NEW YORK — Over the past decade, many of the thrills of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week have come from seeing America's top designers excel at their craft. I still get goose bumps when Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Michael Kors send upwards of 60 models down the catwalk in a carefully choreographed presentation of what every woman dreams of wearing next season.
Even a New York blizzard couldn't keep the fashion faithful away from these shows.
But lately, they have been joined by a new generation of young, more diverse designers who are carving out unique identities with polished collections that are appealing to a younger clientele. Even a New York blizzard couldn't keep the fashion faithful away from their shows.
Jason Wu: What would Michelle think?
Claim to Fame: Wu received international acclaim when he designed Michelle Obama's inaugural gown in 2009. In a real surprise, the first lady chose him again for January's inaugural, where his halter-neck ruby chiffon custom gown with velvet details garnered stellar reviews — along with some grousing among fashion critics that Obama should have highlighted a different designer the second time around.
Interest level: Sky-high. Blizzard conditions threatened New York Friday afternoon, but driving snow didn't deter intrepid fashion reporters and a smattering of celebrities (Girls' Allison Williams, Jamie King) from filling a former church on Park Avenue where de la Renta used to show his collections.
Wu's collection, which he dubbed "Extreme Femininity," included a range of styles, from satin-and-fur motorcycle jackets belted tight at the waist to frothy ostrich feather party dresses.
The show: A Phantom of the Opera-sized chandelier dominated the room, although it remained low near the shiny black-and-white tile floors as models walked in a large square around it. Moments before the show began a team of workers wiped up melted snow tracked in as the crowd found their seats.
The look: Wu's sophisticated collection, which he dubbed "Extreme Femininity," included a range of styles, from satin-and-fur motorcycle jackets belted tight at the waist to frothy ostrich feather party dresses. There is a grown-up-in-a-good-way feeling to the collection, which also includes pleated dresses with beaded trim and a belted peplum top with flowing train and stovepipe pants.
But the see-through striped turtlenecks are likely a little too extreme for the first lady and her followers.
Prabal Gurung: Warrior woman chic
Age: 38 (but looks a lot younger)
Claim to fame: The Prabal Gurung for Target collection launches this weekend. Also, Michelle Obama and the Duchess of Cambridge have worn his designs.
Interest level: A full house of the fashion faithful trekked to a chilly warehouse near the East River for Gurung's show on Saturday. On the front row: Eve and former first daughter Barbara Bush.
Even the draped evening gowns had a tough edge, with black leather harness details, and some offered cutouts that exposed a slice of the lower torso.
The show: A no-nonsense industrial setting with futuristic tones. The closer was a stunner as each of the 36 models stood in an individual spotlight that cast a square onto the concrete floor.
The collection: Nothing frilly about Gurung's fall line-up. It features peplum jackets in military colors of olive or navy, cool-looking buckled gladiator boots that extend to mid-thigh and blouses with hand-embroidered epaulets.
Even the draped evening gowns have a tough edge, with black leather harness details. Some have cutouts that expose a slice of the lower torso — an exposed rib may be the "new back."
Gurung told reporters backstage that he based the collection on a Time magazine article that named body armor for women in the military as one of the best new inventions of 2012.
Alexander Wang: 50 shades of grey
Claim to fame: In December, Wang was named creative director at Balenciaga, the influential French family house.
Interest level: A darling of influential fashion editors for his urban sensibilities, Wang always draws a large and enthusiastic crowd. Lending street cred to the proceedings were rapper A$AP Rocky, actress-singer Zoe Kravitz and 7-ft.-1-in.-tall New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler (I wouldn't want to sit behind him at a show).
Opening with the cheesy strains of "Eye of the Tiger," Wang sent out models swathed in cocoon-like gray jackets with sleeves of black fur that covered the model's hands like a paw.
The show: Wang moved from a dank warehouse on the East River to the ornate lobby of the Cunard Building in lower Manhattan, a Beaux Art-style treaure built in 1917 with grand vestibules and a great central dome containing four roundels of mythological marble figures.
The collection: Opening with the cheesy strains of "Eye of the Tiger," Wang sent out models swathed in cocoon-like gray jackets with sleeves of black fur that covered their hands like a paw. The collection includes lots of outerwear in a mix of leather, wool and fur, sometimes with a crisscrossed belt at the front, and subdued shades of grey, black, creme and more grey.
Soft sweaters with rubberized sleeves, sparkly high-neck, low-back sweaters and black pants with a built in tool belt/apron lived up to Wang's urban innovator reputation. But the last look — white satin slacks, a plunging V-neck top and grey fur shrug — had a '70s glamour edge that's perfect for a night out on the town.