By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
It was a question haunting the uptown catwalks last week, where acres of middlebrow clothes and salivating photographers stalking C-list celebs contributed equally to the depressing atmosphere. This season's official Bryant Park shows were especially dismal but, truth be told, American fashion shows were never really a big whoop. Our great strength is sportswear, which tends to wilt on a catwalk. The real runway action has always been, and remains, in Europe, and if you have any doubt, the people at Zara and H&M don'tit's Prada they'll be knocking off, not DKNY.
If there was what passed for buzz surrounding any show, it was audible at Heatherette on opening night, where hordes of eccentrics filled the house: a painfully thin Tori Spelling (was she scouting for the Donna Martin line?), the ubiquitous Sylvia Miles, and any number of downtown drag personalities all bellowed enthusiastically at the enforced, if occasionally winning, juvenilia. A poufed skirt (these would later emerge, along with velvet, ruffles, corsets, empire waists, gold, and puffed sleeves as hallmarks of the season) was decorated with an appliquéd, sequined rocking horse; a scalloped skirt brandished a Care Bear and the legend "Follow Your Dreams."
But follow them where? To the Lower East Side, perhaps, where more than a few designers with unfamiliar names were presenting nascent collections in makeshift venues. A line called Dick by Richard took over a former firehouse on Elizabeth Street and offered menswear that included a bright-red Ultrasuede poncho enhanced with safety pinsa nod to punk style, perhaps, but in reality closer, with its Highland fling sentiments, to Johnny Walker than to Johnny Rotten.
In a community center on Suffolk Street, Christian Joy, revered in downtown fashion circles for her role as designer-stylist to Karen O, said before the Shenan show that the clothes were "super-cute and awesome," and though that might be a bit of an overstatement, the outfits did seem just right for a certain type of young woman who lives in the neighborhood and whose idea of dressing for a big evening out consists of throwing together a miniskirt with an appliquéd cocktail apron, a little ruffly cape, a pair of lace hose, and Chinese slippers from Canal Street.
Jeremy Laing commandeered a gallery on Rivington Street and raised the barliterally and figurativelywith an installation that consisted of one woman in a lovely draped gown drinking from a Heineken bottle, surrounded by folks wearing jodhpurs with miniature knee patches and ribbon suspenders. The unexpected lesson? Apple green thermal-underwear trousers with little knee patches are far more charming than they sound.
Charm was also in bounteous supply at Gary Graham, who took up temporary residence in a spectacular if dilapidated former synagogue on Norfolk Street. Graham's program notes stated that he imagined his pewter camisoles and floating skirts on three different womena scientist, a farm girl in Barbour boots, and a party animal so wanton she was in danger of slopping booze on or burning a hole in a particularly ethereal raspberry chiffon skirt.
The children's hour at Heatherette
(photo: Jennifer Snow)
The whole evening had a sweet "let's put on a show" feeling, which was distinctly missing at the Imitation of Christ show at Lever House on Park Avenuea long way from Imitation's first venue several seasons back, a funeral parlor on East 7th Street. In those days, the house was known for cleverly reconstructed vintage frocks with astronomical price tags; this season, the clothestaupe flannel jumpsuits, leather-piped camel wrap coatwere obviously intended for another sort of East Side woman: one who lives 70 or so blocks north of 7th Street. Even a song by the much touted Mommies Inc., a Damien Hirst installation, and the occasional visible breast (well, it was Super Bowl Sunday) failed to raise the hipness quotient.
Hipness was not a problem for Maria Cornejo, who outfitted her models in quiet velvet bubble skirts and high-waisted dresses and let them wander around her shop on Mott Street. Cornejo, whose clothes are utterly adult (no sequined rocking horses here) proved once again that the future of fashion lies in eschewing those huge, hackneyed labels (ask Helmut Lang or Jil Sander what it means when your business gets too big) in favor of a quiet jewel uncovered in a tiny shop. Still, a potentially hackneyed label can offer compensations: Zac Posen presented stunning mermaid dresses at a big show in the tents. (He's putting that money from his partnership with P. Diddy to good use.)