Wednesday, February 17, 2010

No Holds Barred - Fashion Week

by Blair Sabol

This has been New York Fashion's big week for the last time under the "big top" and I keep asking "what's it all about, Alfie?" Aside from it being a giant self congratulatory brand name party for designers, retailers, celebrities, top ten clients, wannabe stylists, sleazy reality show stars and young out-of-work hangers-ons — what is honestly achieved here? Does the fashion biz really get a boost? How does it affect the rest of the country's mall-walkers? Who honestly benefits from a week of all this and who cares? I have asked a number of New York City fashion mavens and industry pros (who chose to remain nameless) and all admit that they go to "people watch" and/or "get laid." No one mentioned "fashion."
Personally I am observing the week from THE "front row seat" of my bed. However I recently learned that I could have bought an actual "front row seat" for $600 to Caroline Herrera's show (a dubious charitable auction offer), or go for broke at Gilt Groupe and paid $21,000 for a "fashion week package" which included "a designer sweater and skirt and a front row seat at Richard Chai's fashion show."

Sorry, who is Richad Chai? It's already been stated that Fashion Week has become all about the seating and who makes it to the sacred ringside. I think we are exhausted with the usual pictures of The Olsen Twins, Madonna and her trainer, Paris Hilton and her Chihuahua, and of course Lady Gaga.  
All this drama over a 15-minute event that people have to wait for in a steamy 30 to 45-minute overtime. I remember going to a number of these shows 30 years ago (Village Voice's “Outside Fashion" column) and had to fight and crash an invite just to get seated in last row Siberia.

Back then it all took place in the designers' actual showrooms. But there was something authentic about working those old "550," "530," and "239" West 39th street" vintage buildings. Then again there were fewer designers, not so many celebrities, no paparazzi, and less traffic in the city. Shows started on time and there was the smell of real creativity and competition between designers in the air.

Marc Jacobs and Lady Gaga.
Inspiration at its finest: Rebecca Taylor and
Jason Wu.
What I loved was sitting next to real live buyers from Macy's or the likes of Kal Ruttenstein (Bloomingdales' major Domo ... RIP) and listening to all of them determine what was hot on the spot. Even watching them write down the actual style numbers (on real paper forms) was a thrill. Do buyers even do that nowadays? Or are all store orders placed weeks earlier from Blackberries in corporate back rooms?

Fashion shows of yore were loaded with intrigue, promise and something really revolutionary. (Or maybe I was just younger, more optimistic and less jaded.) But that was then and this is now and TV reality shows rule. So competition is no longer over designs but whether "Snookie" or the cast of The Jersey Shore gets into Jason Wu or Lady Gaga gets that photo opp with Marc Jacobs.
But back to the question of this week's real fashion influence. Forty thousand people are still out of work in the garment center. Nothing has helped that toll.

Meanwhile I read where designers like Rebecca Taylor says her inspired collection "is a mixture of 70's Paris and urban New York City girl." What does that mean? Jason Wu "is using photographer Irving Penn's scope ...." For what?

One positive report I read and saw was about Ralph Rucci's elegant classical collection. He floated them all down his real showroom's space with no muss and no fuss. Just real gorgeous creations and not a worn out gimmick in the bunch. There's been plenty of press on the new military trend and the use of neutral colors. But we've been down that road before. What road haven’t we been down in fashion? Matter of fact the entire "fashion show" template of anorexic models giraffe-stepping down runways to rock and roll or techno soundtracks and strobe lite back drops is seriously tired.

You would think between Super Bowl half time shows, Cirque de Soleil and The Olympic Opening ceremonies the fashion industry would find an entirely new form of presentation. Let the clothes be reruns but at least give us some new production value. Obviously the only legit runways nowadays are all the glut of award show Red Carpets. And that's not even original since every star who struts her stuff down those red alleys has been bought and resold by overexposed labels and over caffeinated stylists.

Then there is New York Times fashion photo/journalist Bill Cunningham who constantly reminds us that he has THE best seat in THE house on THE only runway — New York City's streets. From what I understand the only designer bold enough to do something new in performance is Norma Kamali.

Bill Cunningham has THE best seat in THE house.
Thank God for Norma Kamali.
At least she is hosting an interactive exhibition at her 56th street flagship store. It's called 'Style on Demand' and will incorporate applications for Blackberries and IPhones that scan barcodes and link to videos and other information such as behind the scenes footage." More importantly "her collection will be available next week in some stores." Thank God for Norma. She's always been cutting edge between people, fashion and tech.
However the most disturbing aspect of fashion week is how little it affects me or anyone who lives "west of Elizabeth, New Jersey." While most of the design community never cared about us "great unwashed" in WOL ("West of Liz"), times have changed. Now "we" rule the malls.  And the malls rule the country and the country rules the economy. The buck stops with us WOL shoppers. Designers take note. (Not to sound too Glenn Beck-ish). Even though I hear retailers say shopping is on the rise — I dont see it and I don’t feel it. They say "shoppers aren’t as afraid to spend as last year." But on what? Aren’t we still fearfully sashaying down the aisles of Ross and Home Depot and NOT Barney's and Nordstroms?
And while I don’t see Fashion Week really connecting with reality here's what I did see this past week; The Sundance Channel is running some magnificent "Indy" documentaries of new and old designers as well as some great exposes on the various Red Carpets and certain manufacturers. And by far the most important star designer this week has been the Olympic skater Johnny Weir with his odd line of fox trimmed (PETA has already sent him death threats) unitards and his own outrageous clothing line called "Be Unique.”

And one more line about Lady Gaga being fashion week's primo front seat "Get.” By now we are all gagging on Gaga. We've seen a full month of her at every music and theatrical event. All that glitter drag, insane makeup and towering platform soles is beginning to fade as she reaches her 14th minute of the infamous 15-minute time slot. Fashion like no other business can make you history overnight.

Perhaps the message of designer Lee McQueen's recent death is: "party over."

Next season's fashion week moves to Lincoln Center. Does that mean it will all be hyped as "high performance art"? Will there be the promise of a high Def simulcast in" a local movie house near you”?

The problem is will it even matter?

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