It is surely no accident that there are not one but two humongous hand-knitted ivory sweaters at Anthropologie this fall, along with similar polar-bear-sized pullovers at Urban Outfitters and fringe-festooned follies at Armani Exchange. These items, and their bushy white cousins around town, are obvious homages to that shaggy dog Balenciaga put on the runway last spring, a sweater that, despite making its wearer resemble a kitchen mop, caused a commotion that did not go unnoticed by retailers.
Designers put forth hundreds of thousands of ideas each season—most are stillborn; a few manage to survive long enough to show up in your local department store. But which few? And why?
If you could predict for sure, you’d be like the guy in the Twilight Zone episode who owned a camera that took pictures of what was going to happen in the next 24 hours. (He won a lot of bets on horse races and was really happy until he photographed his own dead body.) But as it is, the best you—and clothing manufacturers—can do is blindly guess, which hasn’t prevented a lot of people from getting into the predictions business.
These days, even eBay has a fashion editor—Philip Bloch, a guy who styles celebrities like Salma Hayek and is a member of Joan Rivers’s Golden Hanger committee. For your information, here is what Bloch says are the “10 September must-haves”: (1) baggy sweaters, (2) long skirts, (3) leather pants, (4) riding boots, (5) pashmina, (6) big satchel bags, (7) suede jackets, (8) fur-trimmed coats, (9) skinny jeans, and (10) designer fringe. With the exception of number five, the ridiculous pashmina—one of these things draped around your neck will mark you as a rube in Moose Mountain, Montana—the rest of the suggestions, though not earth-shattering, seem at least somewhat plausible.
But do the stores agree with Bloch? A recent tour roundly confirmed the baggy sweater recommendation, but Bloch’s number two item, long skirts, proved rather more elusive. The exception was Urban Outfitters, where the Alanis Morissette-ish customer is accustomed to finding soulful floor-scrapers. Among the many maxis were a patched corduroy example with a raw hem ($110), and a scruffy version in denim ($59). Unheralded by Bloch but nevertheless interesting were the stacks of fake vintage T-shirts to wear with these skirts. They said things like “Gettin’ Lucky in Kentucky,” “Tacoma Roller Bowl,” ($20) and even “cbgb omfug Home of Underground Rock” ($24), celebrating the club just a few blocks from Urban Outfitters’ Broadway store.
Despite Bloch’s enthusiasm, it was not particularly easy to find leather pants. The only trousers in evidence were at Banana Republic, chained to the wall by one of those security systems that emit squeaky beeps that can drive the most beatific shopper nuts. The pants ($198) weren’t bad, but they couldn’t compete with the wealth of leather skirts out there, the best turning up at H&M and, believe it or not, Ann Taylor Loft.
Why is it that Ann Taylor Loft always seems faintly depressing? Could it be because the clothes here are geared to someone who actually has a 9-to-5 job? In any case, the Ann Taylor leather skirt, in contradistinction to all those rough buckskin skirts around town—the kind of thing you’re usually stuck with when you’re paying less than $200—is smooth cognac leather, lavished with topstitching, and even sports a kick pleat ($159). The rather more bohemian example at H&M is admittedly made of some coarse stuff (the label may say 100 percent suede, but it could easily pass for cardboard), that is redeemed by a handkerchief hem and a series of perforations in the shape of flowers ($79).
If leather pants were scant, leather jackets were beyond plentiful. But even with much to choose from, the ones at Eddie Bauer stood out. “Tired of choosing between trips to the cleaner or never wearing suede?” read a placard in Bauer’s store window, which went on to claim that you can toss their cream suede shirt jacket ($169) in the machine the first time you squirt ketchup on it. If it’s true that this garment emerges from the Laundromat spotless, minus even that haze of gray that surrounds the seams of light suede after a few months, then this is the biggest news of this, or any other, fashion season.
Unfortunately, the big satchel bag—Bloch’s number six—at Kenneth Cole makes no claims of washability, which is a shame, since it is far prettier in pale suede than in plain dark leather. Still, after years of heartache, the truth must be told: Pale suede and Manhattan do not mix. Settle for the leather version, and console yourself with the fact that at least it has one of those round handles obviously cribbed from the Saint Laurent Mombasa bag. Or opt for Urban Outfitters’ tote in knotty beige cord ($24), which would also satisfy Bloch’s number 10, since it is all but collapsing under the weight of its own fringe.
For even more fringe, forget number four, riding boots, and go straight for the pointy-toed, killer-heeled, fringe-laden concoctions at shoe stores from Aldo to Kenneth Cole. Whatever Bloch thinks, stolid riding boots have in no way edged out the sexy teetering cripplers in evidence everywhere, including an exquisite pair of embroidered knee-highs at Nine West, suitable for riding only if you’re traveling sidesaddle behind a cossack and escaping the Bolsheviks ($199).
At long last, though, a pair of authentic riding boots did make its presence known, and it was at Banana Republic, the same store with the leather pants. (Could these Banana Republicans be logging onto eBay?) Not only were these riding boots in the true sense—flat heels, round toes—they even had leather bottoms and canvas uppers, the sort of thing you rarely see outside the equestrian store ($198).
It may have been pushing 90 the day this research was undertaken, but that didn’t make it impossible to locate the politically charged fur-trimmed coat. At Zara, there was a coat elegant enough to accompany those embroidered boots on their ride across the steppes. It was black velvet, decorated with black braid, and something very soft and furry trimmed its neck and cuffs, though the fabric content label didn’t list any fur ($225). When the staff was asked about this, a debate ensued: The saleswoman was sure it was real fur, perhaps rabbit; the manager insisted it was fake, which, if true, is a miracle right up there with the washable jacket.
Of all the entries on Bloch’s list, perhaps the least newsworthy is skinny jeans, which are almost impossible not to find, no matter how assiduously you may seek to avoid them. At Armani Exchange there were tables piled high with denim trousers, most of them displaying the current penchant for rips, tears, splotches, and all-around fake filth. But no one can accuse Armani of insufficiently gilding these dirty lilies. His jeans come with something absent from the other nine items on this fashion scavenger hunt: a fancy ticket that calls itself a certificato di autenticità, ready to be whipped out if anyone questions the provenance of your pants.