Watching the Clothes Go Round
When did fashion shows become such bad sex an hour of excruciating tease culminating in 20 minutes of repetitious up-and-down? Whether staged inside Madison Square Garden (Tommy Hilfiger), in Lower East Side theaters (Miguel Adrover), on the terraces of International Style landmarks (Daryl K. at Lever House), or in the Bryant Park tents, the cavalcade of Fashion Week has developed an unfortunate case of the ho-hums. The energy that used to infuse these events has been drained away. Supermodels aren't super anymore. They're just attractive nobodies with AA Eveready brains. Fashion "shows" hardly merit the designation. Attending one has become about as thrilling as waiting on a movie line and, anyway, why bother? Between In Style's blanket coverage and the miracle of streaming video, you can survey the whole shebang in bed or on your monitor (www.Vogue.com), skipping the sharp elbows, the bad attitudes, the Gauloise smog, and the gnawing sense that you've somehow stumbled into the committee meeting of a secret society.
The era of editorial style diktats by now seems fated to crumble. All those super-sleek fashion divines promoting crocheted ponchos while garbing themselves in the black equivalent of lab coats may be in for an unpleasant surprise. The quicksilver of information can't be contained anymore in the pages of magazines with three-month lead times. The days of top-down fashion and editorial Lenins are inevitably on the wane. "Do I think what's shown on the runway influences what people are wearing?" said a shopper emerging from the Hermes store on 57th Street last week. "I think it's the other way around. What people are wearing affects what's happening on the runway."
The sentiment held throughout a journalist's tour around Manhattan where the streets function as more or less permanent catwalks to see what people outside the fashion loop are thinking about style this Fashion Week. "I never wanted to look like someone was picking my clothes out for me," said Debbie Serrano, a medical receptionist, taking a cigarette break alongside a quilted aluminum coffee truck on East 60th Street. Serrano was wearing a tight-fitting navy blue blouse and trousers that accentuated a figure whose contours haven't changed, she remarked, in over 20 years. "A friend of mine came here from Europe and we were at a party this summer," said Serrano. "It was a roof party, so you could really see everyone. He looked around the place and said, 'There are 100 girls at this party. Why is it that they all look the same?' And, you know, he was right. They all had black boots, tight pants with a little bell at the bottom, and a snug top with a push-up bra. Actresses on TV, models, everybody's dressed the same these days. We're really inhibited about sex in this country. But, besides being inhibited about sex, we're inhibited all-around. I try to find clothes that match, then I buy them all in different colors. I mix and match. I have no idea who the designer is, since I try not to be too trendy. I can create the trend for myself."
For a business meeting in Midtown, Web entrepreneur Paula Escobar had paired a black boatneck shirt from the Limited with Gap khakis and an improbable pair of red lizard platform slides. "They're like my rock and roll slut shoes," she remarked. "It's my own style moment." Escobar's editorial-style site, clementyne.com, is based on the adventures of a fashion-besotted teen; if the character bears a more-than-passing resemblance to its inventor, all similarity stops at the way they acquire their clothes. "I'm not influenced by the shows and the magazines at all anymore," Escobar said. "For one thing, none of the clothes ever get into the stores. It's all a big PR stunt. Which is great, but you've still got to get dressed. And the editors spring stuff like the crocheted poncho Sarah Jessica Parker was wearing on Sex and the City last week on innocent women. Then they go out and look like a joke. Crocheted ponchos are about as cool as pocket protectors. But I guess I'd rather see that than every single person in safe black."
Although the "surprise" of last week's showings was that designers were "boldly" experimenting with pastels, it's fair to assume that the local hegemony of safe black remains intact. "Most women not from New York find black really terrifying," said Belle McIntyre, a designer whose frequent trips to India once led her to import the pashmina shawls that are now so ubiquitous you probably can't find a goat left alive south of Nepal. "Most New York women find anything not black terrifying." What McIntyre finds scary are "generally awful" prints some designers had introduced for the millennium's first spring. McIntyre's opinion had something of the quality of a fashion koan. Yet somehow it made a kind of loopy sense. "Wearing prints is odd," claimed the designer. "Once you've worn one, you've worn it. And every time you wear it, you're wearing it again."
The print top Phyllis Kelsey chose for work last week had puppies on it. How scary is that? She'd bought the top, and the red pants she wore with it, at a uniform shop in Florida. The whole shebang cost 20 bucks. A phlebotomist at Smith Kline Beecham's clinical labs, Kelsey pointed out that her work outfit ("It was cute and unusual, a different way to be unique on the job") doesn't quite reflect her civilian approach to fashion, which runs to Italian-cut pumps, "fitted clothes that are tight and show off my little shape," and things she finds on sale. "I do spend the money when I have it," said Kelsey. "But I decide for myself what I like and I never really go by the magazines."
The problem with fashion, said Annie Perry, an artist raised in "heinous suburban" Maryland and now living on the Lower East Side, is that "everybody's dressed the same these days. Everybody's a Glamour Do. The way I see it, the world could use a few Glamour Don'ts." Walking her pit bull, Killer, through Tompkins Square Park in Hurricane Floyd's first onslaught, Perry had on a stretch-knit Joan Vass skirt bought in a Monkton thrift shop and a newly fashionable ripped jeans jacket swiped from an older brother who plays in a band. Her jersey T was a $300 Gucci left behind as payment by a former roommate who walked out on the rent. "The purse I'm carrying used to belong to my mother," said Perry, as Killer cowered and rain began driving down hard enough to raise welts. "She carried it every day and I inherited it when she died. Now I carry it every day myself." But that's not a fashion statement, the artist went on: "It's psychopathology."
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