Fashion Week diary

Designers rolled out striking fall looks this week. Just don’t call them trends.

By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / February 18, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • E-mail|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

NEW YORK - As I watch a line of stoic, genetically blessed models in dangerously tall heels parade by me for the 12th time in a single day, I realize that Mercedes Benz Fashion Week isn’t just a place for watching fashion. These runways are like a classroom, and these models and the sharp-tongued crowd surrounding me have taught me quite a bit.

At the risk of turning a fashion story into a Sidney Poitier movie, I’ll hold off on what I’ve learned for a moment and begin by answering the question I’ll hear when I return to Boston after these twice-yearly fashion endurance tests: “So, what’s the big trend for this year?’’

This is a particularly challenging question to answer, because, unfortunately, designers do not meet to decide on a big trend before fashion week. Instead, fashion writers and buyers watch hundreds of fashion shows in a single week. The things that they recall after this assault of frocks are usually declared the trends for the season.

Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys, explained this to me much more eloquently earlier this week. He doesn’t believe in trends, but instead thinks of fashion as a big pool, where everyone contributes ideas and multiple trends live side-by-side. It’s about self-expression, and there is a huge range, not just one or two must-have pieces.

But since the question comes up so often, I will answer the “What’s the big trend for fall/winter 2010’’ question the best I can. At this point, it looks like the influence of menswear is emerging as a big trend for fall. Multiple designers, from Alexander Wang to Rag & Bone, have incorporated men’s tailoring and suiting material into their collections. Don’t worry ladies, you won’t have to dress like Grace Jones or Annie Lennox circa 1984. The looks are still quite feminine. Even Diane von Furstenberg, queen of the wrap dress, wrote: “I’ve always wanted to live a man’s life in a woman’s body’’ to describe her collection as “the essence of masculine and feminine.’’

After 10 seasons covering New York Fashion Week, I’ve learned that no matter how often People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protest outside the tents at Bryant Park, every year designers will still incorporate fur into their collections. This week, Marc Jacobs, Thakoon, Carolina Herrera, and a handful of other designers used fur in abundance. It was like a barnyard with goat, mink, fox, beaver, raccoon, and even muskrat seen on the catwalk. (Just don’t tell Captain & Tennille about that last one.)

And if designers don’t break out the fur, then chances are that Vogue’s André Leon Talley will drape a pelt over his shoulder and stroll around the tents like a couture Fred Flintstone.

I learned this week that fashionistas are surprisingly sentimental. The day I arrived in New York was also the day the news broke that Alexander McQueen had committed suicide. Since then, there have been several touching tributes, including Betsey Johnson’s “Long live McQueen’’ sign at her show. The haute crowd is also a bit misty-eyed over Fashion Week’s upcoming move out of Bryant Park. This fall, the shows travel uptown to Lincoln Center. Everyone is telling their favorite Bryant Park stories from the past 17 years. The best one I heard involved a designer, a model, and a Bryant Park dance of horizontal mambo. Naturally I don’t believe a word of it (you can’t see this, but I’m giving you a knowing wink right now).

I’ve also learned that people love to watch models fall, trip on dresses, and otherwise show that they are not just pretty robots. I was reminded of this last week during Naomi Campbell’s star-studded Fashion for Relief: Haiti benefit. Designers, celebrities, and even former British royalty strolled the catwalk. But no one got a bigger response than model Agyness Deyn, who fell twice. When she finally took off her torturous heels, she got louder cheers than Kelly Osbourne.

Another important lesson I’ve picked up on is that designers love to reinvent themselves. Nothing creates buzz faster. Earlier this week my jaw dropped as Marc Jacobs not only barred celebs from his show (sorry, Lady Gaga). He also covered the inside of the Lexington Avenue Armory with cardboard and showed dresses in all shades of taupe, sand, grey, tan, and black and white as a sparse version of “Over the Rainbow’’ played in the background. He made a beautiful collection that re-created the essence of Dorothy Gale’s sepia-toned Kansas, but with just a touch of Glinda the Good Witch’s glamour.

Jacobs wasn’t the only one reinventing himself this week. There was a new darkness in collections from Christian Siriano, Max Azria, Nicole Miller, and Altuzarra. This feeling of danger - well, as dangerous as dresses can get - was underscored with leather accents seen everywhere from Yigal Azrouel’s catwalk to the leather blouses at Andy & Debb.

There was also a surprising amount of comfort - something high fashion is not always known for. Big cable knits showed up everywhere. Twinkle and Custo Barcelona showed them with embellishments, Marc Jacobs made them with fur trim, and VPL by Victoria Bartlett made sweaters sleek and colorful. Many dresses made from lighter materials were topped with oversized fur collars and thick knit scarves.

Those knits, furs, and even feathers were also essential in collections that emphasized a bohemian love of layering disparate patterns, colors, and textures. Peter Som masterfully combined all of these elements.

Speaking of feathers, I’ve also learned that not all “Project Runway’’ winners are necessarily ready for their own runway shows. Season six winner Irina Shabayeva showed a bird-centric collection that was the definition of aviary overkill. Feathers were everywhere, but trust me, her collection never got off the ground.

There are, however, plenty of newcomers who managed to excite. This is one of the pleasant surprises of Fashion Week. I’ve rarely been disappointed at shows by fashion’s new hot shots, such as Rodarte, Thakoon, Jason Wu, or Prabal Gurung, and this week was no exception. Wu’s show felt like a fantasy come to life, and Thakoon broke his romantic reputation ever-so-slightly to also show clothes with a street-wise edge.

Which brings us back to Doonan’s theory of fashion. In the world of New York Fashion Week, it’s not simply Rodarte, Oscar de la Renta, or Michael Kors who define style or creates a single trend. Fashion week is like an art gallery. We experience multiple styles made by artists of all ages, tastes, and capabilities. Thankfully, we don’t have to choose just one.

Christopher Muther can be reached at