Friday, 18 February 2011

today i love... the best of nyfw

So New York Fashion Week wrapped up yesterday and the fashion elite moved onto London (click here for everything you need to know about LFW). It was certainly a week crammed full of shows; I found it exhausting enough just clicking through all the pictures, so I can't imagine how worn out the editors felt by the time it was all over. But of course it's all worth it to see the best of America's design talent come together for one short amazing week. So here's the lowdown on the shows I loved, those I really didn't, and those that left me pretty much indifferent.

First up, the best of the best. Three shows really stood out to me as favourites. The first was Alexander Wang (above). Now, I've never been one of his hardcore disciples; his earlier collections have often left me distinctly underwhelmed. But then, given how much hype surrounds his shows, and how often he is touted as arguably the hottest ticket of NYFW, perhaps it's no wonder that he has sometimes fallen short of my high expectations. Last season, however, saw a turnaround in my perspective. I've written about how much I currently love his S/S'11 collection (read about it here), and I think it took me taking a fresh look at his designs, with all the hype and expectation stripped away and the focus purely on the clothes, to truly begin to appreciate his talent. This season, therefore, I approached his collection with an open mind, knowing that even if I didn't immediately warm to it, it might well grow on me as his previous collection had. But I needn't have worried: Wang's A/W'11 collection exceeded all my expectations. Granted, there were some pieces bordering on a nineties grunge aesthetic that I didn't love (such as oversized parkas, leather joggers and fur-trimmed ponchos, all in black), but most of the rest seriously impressed me. Skinny lurex trousers in silver, pink and blue were a particular highlight, as was a beautiful grey cocoon coat with silver panels. For eveningwear, the contrast between soft fluffy knits and shredded satin skirts worked brilliantly, as did the colour palette of coal black, silvery grey and dusty peach. Sheer chiffon shirts added an edge to slouchy silky trousers, while flashes of metallic accessories throughout kept things on the luxe side of grunge. All in all, an impressive, wearable and inventive collection, and, while I may be a little late on the bandwagon, I can safely say I'm now a Wang convert.

Next up, and moving on from downtown New York grunge to Native American vibrancy, we have Proenza Schouler (above). Bright colours and prints are admittedly two things I often steer away from, given the choice, so the fact that I really liked this collection is surely testament to the ability of the Proenza Schouler boys to make clothes look really, really desirable. Their label is pretty much the epitome of New York cool, as attested by oh-so-cool front row guests Chloë Sevigny and Liv Tyler, and they have that rare knack of designing clothes that look completely effortless, as though slung carelessly together in that model-off-duty way. Admittedly I didn't like this collection quite as much as last season, but then that's because I'm a little scared of prints. Still, I know that I'll be tempted to give them a try thanks to this show. McCollough and Hernandez took as their inspiration Native American blankets, and stamped these vibrant unmistakable prints on almost every piece of their collection. Slouchy printed trousers were paired with bright block-coloured tees; dresses were cut in graphic blocks of black, yellow and orange; the simplest shift shapes were emblazoned with interlocking lines of blue, green, orange and red. Towards the end of the show velvet made an appearance, leaving me to marvel at how Proenza must surely be the only label that could ever make printed mustard velvet look good. I wouldn't wear all of it, that's for sure, but it certainly left me feeling pleased that they had taken a risk by steering away from boring black and into vibrant new territory (and I seriously loved the shoes). The final dress, half sheer mesh and half printed turquoise velvet, was a favourite of mine, and I could easily imagine it on Chloë Sevigny, leaving me in no doubt that the label's loyal fans will not have been disappointed.

My third standout favourite was 3.1 Phillip Lim (above). Moving away from vibrant colours and prints now, and back into more comfortable territory for me: softer, more wearable colours and a subtler, sportier aesthetic. 3.1 Phillip Lim has always been one of my most anticipated shows of New York Fashion Week, and this accomplished collection absolutely reinforced that. It was a masterpiece of relaxed, urban chic; there was a sporty feel to it but in a very classy, grown-up way. And although my favourite looks above are predictably colourless, one of the things that stood out about Lim's collection was his incredibly expert colour combinations. They were such as I would never even have considered before, but which looked amazing: tan and cobalt blue; grey, white and dusky pink; olive, ochre and navy; and grass green with cobalt blue again (definitely emerging as the colour of next season). In addition, the pieces were expertly tailored and seemed to fit so naturally together: sleeveless oversized jackets over skinny jumpers and slouchy trousers; a leather panelled nude top with a casual white skirt; slouchy parkas flying open over knitted jumpers and leggings. The highlight for me was a black silk maxidress with leather sleeves: so simple, but so luxe. Other subtle details, such as leather panels and sequinned sleeves, added an extra dimension to otherwise simple looks. Overall, it was an incredibly masterful collection, and it served to remind all the other try-hard designers that if you really know what you're doing, and your clothes are beautifully cut, you can produce a collection that is as amazingly inventive as it is effortless and natural.

So they were my top three shows. In fourth and fifth place are
Christian Siriano (below, two left-hand pictures) and Preen (below, two right-hand pictures). Christian Siriano was the first show I looked at, and it certainly got things off to a good start. My love for it probably had something to do with the fact that it was about 70% navy, my favourite colour on clothes. But it was also the expert combination of textures that caught my eye: boxy jackets with shearling sleeves teamed with the airiest of chiffon skirts; sheer shirts paired with slinky pencil skirts; minidresses with leather panels or taffeta bustles. The cocktail dresses at the end of the show were highly desirable, if not particularly inventive, and would look perfectly at home at any A-list soirée.

Preen, meanwhile, is a label helmed by two British designers and it was certainly apparent in their quirky, inventive and highly accomplished collection. It felt fresh, easy and fun compared to some of the heavy, overthought American labels (more on that later). There were prints here, too, but they were softer than those at Proenza Schouler, and paired with more forgiving colours like plum, chalk white, black and cobalt blue. Whereas many designers focused mainly on dresses, it was separates that stood out here: beautiful embellished tees with mid-length skirts split to the thigh; panelled sheer blouses with simple pencil skirts; sleek straight-legged trousers with simple blazers and belted shirts. In some ways it brought to mind 3.1 Phillip Lim, in that both collections excelled in inventive colour combinations and clothes that fitted effortessly together, almost like tessellation. It was a standout show from Preen, to be sure.

And so to my final two favourites:
Tibi (below, two left-hand pictures) and Theyskens Theory (below, two right-hand pictures). Perhaps situated at opposite ends of the lightness scale, with Tibi very much a preppy, happy collection and Theyskens Theory at the goth end of grunge. But both extremely accomplished in their own rights. Tibi has recently unveiled Olivia Palermo as the face of its brand, and as I watched the models stalk their way down the catwalk I couldn't help but think that some of the looks could have been designed with her in mind. Certainly the salmon pink shirt, taupe tailored trousers and chocolate fur gilet combination pictured below is very reminiscent of Palermo's brand of uptown chic. Then again, this collection was perhaps a little more deconstructed than Olivia's signature polished-to-perfection aesthetic. This was relaxed daywear at its finest, and perfect for a stroll in Central Park. Loose open jackets, skirts that hung off the hips and casual jumpers, all in shades of grey, navy and olive green, were livened up with pops of fluoro pink. The eveningwear, meanwhile, was fun and cute; sweet little cocktail dresses in metallics and scarlet weren't breaking any boundaries, but they didn't take themselves too seriously either, which was refreshing. The messy ponytails reinforced the message that this was a young, fresh and relaxed collection, which is no bad thing, really.

Meanwhile, Olivier Theyskens' collection for Theory - one of the most anticipated of NYFW - took things in a darker direction. Here, too, the hair and make-up reflected the tone of the collection: hair was slicked back and poker-straight and lips were blood red. This was another collection that channelled New York's inimitable brand of cool, but which appealed to a darker, quieter girl than Proenza Schouler's bright prints. Models had hands slung in the pockets of their slouchy trousers, with oversized blazers hanging nonchalantly from their shoulders. The occasional flash of flesh, via metallic leather hotpants or sleek minidresses, was tempered with grungy layers and a palette of grey, olive green (another colour to watch out for), sludgy white and burgundy red. Full length coats and sheer tights played up to the nineties grunge feel to the collection, but sheer maxidresses, chic knitted jumpers and the odd flash of colour kept things feeling modern. An interesting collection, to be sure, and one which will certainly be exerting an influence on our wardrobes come autumn.

There were a few other shows that deserve a mention.
Hervé Leger was a fun, sexy collection; the label's signature bandage dresses are in danger of looking a little tired, but the addition of zips, embellishments and a Glamazon vibe kept things looking young, fun and enticing. Victoria Beckham continued to prove her worth as a bona fide designer by edging further and further away from her little-tight-minidresses comfort zone, playing with architectural shapes and a vivid colour palette to impressive effect. The Row, the label helmed by my all-time favourite style icons the Olsen twins, showed a collection that admittedly felt a little contrived after the brilliance of its pre-fall line, but was nevertheless truly accomplished and desirable. Fur accents here were evidence of this strong trend throughout NYFW. Eveningwear was also a strong theme of the week, and in this some designers truly excelled: Halston, Jason Wu, Vera Wang and Derek Lam especially. Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein produced a show that stayed entirely true to the label's minimalist aesthetic, focusing on strong, structured dresses and coats, but it has to be said that the colour palette felt a little tired (camel seems very last year somehow) and in remaining so loyal to his own trademark look, Costa failed to bring any freshness to the show. Having said that, his strong, architectural approach to dressing was a welcome change from the fussiness of some other designers' collections, and Kate Bosworth, resplendent in the front row in a tomato-red Calvin Klein shift, was evidence of the label's enduring appeal.

So, onto those shows that I really didn't like. You may have noticed that I've neglected to mention many of the most time-honoured and established names of New York Fashion Week:
Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger, for example. These are the most American of the American designers, and I think perhaps that was the problem for me. As someone who so loves the fresh, experimental approach of many of the young London names, I couldn't help but find many of the New York shows a little fusty and stuck in their ways. Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger are prime examples of this: they are so busy sticking to the wholesome American looks that made them famous - camel trouser suits, preppy coats and crisp white shirts - that they forget to try anything new. The same goes for Donna Karan. With Marc Jacobs, the problem is slightly different; if anything he tries too hard to create something fun and quirky, and it just ends up looking kitsch and dated (in my opinion). I've never been a fan of his, I'm afraid to say, and although I always eagerly anticipate his shows in the hope that one might change my mind, that's yet to happen. The same goes for Diane von Furstenberg: I'm a big fan of the woman herself, but her clothes seem stuck in a 70s/wrap-dress rut. And I always take issue with her styling: this season I particularly hated the stiff knee-high boots, horrible little hats and stacks of bangles that she teamed with her clothes. Additionally, there were some labels whose collections I've loved in the past - Prabal Gurung, Rodarte, Thakoon - but which disappointed me this season for one reason or another. Personal preference, I suppose.

Anyway, that's my take on the best and worst of the NYFW shows. I'd love to know whether you agree with my thoughts, or if you have a particular favourite I've missed out, so please leave me a little comment. Now it's onto London Fashion Week, and here's hoping some brilliant British fashion talent will come our way. I can hardly wait.



All pictures: Elleuk.com

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