New York Fashion Week Fall 2012: The (British) Empire Strikes Back at Rag & Bone; Shopping for Michelle Obama at Cushnie et Ochs; the Good, the Bad, and the Meh of Green Fashion


It was moments before the Rag & Bone show was to begin when our ears perked up: Was that Darth Vader’s theme song? It was merely a few notes thrown into the mix, but immediately our mind began racing with possible ideas: Were designers David Neville and Marcus Wainwright going to treat us to Stormtrooper armor and flowing Princess Leia robes for fall? Be still our geeky hearts!

But alas, no such luck. Though an animated projection looked an awful lot like a trench run through the Death Star, that was the end of our sci-fi fantasy. Instead of the Galactic Empire, it was the British Empire (specifically the British Raj) that most heavily influenced the collection. What came down the runway at Pier 57 was a combination of light, feminine pieces inspired by the designers’ trip to India, such as a pretty floral-tapestry jacket, embroidered jodhpurs, and elegant see-through lace tops and pants. But to ensure no one called the typically-rugged brand “delicate,” the designers (British transplants who started with a denim line in 2002) added tough metallic “trooper” tailcoats and bold leather accessories, including defiant leather collars that extended over only one shoulder. Perhaps to attach a lightsaber to?

At Milk Studios, young designers Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs of Cushnie et Ochs certainly had the force with them. But in this case, the force was Michelle Obama, who chose to wear a dark-green gown by the duo to a taping of Christmas in Washington, giving the ladies a retail boost. Cushnie et Ochs are known for their bold, sexy designs (indeed the First Lady’s holiday dress showed off those famous arms and a hint of cleavage, too).

So, what might she find to her liking in this terrific fall collection? Probably not the bone-colored jersey dress with, what appeared to be, two black strips of material cupping the breasts (perfect for your avant-garde art opening, but too weird for Washington). However, a sleeveless dress with crisscrossed straps of silk tulle in front would certainly be a White House hit. But to really make the wife of the G.O.P. candidate weep this fall? A body-hugging sleeveless dress with floating shoulder pieces that conveyed both elegance and power.

Over at Lincoln Center, we were very much looking forward to The Green Shows, a presentation of contemporary “ethical” clothing, jewelry, and handbag designers. What makes something ethical? The list of criteria provided in the show’s program includes zero-waste production, the use of recycled and organic materials and nontoxic dyes, and pieces created in the designer’s local community. In other words, it is everything that fast fashion is not. But is it something you’d want to wear?

This, we suppose, depends on what you think is stylish. Often the trouble with designers who are overly concerned with green fashion is that they tend to have a bit of a hippie streak. And perhaps many customers conscientious enough to think about this stuff do, too. If that is the case, Study NY had a floor-length mustard drawstring skirt (picture a big sack) paired with an alpaca boatneck sweater that would be perfect for all those who call themselves earth mothers.

Or, if you’re not a hippie, maybe you’re someone who considers herself to be a rebel with an eco-friendly cause. If so, Artists & Revolutionaries showed a floral cotton dip-dyed ruffle top with an orange-and-gold wool plaid skirt that, when paired together, was certainly very, er, anti-establishment.

Of the eight clothing labels on display, the pieces at United Bamboo and their all-organic collection Bamboo by United Bamboo solidly hit the mark. At the former, we spied a pair of adorable red check cropped pants and a sweet green-and-navy plaid dress. At the latter, which uses certified organic cottons, linens, and hemp, we liked a black linen pinafore dress over a fitted shirt as well as a black hooded sweater over a short white romper. All of it was simple and sophisticated. And the best part? Only you have to know that you’re secretly a hippie.