Vera Wang jokingly refers to herself as "the oldest young designer alive". In her mid 50's (though she hardly looks it) I suppose you can say that is true. Certainly, she’s been around for a long time (first as a fashion editor at Vogue, then having designed bridal gowns, years before branching out into ready to wear, eveningwear, shoes, accessories). And while she has long been a favorite of socialites and celebrities when they seek out something special for a gala or to wear on the Red Carpet, it is only relatively recently that she has been recognized for her efforts - this past June she received the CFDA Award for Women’s Wear Designer of the Year. It seems each collection get better each time and more focused.
For her beautiful spring collection, she was able to do what many others did not- make clothes that are special, distinctive, poetic, romantic, urban, modern, and youthful AND sophisticated all at the same time, and perfectly in keeping with the times, and somehow they came off as wearable and not costumy. Her program notes cited the “charm, optimism, and sophisticated primitivsm of Henri Matisse mixed with the strict, sometimes fanciful definitions of femininity in America's Wild West” as her main inspiration….hmmm, sounds familiar, no? Just the day before we sat through Michael Kors’s collection that was also undeniably inspired by the American West….What a difference a day makes. While Michael’s translation was far more literal, predictable and traditional, (and in some instances pieces looked as though they could have been culled from Michael’s archives, no offense), at Wang, the interpretation was more couture like, artistic, romantic, and feminine with its reliance on innovative drape, cut, and construction. Yes, there were hints of Gigli, Yamamoto, Kawakubo, and Victoriana, but still….According to Vera’s mission, she sought to “mix humble and sophisticated fabrics, elements both tailored and relaxed and the inherent modernity of extreme contrasts” and she certainly achieved what she set out to do, putting heavy white cotton shirts or blouses underneath taffeta or duchesse satin jackets and coats or n conjunction with taffeta and duchesse satin, or using rugged brown leather or raffia to accessorize seemingly more formal pieces.
Speaking of white shirts, in a strong season for white shirts and romantic blouses, Vera had several distinctive versions (many of hers also featured cotton tulle jabots), and though dresses may well be the ‘story’, she was yet another designer to endorse pants this season, and pants are beginning to look better and better after so many seasons emphasizing skirts. She showed both cropped full pants and skinny ones (like the pair that opened the show which were shown with a black taffeta eyelet “painter’s” blouse and white cotton tulle jabot underblouse).
Interestingly, while I normally love color, in this collection, the bright pieces looked rather ordinary and not as beautiful as those done in moodier black, mahogany, oyster, charcoal, mustard, navy, lavender, or khaki, and they were not in keeping with the tone of the collection. Volume was an important message as well, and Vera worked volume into jackets and coats as well as skirts and dresses. Sometimes volume was worked with volume, and sometimes it was downplayed with something skinny. Positively beautiful was a black silk faille ‘cape’ jacket shown over a black chiffon camisole and floor length silk faille draped skirt or the narrow lavender silk faille ‘corset’ jacket paired with a white jabot shirt and a billowy navy floral brocade peasant skirt.
When the show ended, the soundtrack turned to Sonny and Cher’s famous hit, “I Got You Babe” (I guess the song must have sentimental value to the designer and her husband. Or perhaps Vera has always identified with Cher because of her long straight black hair). In any event, just as Vera took the stage to take her bow, Cher sang, “they say that love won’t pay the rent before it’s earned the money’s all been spent”. I had to chuckle; the very last thing Vera has to worry about is paying the rent.
I thought J. Mendel was a really pretty collection though perhaps not Gilles best, and very illustrative of the way the designer and CEO of J. Mendel uses his creativity and innovative techniques to bring furs into the 21st century. Gilles stated that the collection was all about the exploration of the art of dressmaking and admitted that he derived the greatest pleasure from taking the expected and turning it into the unexpected. He wanted to create “an urbane dream in chiffon, mousseline and silk tulle that had the feeling of modern heirlooms” and indeed the collection of coats and shrunken jackets with elbow length sleeves, narrow shoulders, exposed seams, high armholes, and hand tacked darts (which he refers to as the “ornaments of this season” ) had a very strong vintage feel. He also deconstructed artisinal tweed which was then reapplied to a stretch chiffon base in order to make it light as a feather and weightless. But this is nothing new for him because he has always taken inspiration from the past.
The entire collection was based on a very soft color palette: flesh tones and make up shades like almond, freesia, azalea, hyacinth, and bark layered over nude. While Gilles endorsed short pleated skirts and shorts for day, he again, was yet another designer who is making a statement with pants (full trousers in this case, like the white wool gabardine pair that were shown under a white broadtail shrunken vest and chiffon blouse). The fabrics used were washed gold silk canvas, gold or brown wool tweed, silk faille (which he cut into a positively beautiful trench coat), goat, chiffon, brocade, crinkle or printed chiffon, chantilly lace and mousseline. Broadtail and minks that were custom colored and sheared were combined with organza and chiffon to ensure their lightness and weightlessness.
Standouts include the washed gold silk canvas jacket with silk satin trim over matching skirt; the gold wool tweed jacket with satin trim over gold wool tweed skirt, almond chiffon tank top and almond chiffon pleated skirt; the white broadtail and brushed organza coat and vest; an oatmeal velvet mink vest with white beads shown over an almond chiffon pleated gown; white long haired mink and chiffon reversible jacket over sky blue chiffon ruffle front blouse and white wool gabardine pants; and the pin tucked lace chiffon gown in pale butter with multi tiered skirts and elbow length puffed sleeves.
If there’s any one on 7th avenue getting more face time and more press these days than Zac Posen (other than Marc Jacobs), I’d like to know who it is. The very telegenic and photogenic Zac Posen who seemingly did not meet a mirror or a photographer he didn’t like seems to be all over the place. It’s a good thing he is still really young with all that verve and energy because he is not only out socializing up a storm, which is part of his whole aura, but has just partnered with Seven for All Mankind on a very expensive (what else?) denim collection, launched his first accessories line, filled with exotic pieces, and presented his spring 2006 collection on Thursday evening. And needless to say, he accessorized the collection with pieces from his brand new line.
Zac has always been highly influenced by “strong, confident, and sexy women” and it’s apparent he really loves women because he seems to celebrate them in his designs - though often it appears he is designing for a fantasy woman with a fantasy life. Certainly, he is not designing for the secretary or school teacher.
His collections are traditionally much more about cocktail and evening than daytime and that was the case this time around as well, but daytime was hardly ignored. In addition to his lovely dresses (many of which are short, high waisted, will full graceful skirts of rolled hemlines), he showed several jackets and skinny elongated pants; offered his take on a classic khaki trenchcoat; presented his new elongated and well cut slouchy jean under a beautifully cut ivory jacket, giving it attitude with an oversized straw hat and satchel; fashioned a cocktail dress out of men’s silk tie fabric; and scored with a group of crowd pleasing knitwear and crochet pieces. As always, he closed the show with voluminous, entrance making ballgowns (which seem impossible to fit through most doorways), and his pale cloud gray strapless number with cascading ruffles made the model appear to be walking on cloud nine (literally).