, with lots of interesting textural layering and color combos. The designer's deft way with color is especially winning in a pink and yellow map tee atop a green skirt with a black and white grid under layer and checkerboard hem (which sounds like visual overload but serves to heighten one's senses rather than offend them). Likewise, a black and white drop shoulder sweater is paired, to great effect, with mint green map print pants. The result serves to amp up the volume on each piece, rendering the sum far greater than its parts. The contrasting Walter Steiger shoes only enhance the sharp, spirited interplay between Warmflash's playfully contradictory pieces.
Since I have a late start tomorrow, I finish my day by watching Nicole Holofcener's movie, Please Give, with Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Sarah Steele (Eli Gold's daughter on The Good Wife) and a tanorexic Amanda Peet. It's both poignant and laugh out loud funny (Old Ladies Say the Darnest Things!). If you're into smart movies about realistic human interactions, I recommend it highly. It's the perfect antidote to all things fash-un!
photos by Lauren David Peden, The Fashion Informer, 2013