Could there be a more poignant spectacle than those two former golden boys of Fashion Week, Todd Oldham and Isaac Mizrahi—the hottest ticket! the most glittery shows!—reduced to designing for Target, a company that doesn’t even have a branch in Manhattan? In Todd’s case, Target has assigned him sheets and lamps; Isaac’s story is trickier, since he’s sowing (or sewing) in the very field where he first tasted fame—the vast acreage of denim and car coats as American fashion.
“Where Fifth Avenue meets Main Street, USA,” read the ads for the Isaac Mizrahi for Target line, and we are prepared for watered-down clothes that look cheap, if we can even get to see them, since we’re not exactly in the mood to trek to a Target in Queens or Jersey. The company solves our problem by opening Isaac-only temporary digs (through October 15) at 46 West 50th Street, just around the corner from an installation at Rockefeller Center of balloons and spacemen by Takashi Murakami, the guy who designed those white Vuitton bags that have been knocked off like crazy. (Whenever you see someone, even someone pretty prosperous-looking, carrying one of these, you can rest assured—it’s a fake. Real ones are virtually unobtainable, even by people willing to spend $1,200.)
The little Manhattan Target is blessedly free of the chilly impersonality that afflicts the big-box stores, though maybe the place just feels cozy because it’s mobbed. But it isn’t only the festive sound of a ringing cash register, so rare in the retail landscape these days, that erases our initial misgivings: We take one look at a pair of two-tone gloves (white bodies; black fingers) that cost $16.99 and we’re hooked. Because really, what’s not to like? The $29.99 slim-cut hot pink corduroy riding jacket with the elbow patches that every third person on the checkout line seemed to be buying? The $29.99 black shift that comes in extra-large, making it look like a charming, deliberately oversized Martin Margiela dress? There’s even a classic Mizrahi shirtwaist with little snaps marching up the front—just the type of thing Isaac used to produce in his old runway days. (It frequently ended up at Century 21.)
Of course, part of the fun of shopping here, in addition to the sheer affordability, is the wide range of customers, from a woman looking at a pair of trousers and commenting wistfully that the price, $19.99, is a little steep, to the young girls squealing with delight over the pink-lined pointy-toed sneakers, to the uptown ladies with their dramatically altered visages openly enjoying an hour of slumming.
And speaking of slumming, whatever is Ralph Lauren doing on Bleecker Street? We had heard rumors that Ralph was coming (there are whispers that Gucci is next) but are still taken aback when we spot riding boots and hacking jackets in a carefully restored storefront across from the Marc Jacobs store. (Marc is the one to blame for this onslaught of swank, since he was the first to introduce $2,000 coats to Bleecker.) So one afternoon during Fashion Week, taking a break before the Heatherette show (will Heatherette be next at Target?), we stroll over to Ralph and see, not just a slew of corduroy jackets with elbow patches (spiffed-up versions of the ones at Isaac, $245 instead of $30), but a trove of genuine authentic vintage clothes and accessories.
These old leather bombers, Beacon bathrobes, football sweaters, and Edwardian blouses aren’t here just to supply atmosphere: They’re also for sale, putting the customer in the odd position of being able to choose between a faded but otherwise superior original and a crisp new replica. The prices are similar too: A secondhand riding jacket with a Miller label is $425; an old flannel bathrobe is $210; one of those rayon paisley scarves, a vintage staple, costs $145.
If these prices for old clothes seem astronomical, it’s because—they are! But never mind: Why would you buy secondhand clothes from Ralph Lauren anyway? If you have even the slenderest interest in vintage styles (and you should, given that so much designer stuff is flat-out copied from old movies and magazines) you can get your fill at two upcoming multi-dealer shows, each offering collectible fashions sold by aficionados and bought by cognoscenti, including, rather famously, the minions from Ralph Lauren. On October 3 and 4 the New York Vintage Fashion Show is at the New Yorker Hotel (34th Street and Eighth Avenue); on October 10 and 11, the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show is at the Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street. Though prices will be higher than at the flea market, one thing is for sure: A paisley foulard will cost a whole lot less than $145.