Prepping for Fashion Week 2008

The usual heels, but knock off the complaining

I know what you want. I read those two-ton fall fashion magazines, so I am well aware that at this very second, you are scrambling about furiously for a blouse with floppy sleeves and a pair of unattractively full pants, pencil skirts as stiff as those pants are limp, a gauzy peasant dress, and a pair of hideously high heels. And let's not forget furry vests! And lace, lace, lace!

Hurry! Even as you read this, New York Fashion Week, debuting the spring 2009 collections, is unfurling on the Bryant Park runways, all but oblivious to the fact that most Americans are too busy choosing between food and fuel to worry about foulards versus fan pleats.

But back to the task at hand. Don't bother visiting the expensive stores—not only can you not afford them (who are you kidding? Like you're going to fork over $5,000 for a lace dress?), but in many cases, these much-lauded trends haven't even arrived yet. Due to the miracle of modern technology, clothes are frequently knocked off with such head-spinning rapidity that the replicas hit the cheaper chains before they make their way to the glass-and-gilt confines of their snootier sisters.

Thus spoke Zara.
Cary Conover

Thus spoke Zara.

So what's on the racks at this very moment? At Anthropologie, whose airy-fairy confections I have always had a soft spot for, the only notable trend is an over-reliance on a curious shade of mustard, employed in a long sweater with a ruffly collar, a dirndl skirt, and a lot of other garments. Is this a trend at all? I only mention it because at my next stop, J. Crew, I see a lot of this hue—here more Gouldens than Grey Poupon, but everywhere apparent in cardies and Gossip Girl–ish blazers. J. Crew also has those new wide-legged pants, which have rarely looked good on anyone since Katharine Hepburn, and a plethora of pencil skirts—both of which are quite suitable if you're going on a job interview but are otherwise kind of depressing, no matter what the magazines say. Far better to my eyes are the ersatz-Chanel jackets gobbed up with satin-beaded trim. (But bear in mind that given the choice, I always opt for Mary-Kate Olsen over Mary Tyler Moore, at least sartorially.)

Those horribly vertiginous heels that the mags are pushing—they make every step an agony! Your life is a living hell whenever you're hobbling around in them!—are out in full force at Aldo, rendered in ombré-shaded pink patent leather, or with Mary Jane toes, or sporting multicolored straps, and all with shiny metallic heels treacherous enough to fell the most agile contortionist. (But at least at Aldo they're $100, which is $900 less than their sadistic siblings with loftier provenances.) It comes as quite a relief to walk to the back of the store—or crawl, if you're wearing those stilettos—and see flats in plaid (another putative trend of the season) for an appealing $40.

Just when you think you'll have to settle for saggy mustard pants and a pair of nasty heels you'll never wear, along comes Zara. Pay dirt! Right inside the door, there's a slender dress made of lace, which Prada is pushing heavily this season. Go ahead and buy it, but be warned—I wore a lot of vintage lace at one time, and the line between cool and fusty-grandma (I personally love a fusty-grandma look, but that's another story) is painfully thin. Maybe you just want to settle for a pair of lace-covered ballet flats, which Zara also has on hand.

As forgers of the highest order, Zara has done a magnificent job this autumn, especially in the arena of floaty paisley, which looks a lot like Gucci's overindulged-hippie ensembles, but also has more than a whiff of Dries Van Noten, who thinks you should spend the winter in pale, weightless silk chiffon. (To hell with global warming—turn up the thermostat!) Or don one of those weird furry vests, which make you look like the love child of the Abominable Snowman and Sonny Bono (don't know who that is? He's on YouTube), that are also apparently having a moment—only at Zara, they're not fur. Hairy and creepy they may be, but they're made out of some sort of synthetic stuff, so no worries that your p.c. friends will spit at you when you wear this thing. I could swear that a Marni-ish smocked coat has a collar made out of dog, which was actually the scandalous case with some Burlington Coat Factory parkas a few seasons ago, but according to the label, no animals were harmed in the making of this particular garment.

After all the excitement at Zara, H&M is a little disappointing, offering only a pair of cream-colored lace leggings for $19. Still, how can you get mad at a place that is doing a collaboration with Comme des Garçons in November? (If they don't let the press corps have first dibs, I am planning to camp outside at the crack of dawn and buy everything in sight the minute the doors open. The only problem with this strategy is that everyone I talk to says they are planning to do the same thing.)

I cross the street and visit Express, where I am never even vaguely tempted to buy anything. Here I find the first leather motorcycle jacket of the season, an item with a curiously circuitous recent history: Kate Moss, who is idolized as a fashion maverick for mixing couture pieces with thrift-shop finds, included one of these jackets in her Topshop collection last fall, and everyone loved it. As I recall, it was around $300. For fully 10 times as much, Balenciaga has a similar jacket (OK, so the leather is softer) hanging on the rack at Barneys this season. And now here it is again, at Express, for a perfectly serviceable $248.

Last but not least, I toddle over to Forever 21, another place where I've never purchased anything, namely because 1) if you like something in the window, you can never find it in the store, and 2) everything is very tiny. (Could this because I am 90 years older than the average Forever 21 shopper?) As ever, the geniuses behind this place manage to combine trends in an effortless fashion—a plaid pleated skirt has a swirl of black lace extending from its hem; a polka-dot peasant blouse is a ghostly cousin of Gucci and Dries.

Unlike the other stops on my brieftour, Forever 21 seems to have jumped on another fall trend, with red-white-and-blue tote bags that say "Vote," a faux-faded T-shirt sporting the legend "Freedom Rocks," and, for a highly affordable $10.80, a slender, silky purple tee decorated with a peace symbol that would go far in sexing up a pair of slack trousers or a skinny skirt on a certain Tuesday in November.

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