NEW YORK — Fall/winter. Spring/summer. Repeat.
Every season designers — from established labels like Prada to up-and-coming designers like Billy Reid — create fashion lines and present them to the eager public. And every season they go through the motions: You can count on Ralph Lauren to create timeless classics, Hermes to outfit skinny French-types in slim suits and riding gear, and Thom Browne to show the ridiculous, outlandish and bizarre, treating gender lines the same way Buck Angel does.
“This season in particular there are a lot of boots — a continuing trend — and the classic American vibe is still going strong,” said Michael Hainey, deputy editor of Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine.
The fall/winter 2010 collection from Andy & Debb, for example, was trite and stereotypical. The entrance to the runway may well have been a time machine from the 1960s — everything from the hair to the clothes screamed Jackie Onassis.
“It’s the same thing we’ve seen before — dark colors, sculptural shoulders and metallic accents,” said John Kim, editor in chief of the UC Berkeley fashion magazine Bare.
And of course there is the trend that has become ubiquitous and almost mandatory in fashion (and music, and technology and politics …) — collaborations. Prominent designers get together with whoever will generate the most publicity and create a collection. It’s a tragic case of wanking off to your own fame. It’s time-tested. It’s an effective formula. Famous designer + up-and-coming talent = newbie gets visibility and legitimacy, old-hand gets indie cred and a boost in exposure.
Example: Kanye West’s collection for Louis Vuitton, catering to that small bracket of the population that appreciates a douchebag as much as a leather bag and has disposable income to toss at it.
But I digress.
The point is, fashion can seem pretty repetitive as it goes through the motions each season at Bryant Park.
Simon Spurr proved that sticking to classics isn’t necessarily bad with his presentation Sunday. The designer’s first-ever runway show featured his signature sharp lines and tailored cuts, generally applied to the double-breasted suit that has seen a resurgence in the last few years (owing in part to AMC’s “Mad Men”). The models were the essence of sharp, rakish English gents, replete with hats and pheasant feathers tucked into their lapels. Sticking to a small color palate of grays, blues, blacks and burgundies, Spurr applied his style to pea coats, striped suits, leather jackets and double-breasted everything. He even went with the military boot trend, outfitting many of the models in worn down combat-inspired footwear. It goes to show that, if it’s well-executed, a collection can use classic styles to its advantage.
“The collection is great, especially the sharp lines on the suits,” Scott Schuman, creator of the fashion blog “The Sartorialist,” said in an interview.
There are some designers who have created an identity that bucks trends, but even those stay within their comfort zones. A strong, recognizable identity is one of the key factors to becoming successful in the fashion world, and the balance is always between maintaining that aesthetic while infusing it with novelty each season.
Scott Sternberg, founder and designer of Band of Outsiders, struck the balance perfectly with his F/W collection.
“It’s on point. It’s creative,” GQ creative director Jim Moore said in an interview. “I love to see how Scott has evolved within his niche over the years, but he always brings something new and different.”
Each piece was unmistakably B of O — retro jackets, shrunken fits, precisely tailored formalwear, fleece sweatpants tailored like tuxes and, of course, the ubiquitous Sperry shoes. But, as always, Sternberg courted the unexpected. One of his strongest pieces was a gray wool hooded jacket — cut like a spring anorak but with a thick winter feel.
Sternberg has a knack for taking things you’re familiar with — nylon quilted winter wear, for instance — and using them in an unexpected way — yellow nylon pants with quilted kneepads. One of his most outstanding syntheses was a group of suede oxfords, shoes that have their roots in America, dandified in Europe, but were brought back to U.S. soil with their casual suede feel. And the women’s version had cleat spikes instead of heels? Strange, but we’ll let it slide. The most bizarre piece of the presentation had to be a pair of “shoes with the fur” — a cross between Bigfoot and a lapdog with laces. Those, I’ll have a harder time forgiving.
If anything, he makes it work with the setting. Each show Band of Outsiders puts up is a production, transporting the small Milk Studios showroom into a whole new world. Last season saw Sternberg piling mountains of sand and airplane wreckage onto a lost island scene, while this collection finds itself in a snowy alpine forest.
“That’s definitely something you could say about Scott — he lives in his own little world,” said Tina Chai, stylist and collaborator for B of O’s women’s line Boy. “It’s great to get a glimpse into it each season though.”
Despite its revisiting the classics, Fashion Week is balancing on the cusp of change. It is partially a pallor cast by fashion-mainstay Alexander McQueen’s death last Thursday, partially a devaluing of Fashion Week exclusivity (there were rumors that Snooki would be making a splash in Bryant Park, but thankfully, they were just rumors), the intrusion of popular culture (Jeffrey’s New York, an upscale retailer in the Meatpacking District, collaborated with Haus of Gaga for their season’s displays), or maybe it was just the bleak weather.
But, of course, the elephant in the room is that starting next season, Fashion Week’s tents will inhabit the Lincoln Center rather than Bryant Park.
Many believe the change in location will constitute only a superficial shift and will hardly impact the biannual event.
“The Bryant Park tents function as a hub — the term is a convenient simplification that the media likes to use,” Adam Rapoport, style editor of GQ, said in an interview. Many designers, even ones that have since exploded in the fashion world, still refuse to show in the main tents, he continued. European fashion weeks — in Milan and Paris, for example — are dominated by big names like Gucci, Prada and Lanvin, while New York displays a cross-section of talent.
In New York, fashion is really an organic process, and designers can get visibility even early in their careers, Hainey said.
In the 16 years that the event has been centered in Bryant Park, Fashion Week has become increasingly conflated and exclusive. So maybe this small change is really what Fashion Week needs. Maybe Snooki should have crashed the private events. All the celebrities, designers and socialites with ballooned egos need a dose of reality (insofar as Snooki and her guido posse constitutes reality). Needless to say, spring/summer 2010 will be a season unlike any other.