A Dry White Season

Whoever wins in November, Republican looks swept the Fashion Week runways

It would have been reasonable to assume, what with Fashion Week arriving on the heels of massive anti-RNC demos, and with so many young designers vocal in their opposition to the current administration, and with the windows of Marc Jacobs's shop on Bleecker Street showcasing undies with lewd anti-Bush slogans, that this time around the catwalks would be crowded with irreverent, defiant, rebellious clothing.

Unfortunately, subversive sartorial statements were far from the rule. Instead, designers seemed hell-bent on clothing women for lives that revolve around home (a big mansion), hearth (straight out of Architectural Digest), and country club (with restrictive admission policies). With the exception of Kenneth Cole, who offered a film about voting, and Imitation of Christ, where a kid read the Pledge of Allegiance and a Bush look-alike sat in the audience, political statements were few and far between.

So pervasive was the new sobriety that three formerly frisky downtown stalwarts—Imitation of Christ, the monumentally talented As Four, and Jeremy Scott—having previously shown in, respectively, an East Village funeral parlor, a school basement, and a gallery-cum-sex club, opted for the Bryant Park tents.

The power of this lily-white (and the runways were for the most part an Aryan pipe dream of pale skin and blue eyes), members-only Republican reverie could be measured by the ascendance of Bermuda shorts, not proffered merely as sportswear but offered in such disparate fabrics as eyelet rayon (Ghost) and shimmering velvet (Peter Som). If you couldn't bear the thought of clomping around in knee-length pants paired with shiny pumps and maybe a bejeweled jacket—lavish embellishment and garish gold are other hallmarks of the season—you could don a candy-colored baby-doll dress (Marc Jacobs) or a Palm Beach–worthy bird-printed cocktail dress (As Four) or a narrow black skirt heavy with beads and feathers (Derek Lam). At least it was black: In another bad sign, that color, the urban woman's safety net, was as absent as Bush from the Guard.

It was as if the runways were speaking with one voice, and it was a stern one: "We're not playing vintage dress-up anymore! We're serious. It's time to forget those wild feminist plans, those ratty tangles, and dress like a rich, grown-up lady!"

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Jeremy Scott's Lady Liberty; Gary Graham's straw vote
photo: Jennifer Snow
We are apparently alone in our conviction that your mother actually looks better in combat boots: In yet another indication that fashion currently exults in demure females who take mincing steps as they walk behind their men, virtually every design house put the girls, as they are invariably referred to in the trade (and girls they are, most models being no older than 20, some as young as 12), in teetering heels. (This completely subverted any argument that shorts ensembles are a comfy alternative to a skirt.) Only Gary Graham, a downtown designer whose idea of embellishment was his show-closer, a dress that appeared to be made of raffia, put his models in flat shoes.

Of course, you can dress a pouty model up in outfits that make her look like Tricia Nixon, but can you take her anywhere? At Catherine Malandrino's installation in her new meatpacking district flagship, one memorable mannequin, swathed in jade-green chiffon, sat with her legs far apart, like a guy hogging two seats on the subway. In fact, at many shows the models looked like what they in fact were—sullen teenagers who had been forced to sit for endless hair and makeup sessions and then be trussed up in $5,000 gowns when they'd rather be hooking up behind their local Burger King.

The only time we saw models who looked really happy was at a show in the Maritime Hotel by a British concern called Buddhist Punk. This was a raucous event, with Steven Tyler and Boy George in the audience, and though there were shorts here too, at least they were shown with silver platform shoes (ouch!), a corset-laced jacket, and a newsboy cap. Among the mugging models were Keith Richards's two daughters (they have been much on the runways this season) and Mick Jagger's daughter, all seemingly very much enjoying their scruffy Buddhist Punk tees and tiny skirts and turquoise boots. Leaving the show, a colleague pointed out that in any other context we would have pooh-poohed these clothes. Maybe so, but after a week of subservient-secretary garb, that old-fashioned Trash & Vaudeville spirit was downright intoxicating.

Or maybe it was just fun being at the Maritime, away from the tents. In search of fabulous new talent, we always go to a few shows by designers we've never heard of, which is how we found ourselves in a loft above Uncle Steve's on Canal Street. The most intriguing thing about this outing was a sign taped to the wall reading, "Do not take the elevator to the basement under any circumstances!" With visions of illicit Vuitton satchels languishing beneath us, we watched the H. Fredriksson show, which was blessedly free of Bermuda shorts, though there were pouchy kangaroo cropped pants and a number of clothes stenciled Libertine-style with leafy trees.

This was the first week since 2001 when shows actually took place on September 11, which was potentially creepy but turned out to pass virtually without comment from the fashion community, unless you count Jeremy Scott's mini-dress printed with a skeleton-headed Statue of Liberty. Marc Jacobs, whose show on the night of September 10, 2001, was the last event of that fateful Fashion Week, chose to have his show this year in the exact same venue (a pier on West 13th Street) and even followed it with a similar fragrance launch after-party.

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