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Yesterday was day four of Fashion Week and also President’s Day (pour a Veuve Clicquot on the curb for McKinley!), and your correspondents were happily back in our own turf: downtown. The Bryant Park tents in Midtown are glamorous, sure, with their Anna Wintour sightings and living dolls in taffeta and lace, but the East Village’s quirky disarray was a euphoric sight for some. “I’ve missed this part of town,” sighed one reporter who got tipsy on Avenue A two nights prior.
The designers we saw on Monday all fit a downtown construct – if there are three Weird Sisters in New York fashion, they are Patricia Field, Betsey Johnson, and Stacey Bendet. (Though, for the record, each seemed friendlier than a witch.) These women are esteemed for leveling off-ways looks into the mainstream, and are equally infamous for their wacky personal style. After all, “less is more” is so uptown.
Patricia Field is best known, and occasionally stampeded by Jersey girls in West Village, for being the costume designer for Sex and the City. While there, she straddled what we now dub “the crackhead conundrum,” that line between looking creatively chic and looking like your outfit came from seven different dumpsters. Field never met a pattern she didn’t like and piled them on with wild accessories and towering hair, clashing be damned. It’s an imposing and unique look, one she pulled of like few before or since, and it’s why Carrie sometimes looked one scarf away from meltdown. And Field, with her neon magenta hair and clanking plastic jewelry, is no shrinking violet herself.
In a rare move, she opened her cavernous home on the Bowery for a friend’s fashion show. Gerlan Jeans, a new streetwear label, offered primary colors and patterns of striking arrows and thatches. Combined in dizzying multiples, the prints mimicked the playful, bright images of M.I.A. or Santogold, the latter of whom was in attendance. A great deal of Gerlan’s clothes were shapeless, though, and if taken away from the edgy makeup and hair of the models, would seem similar to anything already in a Williamsburg thrift shop. One angular man was wearing essentially a tablecloth of arrows, and he stopped and pirouetted in front of Field as if presenting his billowing self to the Queen of England. This is an example of “crackhead.”
In the past 40+ years, Betsey Johnson has worked diligently to create her own happy universe of punk-tinged dresses, rose print shoes, and fuschia handbags. She recently gave this cheeky place a name, Betseyville, which is emblazoned on her accessories. And this year, instead of a runway show, Betseyville migrated to the heart of the Garment District for a lively “Betsey Crocker” themed installation. Soda-jerk waiters rotated with veggie burgers and fries, ’50s pop boomed from a DJ booth, and models in glittering party frocks danced behind velvet ropes (was the barrier so no one would feed them?). The most recognizable of them was Fatima from America’s Next Top Model, who smiled with her eyes in a Tyra-approved way. Peaches Geldof slumped around the fringes and made gutteral sounds to reporters, her eyes rimmed in alarming, sunken red.
Johnson herself, choppy blond hair poking under a tall white chef’s hat, joked and ran flirtatiously through the room as cameras scurried behind her. There were no surprises in her collection – more sequins, skulls, and pink-and-black nylon dresses with petticoats – but the woman once employed Edie Sedgwick as her house model, and has been remarkably fun ever since.
Her gift bag, it’s worth noting, was also by far the most elaborate. Sunglasses, underwear, a makeup palette with a sound chip. There is no recession in Betseyville.
But while Betsey spared (almost) no expense, Stacey Bendet, upstart designer of Alice + Olivia, gave the most money-conscious show of the week in her 40th Street boutique. A few models in cocktail dresses worked the corner but the presentation was mostly towering photos of models embellished with real accessories. In the spacious store, it seemed like a swanky gallery opening.
Bendet, a frequent tabloid figure for her skinny size and marriage to Disney heir Eric Eisner, cradled her baby and pointed out the more rock ‘n’ roll elements of her new line – studs and ribbons on the handbags, green yarn-like epaulets on the black tees (Brandon Flowers would love ’em), the asymmetrical hem on a gorgeous white strapless column. Models, and one of your correspondents, strutted in Alice + Olivia’s great black patent boots from Payless. Assorted Kardashian sisters milled around the Preseco tray and Shenae Grimes from the new 90210 nudged her age-appropriate boyfriend in a small, determined path across the room. The emphasis of the evening seemed as much about Bendet’s $25 Payless shoes as her $600 gowns, which was odd, but there was free candy.
And this chick, who seemed to sum up the whole day: