Style points: Why we fall for fashion any time of the year
In the fashion world, September is the most wonderful time of the year.
After the long hot summer, there's a hint of fall in the air in the fashion capitals of New York, Milan and Paris. The major fashion magazines are thicker than a Bible with hot looks for the season. Retailers stock up with styles they pray fashion-forward shoppers will yearn for in the tough economy.
In Houston, though, we don't get too excited right away because it's inconceivable to envision wearing thick sweaters and camel-hair coats when the temperatures remain north of 95 degrees — no matter how wonderful the styles are.
Even so, it's the perfect time to ponder the place fashion holds in our society.
Here at CultureMap, our September theme, "Fall for Fashion," has a double meaning. We'll look at the hot trends for fall — capes, boxy handbags, lace-trimmed boots, fur-trimmed coats, chunky sweaters, tailored blazers and the little black dress, which never goes out of style. We'll also examine why we "fall" for fashion and what it means in our lives.
When I first started going to the New York shows, some friends wondered why I wanted to cover fashion. They thought it was frivolous and not germane to their lives. How wrong they were.
I admit I was dazzled by the glamour — at my first New York show, Beyoncé Knowles caused a near riot as paparazzi fought to get a shot of her and, a few years later, at Proenza Schouler, Demi Moore and I discussed, of all things, energy-saving lightbulbs — but I found it fascinating that what shows up on the catwalk reflects our lives and times.
When the economy was booming, ostentation ruled the runways. One Oscar de la Renta show was so swathed in furs and brocade that it looked liked the last days of the Russian empire.
As tougher times took hold, edgier looks prevailed. But "cocooning" became the watchword, too, with comfy Navajo print ponchos and leopard print lounging pj's perfect for at-home lounging.
Soon after the Iraq war began, camouflage cropped up everywhere. Even America's most influential designer, Marc Jacobs, toned down his whimsy.
Now, with signs that the recovery is taking longer than expected, classic chic is in, with tailored suits, jackets and dresses that can last a lifetime — or at least until the next boom.
My favorite response to "fashion doesn't matter" comes from The Devil Wears Prada. (Bear with me. It's a long but amazing soliloquy that explains why fashion is important.)
After an assistant snickered when magazine editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep in the movie) was debating which of two similar-looking belts to feature in a photo shoot, Priestly responded:
You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select... I don't know... that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise. It's not lapis. It's actually cerulean. And you're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent... wasn't it who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff."
This fall, the prime color for fall is almost anything but blue. Leatrice Eiseman of the Pantone Color Institute picks orchid — "fall's answer to purple," she told Women's Wear Daily. More subtle than fuschia but not as shocking as hot pink, it exudes an exotic feeling, "so when you buy something in this color, you actually feel like you're somewhere else."
Cheaper than a vacation, for sure.
Neiman Marcus picks green as the "go-to hue" while red still stands out. Many designers are showcasing butterscotch/camel/carmel tones as the season's new neutral. The old neutral — black— remains popular, too
Even before fall looks settle into stores, spring styles will be unveiled during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, held for the first time at Lincoln Center late next week. I'll be there to offer commentary on all the looks, with celebrity reports and backstage ruminations.
Fashion Week reminds me a little bit of high school, where the "mean girls" and cool kids — assorted Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Elle editors — hold court from the first row, while the nerdy but nice contingent — members of the regional press (that's me) — sit in seats ranging from "pretty good" to "really bad," depending on how the designer does in our respective markets.
Fortunately some of the greatest names in American fashion — Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Diane von Furstenberg — and a cadre of emerging forces — Naeem Khan, Angel Sanchez, Lela Rose, Tory Burch — love Houston women because the Bayou City is a major market for their styles, so my seats are not bad.
The shows rarely last over 15 minutes, but they can be magical. A Kors show is always exhilirating as the designers floods the runway with dozens of models in chic sportswear; the gowns at Oscar are always drop-dead gorgeous and Lauren's luxurious looks are always shown in an intimate space with his wife and family present —along with one A-list star like Halle Berry on the front row.
Back home, preparations are already underway for Houston's first-ever fashion week next month. It sounds like a Project Runway reunion, with Chloe Dao, Christian Siriano and Irene Shabayeva as headliners.
CultureMap contributor and fashion expert Heather Staible will on hand throughout the month to preview Houston Fashion Week, offer her view of fashion trends, tips on the best shopping and interviews with stylists, store owners and local designers. She already has a schoolgirl crush on David Peck, who will show his collection at Houston Fashion Week.
We're also excited to introduce StyleFile, a new feature that highlights stylish Houstonians. (It launches later this month.) With so many candidates to choose from, it's not going to be easy.
But it sure is going to be fun.