Betsey Johnson’s road has been rocky lately; no wonder she wanted a lift. But surfeit financial problems could not dampen the irresistible spirit of her “Le Tour de Betsey” runway show on Monday night, the designer’s long-overdue return to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
Adorned in bike chains and “Ride Me” graphic necklaces (the brand’s accessories, God save ’em, have the subtlety of Mack trucks), Betsey’s models unfolded a Spring 2011 collection of punk fanfare, hyper-feminine whimsy, and tongue-in-cheek exhibitionism. As the Lincoln Center Theatre backdrop looped video of her local inspirations (Brooklyn, Central Park, Times Square) and the cavernous IMG speakers rattled with Gothamite odes from Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Kills, grinning models strutted in bright azure pop-art day dresses, lime bandeau tops with retro cage cutouts (that would’ve looked splendid on her ’60s fit model, Edie Sedgwick), finely checkered bichromatic racing thermals, and boisterous hoop skirts blossoming below skintight leotards. Concluding rainbow-spattered gowns were the most gloriously, girlishly Barbie doll direction that Betsey’s ever veered, and that’s saying something.
It was a dramatic, furiously energetic amalgam of Betsey’s best assets, and a shot in the arm to this season’s sedate Fashion Week. In vein of Betsey’s last fall show, in which she loaned her models Wild West props, her current catwalkers rode skateboards, clutched bike wheels, and giddily swung referee flags. Johnson appeared at the end to perform her traditional cartwheel, tumbling dramatically onto the floor for a moment before popping up with an ebullient smile. With a tip of her cyclist cap, she was clearly reminding her audience: No one can keep this good woman down.
Earlier in the afternoon, Herchcovitch:Alexandre attempted similar graphic fancies to far different result. The young Sao Paulo designer claimed inspiration from American artists Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman for his abstract silhouettes, and perhaps they were evident in the bold pixelation effect on his color-blocked suits. (Clearly, those also found the muse in Space Invaders.) However, his bulbous satin shapes puckered poorly and draped sullenly off the visibly discomfited models. The tangerine drop-waist shifts and variegated lavender jumpsuits were pleasant, but the predominant puffed cylinders of fabric — like shells on a brightly spackled turtle — were unappealing on commercial and aesthetic level.
Herchcovitch’s music selection revealed itself to be the most striking attribute of his show. Glacial, tritely atmospheric synths were a terrible fit for the collection and dragged ponderously and conspicuously under the models’ rapid stiletto clip. Space Invaders sound effects, or anything really, would have been a better fit.