New York Fashion Diary
Cynthia Rowley hasn’t won any bobsled races lately, and the dudes at Rag & Bone can’t pull off a triple salchow to save their lives (I’m assuming). But the designers showing their Fall 2010 collections at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week —labels like Yigal Azrouël, Charlotte Ronson, Generra and Gilded Age—are just as energized as the athletes who marched into the Olympic Stadium in Vancouver.
And the climax of the day—Naomi Campbell’s Fashion For Relief all-star runway show benefiting Haiti—was positively raucous.
Day 2 was, for the most part, a young man’s (and woman’s) game, with runway after runway brimming with looks from edgy, upstart or otherwise up-and-comer brands. So why was I feeling so old?
I was exhausted from the first day, with all the extra running around tracking down info about the death of British designer Alexander McQueen. I awoke Friday morning shirtless, one-sockless, but otherwise dressed, apparently having fallen dead asleep while getting ready for bed the night before. Then had to jump up, and dig my car out from under piles of snow left by Wednesday’s blizzard. When was the last time Anna Wintour shoveled snow, I wondered?
One subway ride and several ibuprofen later, I'm at the Yigal Azrouël show, feeling weaker than the tough gals striding down the runway in their suits with armor-like, removable shearling cuffs. Or the strappy-backed dresses with bold zippers. Or one woman, big as a linebacker, in a combable goat-hair Cousin Itt coat. There's menswear, too, including “resin leather” tees (looking lightweight) and jackets (coolly wrinkled).
Director Tim Burton might like the next show. Cynthia Rowley’s fondness for the fantastical kicks into high gear as the lights dim, tribal drummers begin to pound and models appear through a forest clad in looks that are fringed, feathered, furry-looking. The “fur” is trimmed organza on dresses, tops, skirts. The feathers, in dresses, encased in layers of sheer fabric. But, those tassels—long ones, in garish shades? Nah uh.
Time to book. The Gilded Age menswear show is way down in NoLIta—that’s “North of Little Italy” in NYC acronym-speak. The setting is right—cobblestones and cast-iron-front buildings are just the thing for designer Stefan Miljanic, who is obsessed with history. The line is inspired by old sepia-print photographs, produced by artisanal methods, and he’s got some crazy guy in Jersey with major laundry issues who pummels the denim and workpants to look properly aged. The look is cool, not dandyish, with lots of tweed jackets (with red-stitch buttonholes) thrown over plaid shirts, a great wax cotton pea coat paired with distressed workpants, newsboy caps, even a top hat or two (for ambience, I figure).
SoHo’s up next, and the Rag & Bone show, where there’s good news for frequent fliers. Designers David Neville and Marcus Wainwright have figured out a solution to those annoying airline luggage fees: Wear all your clothes at once.. We’re talking layers, people. One model wears a charcoal cropped sweater over a pinstripe jacket over a red plaid shirt over a wool mini; another nestles in a tuxedo blazer atop a tux tail coat (yep, two coats), atop a leather dress atop a white cotton shirt and stripe scarf. Phew. The models look Bonnie—not just as in Scotland (lots of kicky kilts, here), but as in “…and Clyde.” These gals are tough, too, with utility belts and leather braces over blazers, like holsters.
Another subway ride, and we’re in Chelsea, considering a dilemma. Say you’re a critically acclaimed husband-and-wife design team whose clever Obedient Sons (and Daughters) lines tanked with the economy. Then Generra brings you in to revive the line and get the brand attention. Hmm…. No pressure! Swaim and Christina Hutson show their debut Generra line at Hiro Ballroom, a Tokyo-ish speakeasy in Chelsea’s Maritime Hotel. They turned to Snow White for inspiration (serious), and created peppy color-block minis bursting from under chunky knits. Watercolory prints came in royal, violet, “hot hot pink.” But the glare of all that “hot hot” makes you squint. We love ya, guys—just dial it down a shade or two next time.
Charlotte Ronson no doubt got some good fashion karma by giving up her time slot at the tents to allow for the Haiti benefit. It didn’t hurt her turnout—her show was standing room only. Ronson offers a cozy, covered-up line. An ankle-length rust trench requires commitment (lotsa buttons). The long pleated skirts? She knows to de-dowdyize them (adding a slick motorcycle jacket).
By 7 p.m., the tents are brimming not just with style but charity and good will, as Naomi Campbell’s “Fashion For Relief” show plays to a sold-out house. I score a seat next to Fern Mallis, the IMG VP who keeps this whole week rolling forward. She looks a bit like Tom Hanks at the start of “Saving Private Ryan,” viewing it all in slo-mo. Imagine having to help organize—on the fly—a show that usually takes months of prep, getting hundreds of people who are unfamiliar with the tents in and out. Then again, she’s from Brooklyn—they don’t fluster much.
Some 950 American Express cardmembers bought tickets, ($75 to $150 a pop), and AmEx is kicking in $250,000 more. This plus proceeds from next month’s auction on net-a-porter.com of designer outfits will go to CARE, a group working to rebuild Haiti’s devastated health-care system for women and children.
“Tonight we can save lives in Haiti because of you,” says host Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. Dressed in long black chiffon, she jokes about the hour delay. “Our timing is slightly off—funny that.”
The crowd doesn't mind. Nor do they necessarily get anything uttered by writer Fran Lebowitz, who speaks next. Her curious remarks are perhaps due to nerves, or a rarefied dialect of superiority. (“I’m going to be perfectly frank with you—I know that’s not your favorite thing,” she says to the crowd. Really? You’re gonna go there?)
No matter. Huge cheers go up for stars hitting the runway—including Alan Cumming, hottie Malin Akerman, Patti Smith, Estelle, Kelly Osbourne, Chris Brown, designers Donna Karan, Diane von Furstenberg, Carlos Miele, supermodel Helena Christensen and Naomi herself, who looks amazing in a turquoise, cut-out gown, then a black shimmy-shimmy number. Model Agyness Deyn falls—twice—causing a backup on the runway till she finally takes off her sky-high stilettos—and the crowd goes wild.
“Model down,” remarks Fern Mallis, shrugging.
The final note, however, is bittersweet, with a tribute to Naomi’s friend Alexander McQueen, with Naomi and others modeling clothes from his previous collections.
By the end, Campbell and friends look emotional, and in the finale, everyone comes out in clusters, all the pretty models and their model friends, arm in arm, high-fiving. You know—like normal people.
I turn and catch Fern Mallis discreetly wiping away a tear or two.
Sometimes this industry is overwhelmed with divas and dilettantes. But today—today was okay. Maybe, just maybe, we done good.