NYFW: Australian to Amish with Catherine Litke, Thaddeus O'Neil and Mark & Estel

Litke models
Litke models
All photos by Heather Baysa

It's that time again: when ragweed allergens and cakey runway makeup wage an unsightly war for possession of your face.

New York Fashion Week began on Wednesday and if any theme has emerged so far, it's "get out of New York."

True -- Gotham compiles every culture, and so our own can never really be defined. Maybe that's why so many designers' SS15 collections seem structured around a niche aesthetic.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Take up-and-comer Catherine Litke and her eponymous brand -- the LITKE fall line, which consisted of stark color-blocking in chilly urban gray tones, has given way to a softer-but-bolder sensibility, frills and all.

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Litke's Polish heritage was given more than a nod at her NoHo presentation on Wednesday. The ethereal models looked like haute peasantry in sheer white linen and gingham patchwork frocks reminiscent of aprons. Call it "sexy matron," or "babuska chic."

But with with flushed, straight-off-the-pasture cheeks and simple combed and side-parted hair, there were visions of the Pennsylvania Dutch -- especially in the modest length of the skirts and a red-checked one-piece that might be just as at home in Amish country as it would in Brooklyn.

O'Neil
O'Neil

Thursday, over on the West side, Thaddeus O'Neil was showing a bit more skin. The lifelong surfer-turned-model-turned-designer clearly drew from his eight years living down under in this line of "luxury playwear" for men.

"Children of the Sun," a theatrical presentation -- complete with light-filtering rose-colored glasses for the audience -- featured song, interpretive dance, and a giraffe skeleton, among other props that Urban Outfitters will eventually try to reproduce.

Like an unruly kindergarten class, his models wore elaborate paper headdresses and brightly colored face paint as they mimicked the rock of a surfer and triggered sort of a high-art stadium wave on their podiums (much to chagrin of some photographers).

But the long-haired man-boys kept still throughout a mash-up recitation of Rimbaud -- just enough time to admire the earthy tones of O'Neil's knee-length shorts and sport coats, which were impressively well-structured for leisurewear. The subdued colors of the collection worked well in contrast with the wild-at-heart motif of the show, anchoring the tribe in reality lest they all come off as pouty, grown-up versions of the kid in Where the Wild Things Are.

Mark and Estel
Mark and Estel

Back in Lincoln Center on Friday, Mark and Estel were rocking out (literally...very literally) to their new collection in a fashion show that almost exactly embodied my conception of a fashion show at age 15: blaring electronic rock beats, black and white all over, and models each wearing exactly one less article of clothing than it's okay to attend a public high school in -- pants and shirts were mutually exclusive garments.

Mark Tango and Estel Day, the design team/musical act, launched their line in 2005 and were quickly recognized when Mary-Kate Olsen began wearing them. When Lady Gaga commissioned them for custom-ripped tights, it was cinched.

The London punk-ish Spring/Summer line featured flowing black trenches with white tees, leather accents, and the occassional buckle and stud. Like power-washed Euro-trash, it was like what rock-and-roll wears when rock-and-roll has to go to church.

The duo performed a mini-concert as the predictably leggy models made their last rounds, confirming that with a bit more pizazz, Mark and Estel are Betsey Johnson's rightful heirs when comes to livening up these stuffy tents.


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