Fashion Week in Review: Michael Kors, Anna Sui, Pamella Roland, Max Azria, Betsey Johnson


From the Betsey Johnson collection. Photo by David Wentworth.

When Michael Kors tires of crafting pastel Barbarella dresses, he can sell designer migranes. I had one watching his Wednesday exhibition at Bryant Park — not just because his pastel gowns caught the harsh glare of the revolving spotlights, but because of the unstoppable barrage of them.

Typically, models stomp the runway one at a time so their garment receives maximum attention from press and potential department store buyers; instead, Kors elected to send eight models simultaneously, to overwhelming result. The stoic Amazonians, with their plastered Twiggy locks and geometric cut-out shifts, slinked to one end of the split runway, paced back from whence they came, then started up the other side in large, jagged laps — blonde ships passing in the night and/or a terrifying prophecy of the future…

From the Kors Amazonian collection. Photo by Stacey Anderson.

Kors was the latest labelhead to indulge in a bit of architectural escapism this season; even his soft goddess drapes, an outgoing trend, featured taut asymmetrical edges. Supermodel Carmen Kass, the face of his Very Hollywood perfume, opened the show with a white leather zippered dress worthy of Judy Jetson; a man paced two steps behind her in a cream cashmere sweater, probably enjoying the view. Kors included a handful of menswear looks in his preppy cavalcade: an artfully splattered cotton suit; a dark striped polo over crisp trousers; an exaggeratedly long, tan vest. Clean, arch, and understated — but in the manic over stimulation of the staging, the pieces lost distinguish. It was fashion Adderall. As his Project Runway cohort Tim Gunn would drawl, “This worries me.”

By contrast, on Wednesday evening, Anna Sui staggered her models to normal solo jaunts but strove for a “kitchen sink” aesthetic with the gear — the perky eclecticism to be expected from her. The Detroit designer has enjoyed incredible mainstream longevity in her career (two decades is six lifetimes in the fashionsphere), and recently cashed in with a Gossip Girl-inspired diffusion line for Target. None of the bratty soap’s stars were in her Bryant crowd, though guests rubbernecked to glimpse socialite Olivia Palmero, many of the fans (can Olivia Palmero have fans?) waving their arms wildly in the face of her neighbor, Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive. She was remarkably docile in the face of adversity.

Sui’s upscale Spring line echoed her chic prepster Target capsule: trim plaid jackets with metallic piping, patchwork mod tunics of long bell sleeves and miles of leg, colorblocked cardigans over jittery, clashing florals. A dizzying combustion in the wrong hands, an earned rite from Sui, recently crowned one of Time magazine’s “top five fashion icons.” As The Who boomed one moment, and tinkling calliope marches the next, Sui giddily seemed to reminisce about a 1960s that only existed inside three rings — a curious simulacrum, even by Bryant Park standards.

Tuesday at Bryant began with a pall; Pamella Roland’s exhibition opened with what appeared to be an orange, taffeta, high-waisted, flowered jumpsuit, and I guarantee even our fashion-phobic readers that a more horrifying string of words does not exist in the English language. Proportions were awkward and boxy, like an FIT sophomore’s midterm exam, though she partially redeemed the eveningwear with a shimmering beaded tunic dress, which caused a tizzy amongst the Real Housewives of WherevertheHell in the front row. And while this is a bit like screaming into a very sparkly vacuum, as she’s hardly the lone culprit, it’s worth noting that Roland’s cadre of models were among the least ethnically diverse sampling in all of Bryant (Tracy Reese’s remain the most); 95% Caucasian, 90% blonde, 100% regressive.

From the Max Azria collection. Photo by Stacey Anderson.

Also on Tuesday, Max Azria introduced a line of knottily structured blouses and judiciously ripped shift dresses. While his comparatively inexpensive line BCBG focused on marine jewel tones and ethereal layers this season, Azria’s crown jewel designs were baggy and asymmetrical, anchored in the universal wide rips in their flanks. Rhinestones lining the gaping perimeters of the slits; the effect was quite like shimmering gills on the spindly models. Nothing of the sort was even breathed in his staid, Grecian-heavy Spring 2009 collection; these rips were a nervy but not terribly pretty reactionary statement — and surely resonant with those who crave fishsticks.

By contrast, Betsey Johnson continued apace with her sugar-heavy plot for world domination. Tuesday evening, in the opulent ballroom of the Plaza Hotel (also covered here), the effusive empress lined her models along a makeshift riser as Norwegian rocker Ida Maria howled adjacent. Dubbed “Betsey’s One Night Stand,” the cheeky party borrowed from the zany counterculture of Johnson’s formative years; she put the shirt on the back of Edie Sedgwick in the ’60s and was briefly married to the Velvet Underground’s John Cale in the ’70s.

Betsey Johnson! Photo by David Wentworth.

As much as Betsey toyed with the idea of exaggerated domesticity last season, with her broad apron-like skirts and retro appliquéd cardigans, she experimented with exceedingly girly adaptations to strong, almost masculine disco and new wave prints. The coed models donned rainbow leopard-spot tanks and wide, swishing fuschia petticoats; a Factory-worthy black-and-white checkered dress became a grey blur on the frame of its very, very enthusiastic hanger. Several leapt down from their perches, wobbling precariously but sticking the stiletto landing, to bop in front of Ida Maria and her happily distracted all-male backing band. Industry guests, or those not immensely distracted by the bon-bons and rosé overflowing from every table, two-stepped back in appreciation. Nice to know that in fashion, not everybody hurts.