Joseph A. Ungoco
In an uncertain economic environment, everyone, including designers, starts to play it safe. As I reflected on the endless whirlwind of runway shows and presentations during New York’s recent Fashion Week, I had to concur with my fellow editors’ assessment of what we had all seen: boring, boring, boring. In the aftermath of September 11th, the Fall 2002 fashion shows that following February were a study in dark and somber colors and austere unadorned silhouettes, but they still represented the best in American design. In this Presidential election year, with so much uncertainty at all levels of the economy, most designers showed clothes that they knew retailers would buy because they, in turn, could easily sell them to their customers. Undoubtedly, the collections that will be financially successful this spring will be the ones that allow customers to add to existing wardrobes without buying an entire new collection.
Very few designers really took big chances in their collections this season. What that meant for us in fashion media in the tents at Bryant Park was a seemingly endless parade of â€œsafeâ€ clothes. Each season, we search for â€œfashionâ€, not just clothes, and a collection that is â€œdirectionalâ€, one that changes the course of fashion and marks a turning point in fashion history. Although the week was disappointing overall, the sea of mediocrity made the few really great designers stand out.
First of all, the prevailing color palette for spring is black, white, and nude. How thrilling, right? It’s about as innovative and exciting as floral prints for spring. In terms of fabrics, shapes and details, nothing new or exciting was really offered either. Historically, American fashion is influenced to a degree by the Paris couture shows that precede New York Fashion Week by 2 months and, hopefully to a lesser degree, the Paris and Milan Ready-to-Wear shows 6 months prior. What I found at times shocking and at other times just sad was how much blatant copying of European designers I saw this fashion week. In my last column, I suggested that Prada’s Guipure lace dress was a must-have for this fall – not next spring. So many designers worked this inarguably beautiful fabric – surprise, in black, white, and nude – into their collections for Spring 09 that it seemed like American designers were desperately trying to fit and profit off a trend that someone else, a truly talented and visionary European designer, started 6 months earlier.
I am a huge fan of John Galliano for Christian Dior Couture and, although long overdue, I was delighted to see the influence of one of his most important collections – the Asian-inspired Spring 2007 collection – trickle down to American ready-to-wear. I was delighted that two designers – Tadashi Shoji and Naeem Khan – were able to meld the influence and inspiration of a bold European designer with the functionality and ease of American fashion. Tadashi, who is best known for his sponsorship of the Miss USA pageant and its evening gown competition, took the intricate origami folds and pared them down into wearable designs that are visually interesting yet still allow for â€œimportant jewelryâ€, a big consideration for American designers who sell well in California, Texas, and Florida. Naeem Khan’s collection featured heavily embroidered silks and obi sashes. One particularly attractive look was a classic French gamine silhouette – the crumb catcher bodice with a bubble skirt – reworked in Chinoiserie.
On the topic of couture, the undisputed crown prince, if not reigning king, of American couture is Ralph Rucci. Jimmy Galanos comes to New York just to see this show. The Chado by Ralph Rucci collection was spectacular as always. This was the closest that New York fashion week came to an over the top, slip out of your seat in a dead faint runway show. The clothes were just that beautiful. The Mark Rothko-inspired monolith evening gowns were so chic in their simplicity that hopefully they will never find their way to a red carpet anywhere.
For everyday dressing, the Michael Kors collection for Spring 09 is quite simply perfection. I absolutely fell in love with the collection notes about Americans in the 1950s visiting Italy. Ever since I first saw The Talented Mr. Ripley, I have waited for an American designer to update these classic looks and make them relevant to modern living. Michael Kors has done just that with this collection. The full circle skirts in bright red gingham and bright blue color blocking were a welcome shock of primary color in an otherwise bland season.
Making a strong fashion statement next spring will require some hard work on your part. Most designers will be offering clothes that will help you blend in rather than stand out. You will really have to look hard for unique pieces, but – have no fear – I’ll do my best to help you find them.
1. Christian Dior Spring 2007 Couture
2. Christian Dior Spring 2007 Couture
3. Tadashi Shoji Spring 2009 Ready-to-Wear
4. Naeem Khan Spring 2009 Ready-to-Wear
5. Chado Ralph Rucci Spring 2009 Ready-to-Wear
6. Michael Kors Spring 2009 Ready-to-Wear