NEW YORK — It had all the makings of a good ol' fashioned fashion week smackdown.
In one corner of the Lincoln Center tents, heavyweight designer Michael Kors made last-minute preparations to show his mammoth spring/summer 2013 collection before an adoring audience that included Smash's Katharine McPhee, Marisa Tomei, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
In another corner, in an area known as The Box, fashion newcomer and tabloid favorite Katie Holmes prepared to unveil her new collection, Holmes & Yang, for the first time at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week — minus Suri and with no mention of Tom.
Just before Kors live-streamed his runway show for the world to see on his website, Holmes and her friend and longtime stylist, Jeanne Yang, unveiled their presentation to select members of the fashion press in a tightly restricted setting. The times of the two shows overlapped, although most guests invited to both had already dropped into H&Y before scurrying over to catch Kors.
"As Diana Vreeland used to say, 'It's not about the dress, it's about the life you're living when you buy the dress.' And nobody understands it better than Michael."
So who came out ahead?
It would be foolhardy to bet against Kors, who took his company public late last year and is close to becoming a billionaire as a result. As a Project Runway judge, he has maintained an acerbic tell-it-like-it-is personality while transforming his label into a lifestyle brand that encompasses clothing, shoes, purses, watches and jewelry.
"Who doesn't love Michael Kors? He's just one of those people that understands the joy of fashion," Harper's Bazaar editor-in-chief Glenda Bailey told an exclusive gathering of American Express cardholders in the Skybox after the Kors show. "He totally understands his customer. As Diana Vreeland used to say, 'It's not about the dress, it's about the life you're living when you buy the dress.' And no one understands that better than Michael."
Kors' show is traditionally a fashion week favorite, and the unveiling of his newest collection of American sportswear was no exception, as he sent out 65 looks for men and women that covered key spring trends — athletic designs that show off well-toned abs and back, colorful coats, black as a wardrobe staple and lots of stripes.
"He's always able to do the key pieces but also the key trends, so first and foremost, of course, we saw more stripes," Bailey said. "We saw lots and lots of black-and-white stripes from Marc Jacobs. Clearly the William Klein influence, very Polly Maggoo, has infiltrated all of the designers' thoughts. "
Kors featured stripes on ladies pants, bodysuits, shirts, blazers and pullover sweaters. One distinctive men's sweater was black on the front, with black and white strips on the back.
"Fashion designers don't work in a vacuum; they are inspired by what's going on in the world,"Bailey added, pointing out that a big William Klein retrospective opens at the Tate Modern in London next month "All of a sudden we find ourselves looking at his work, the wonderful, very famous (striped) dresses he shot for Vogue, and you look at (the 1966 French film) Polly Magoo, and realize that that feels very right right now.
"And so many designers have been influenced by sportswear this season; of course, the Olympics had so much influence on all of us. That's why we're seeing a lot more casual clothes coming into fashion. I always love the combination."
Indeed, Kors featured several no-nonsense black gowns with exposed backs and midriffs. Model-of-the moment Karlie Kloss closed the show in one, but I think it would have suited Olympic gold medalist/track star Sanya Richards-Ross better.
As usual, Kors made a full runway walk at the close of the show and heartily greeted well-wishers backstage in contrast to Holmes, whom observers said was polite but reserved. The Holmes & Yang spring 2013 collection, which is solely available in Texas at a trunk show at Forty Five Ten in Dallas later this month, features only 14 outfits, "none of them especially interesting other than that the models’ hair was pulled back into a ponytail in the style of Katie Holmes," wrote New York Times fashion writer Eric Wilson.
"It was all perfectly commercial, but none of it added up to a statement," Wilson added. "That seemed a missed opportunity, given the fickleness of fashion. You don’t get that many shots to make a splash at Fashion Week. So why did they want to?"
But Bailey said there were a number of pieces in the collection she liked, including a quilted bomber jacket, a cropped biker jacket and leather pants, a longish red blazer and a brown trench coat with wide lapels.
I guess five out of 14 ain't bad.
Does Holmes have potential as a designer, like the Olsen twins or Victoria Beckham? Bailey is in her corner.
"The difference is the combination of talents (with Holmes and Yang). I also think they have been working on this brand for a long time and they understand the craftsmanship. And they really do work at it," Bailey said."And I think you could tell that by the presentation."
But it sure seems the duo has a long way to go.