NEW YORK, United States — New York Fashion Week was backloaded with heavyweights. The last day opened with Ralph Lauren, closed at Marc Jacobs, with Calvin Klein as ballast in the middle. (Tom Ford was also on the agenda this season, until he decided to go direct to customer in September.) So, in not much more than eight hours, you could get a sense of where American fashion has been, where it is now, and where it might — or would like — to be going, as defined by its three biggest names.
Not for nothing was Jacobs the closer. The pleasurable sense of climax he brought to the calendar was like our reward for the longeur of the often-frigid week. His shows are ten-minute shots of purest sui generis spectacle. And yet, in their own way, they have always had more to say about New York than any other designer. Jacobs has travelled through time and space to style a whole picture book of urban fairy tales. He said Thursday’s was the Gothic-tinged downtown scene. But that was a very nebulous starting point.
A more particular one was the designer’s Spring extravaganza, a million movies coming to life all at once, a production so exhausting it left all involved with a desire to never see or hear it mentioned ever again. So, naturally, it had to be revisited, in the interests of putting the demon to rest. The negativity was transmogrified into negative images of Spring’s wardrobe, the farrago of colour reproduced in monochrome. If Spring was Technicolor, Autumn/Winter was black & white. The lights!camera!action! red carpet down which the audience walked last season became a white wooden floor impeccably lacquered into glistening nothingness by Stefan Beckman and his brilliant team. Spring’s blasting big band was reduced to sparsely sounded chimes, almost Japanese temple music.
And the clothes? “We amped up the opulence,” Jacobs enthused. “Larger and larger. We’re doing a show! That’s what I love about fashion.” And each girl was a show unto herself, raised high on a pedestal of eight-inch platform shoes. The same exaggerated proportions carried over into what they were wearing. When a Gothic highschool Cinderella walked by in a supersized Bobcats baseball jacket and a skirt that was a massive dome of black PVC, you prayed her prince would come in one of Raf Simons’s equally gigantic letter sweaters.
The black & white begat echoes of The Addams Family, Beetlejuice and all those little trading figurines Tim Burton created. Everything looked richer in monochrome, like the torrents of jet beading and the glittering embroideries: a crystal cobweb laid over a bed of black sequins, beaded rats playfully scampering round a jacket.
Lady Gaga made a surprise appearance in fur-trimmed grey flannel. It was decided only two days earlier, when she told Jacobs, “I want to be just another beautiful girl in your show.” She was a perfect fit. In their spidery Alice Cooper eye make-up and Sally Finkelstein hair, the models might have been her Little Monsters.
How easily, almost dismissively, Jacobs talked about the extravagant expenditure of time and effort that created such a performance. That’s how he has always made it look so enchantingly effortless, of course. Consummate showman that he is, he appears never less than utterly sure of himself.
Francisco Costa is less so. Minimalism was his inheritance at Calvin Klein. He’s managed to make the most — or maybe “least” is truer to the ethos — of the legacy quite successfully for years, but you imagine the whole proposition getting a bit Groundhog Day for a designer, and so Costa has been feeling his way into something a little less minimal. Emphasise the little. How one craves alittle more heat, especially from a man who was born in Brazil. And this time, Iggy Pop’s stentorian declamations on the soundtrack were scarcely designed to raise the temperature.
Costa has, however, cannily attached his explorative mood to the great house icons, last season the slip dress, this season the suit, both approached with a yen for extremely sophisticated deconstruction. hems were raw in Thursday’s show, the tailoring trailed straps and suspenders. The dresses were languidly dissected too.
And for the first time, Costa has been indulging purely decorative tendencies that were previously shrouded in rigorous, monochrome lines. For Autumn, that meant fur, in big faux collars and sleeves, as a photo of a coyote pelt printed in shift dresses, or lynx printed on a leather coat.
More striking was the way he set slices of agate into what amounted to eveningwear in this rigorous context. It felt like the stones sat over significant parts of the body where the reputed properties of agate would be best placed to work their magic. One slice sat across the navel, from which sunray pleats dramatically radiated outwards. It seemed like something Costa might have heard about in Brazil (that’s where he got the idea at least). By the way, one such property of agate is that it allegedly stops the burning desire for things we do not need. So it probably won’t be popping up in any other collections any time soon.
One thing you could never accuse Ralph Lauren of is uncertainty. Compare him to fashion’s other imperial silverbacks Armani and Lagerfeld and he stands as solid and dependable as a stately home. Not for him the mercurial fancies of wayward creativity. Curiously, though, he closed his show with two pieces, a one-shouldered, full-skirted gown and a long skirt hitched high on one thigh, in gold Mikado that had all the liquescence of mercury.
Before them, though, had come a parade of classic Lauren-isms: fifty shades of beige cashmere in everything from twinsets to topcoats; the leanly elegant man-styling borrowed from the 1930’s movies he loves so much; Old England meeting New Mexico; dandy dressing; and Karlie Kloss in a black velvet column with a coiling frill of white which put one in mind of John Singer Sargent painting Mary Queen of Scots. Which obviously never happened, although Ralph Lauren is probably the only designer in New York who could seed your mind with such an image.