Weapons of Mass Consumption

The call comes at the very beginning of Fashion Week, a breathless messenger revealing the exact location of the Imitation of Christ show and informing us that we are among a mere 45 invitees. So, because previous IOC shows have offered ragged, vintage-clad sprites and nutty half-naked vacuum-cleaner-wielders, we join 44 other lucky duckies and trudge in bitter cold to a millionairess's house on 94th Street where the event is taking place.

Outside the mansion is chaos: A photographer, albeit one with a reputation for nuttiness, gets so mad at the ham-fisted security tactics ("Go home, you will not get in!" shrieks a guy at the door) that he calls the police and reports a fire hazard.

We never see the cops, but maybe that's because we're soon inside, sitting in a salon that has white roses strewn on the floor and a string quartet ensconced on a curving staircase. And what do we and our 44 confreres get for our troubles? Sweaters. Exceedingly boring sweaters—mostly black, sometimes white, and about as exciting as the sale rack at Ann Taylor Loft.

It's a tragic disappointment, but who cares, really? Five minutes later it's all forgotten. There's always another show on the calendar, another chance to wipe away the memory of mediocrity.

Though we try to concentrate on the lesser-known designers—no one needs to hear another word about Donna or Ralph (plus we weren't invited to those!)—we can't resist a Marc Jacobs show, especially this year, when his travails with LVMH, his parent company, have been detailed on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. We go to both Marc events and can report that the theme on the higher-end runway is unreconstructed '50s—as in tweed skirts and grandma's mink—along with even less appealing thrift shop '80s, and by this we don't mean punk or disco but Krystle Carrington dresses. Even minus the shoulder pads—the way Jacobs shows them—'80s dresses should be bought from a pillowcase at a flea, not at Bergdorf's. (And get the '50s stuff, if you must, from Patrick Robinson, whose Perry Ellis installation features similar styles with far lower price tags.)

If the cargos and patchwork jackets from Jacobs's less expensive Marc line seem equally uninspired, it may be because the show has the misfortune of following directly on the heels of Libertine's spectacular presentation. Libertine's specialty is superimposing spooky, sketchy skeletons, snakes, and other 19th-century graphics on Fair Isle sweaters, Icelandic hand-knitted pullovers, and trenches, making the wearer look like a subversive English schoolboy (or girl). The collection includes an office-ready tweed coat with a large skull emblazoned on its back, to let the boss know what you really think as you leave for the day.

There are skulls at Betsey Johnson too, enlivening a slouchy top with a Flashdance neckline. No one can accuse Johnson of trolling the decades for inspiration—her gaze remains fixed on Betseyville, a land of tutus, stripies, and glitter tanks. This time around the models' hair is a nutty mohawk-mullet combo and the locale is Irving Plaza, no doubt a poignant spot for Johnson, who long ago was Mrs. John Cale.

Jeremy Scott is certainly spunky, but whether he is a designer or a frustrated performance artist remains an open question. Last season, Scott dressed models in stunning if saucy outfits and put them in erotic peep-show settings; this time he brings in two teams of power cheerleaders from the 'burbs, gives them tees and shorts that say Jeremy, and has them perform a 10-minute routine. The young athletes are certainly energetic, but alas, our antipathy to cheerleading—power or otherwise—along with Scott's indifference to showing any real clothes, leaves us, along with most of the audience, stunned, and not in a good way. An incredulous "Was that it?" is overheard more than once as the crowd tumbles out of Crobar and into the night.

But no one has a cross word to say a few days later at the entirely magical As Four show, though there is a manic pit bull chasing its own tail in what could be taken as an example of canine power cheerleading. It's a triumphant collection of intricate, petal-seamed coats and dresses whose exquisite tailoring in no way undermines their avant-garde credentials. And even though the show features many distinctly As Four flourishes, including an army of As Four-clad toddler-models, a bubble machine, and a puppet show, it is neither fey nor cloying in the least.

 
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