NEW YORK — When Rachel Zoe showcased her collection for a select audience of American Express cardholders at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Thursday night, her good friend designer Prabal Gurung asked how she felt before a show.
"I'm terrified," she said. "All of the designers that I know — and some of them are the biggest in the business — are terrified right up until the show. I asked one of my heroes the other night, 'How are you doing?' He said, 'I'm so nervous.'
"And I said, 'You can't be nervous; you've been doing this for 50 years.'
"He said, 'If I'm not nervous then I'm done with this.' "
Zoe didn't name the designer, but it was clear that she was talking about Oscar de la Renta, because she was front-and-center at his show a couple of nights earlier and he has been at the top of his game for a generation.
"And I said, 'You can't be nervous; you've been doing this for 50 years.' He said, 'If I'm not nervous then I'm done with this.' "
Being a little nervous is probably a good thing, because de la Renta's spring collection proved that he continues to design with a distinct point-of-view.
The collection offers a little something for everyone. It opened with a sexy secretary look as model-of-the-moment Karlie Kloss appeared in a red latex tank, tight white pencil skirt and navy blazer. Her hair was punked up with red streaks.
After a few similar looks, de la Renta pivoted to a range of creme-colored pants suits, yellow day dresses, pink and turquoise suits and skirts covered with grafitti. For evening wear, always his strong suit, the selections ranged from a striking black-and-white column gown to an aquamarine crush tulle princess gown, along with pink satin hot pants, paired with a pink bustier or a flower-draped top.
New York Times fashion writer Cathy Horyn riled up de la Renta when, after viewing the collection, she wrote that the 80-year-old designer is "far more a hot dog than an éminence grise of American fashion." He took offense and ran a full-page ad in Women's Wear Daily calling Horyn a "stale 3-day old hamburger" and advising her to "abstain from personal criticism."
In an email to Fashionologie, Horyn maintained it was all a big misunderstanding and she meant no harm. "I used the term in a professional context, as someone showing off his tricks, like a surfer," Horyn said. "I thought an ad was a little over-the-top."
All the food terminology seemed rather amusing, since it's unlikely the wafer-thin models wearing de la Renta's clothes would ever touch a hot dog or a hamburger.
We're not sure if, at 72, Ralph Lauren has a case of nerves before a show, but afterwards, he always looks at ease on the runway while the Lauren clan — wife Ricky, son David and his wife Lauren, daughter Dylan — stand and wildly applaud.
That was the scene again at the unveiling of Lauren's spring 2013 collection, as starlets Jessica Alba and Olivia Wilde joined in the applause. But all eyes were on Olympic swimmers Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer, both impeccably dressed in tailored navy Ralph Lauren suits. They sat on the front row with the Lauren family.
After the show, the normally blasé fashion crowd raced to have their photos taken with the Olympians.
Having a world view is not new to Lauren. With fashion going increasingly global, he has centered his collections around themes of Britain's Downton Abbey, a mysterious temptress in China, and the dusty environs of Santa Fe in recent years.
"I definitely want to get into the fashion world. I'm working with a design team right now, so hopefully it's up and running within the next year," said Ryan Lochte.
For spring 2013, Lauren developed a Spanish theme with gaucho glamour. His romantic collection featured embroidered torreador capes and matador jackets, serape blanket wrap tops, ruffled blouses, stencil cut-out leather purses and belts, and dresses and handbags dripping in fringe.
Colors are bold — the collection featured a turquoise blouse, tomato red tank dress, sage green pants and a purple pants outfit — but the real showstoppers were a series of rather simple all-white or all-black gowns. A black gown with intricate satin beading along the shoulders and back could easily draw series of "Ole!'s"
Lochte and Dwyer were certainly impressed.
"It was unbelievable; the best one I've seen," said Dwyer, who added he had been to about four fashion shows previously.
Is he becoming a fashion veteran?
"We'll see. I'm still young, but I like it a lot," said the 23-year-old Olympic gold medalist. "All the models are really good looking."
Lochte said he has plans for his own clothing line. "I definitely want to get into the fashion world. I'm working with a design team right now, so hopefully it's up and running within the next year."
He added the line will be casual and formal. "But you know what? I want a little edge to it," he said.