Backstage ahead of the Falguni & Shane Peacock Autumn/Winter 2011 show, at New York's Lincoln Center, chaos appeared to reign. After arguing over the backstage passes (there weren't enough, so someone had to be sent into the fray to retrieve a few), a harassed publicist pointed in all directions, pulled faces of exasperation, lost and then found Falguni and finally pointed me in the direction of Shane, sporting his goatee and a welcoming smile.
This was the second New York show for the Indian designers - long-time veterans of fashion weeks in Dubai, New Delhi, Mumbai and London - and it came just days after they had dressed Madonna's dance troupe for her Super Bowl performance. Their clients, in fact, have included Lady Gaga and Rihanna, and front-row at the show were the singers Ashanti and Michelle Williams.
The Peacocks might have been in the midst of pandemonium before the show, but there's no guesswork here: they know exactly which buttons to press to excite the pop-music crowd, and while most of New York's designers were busy with their soft cashmeres and furs, this pair slapped on a hard cyberpunk soundtrack, turned the lights down low and sent out models in robotically symmetrical constructions that left little to the imagination. Tight silhouettes, sheer fabrics appliquéd with geometric and organic patterns, feathers, sequins, sculptural peplums and mixed-up prints looked tough, edgy and, as was clearly the aim, rock-and-roll. These are pieces for the stage, not for Park Avenue, and they stomped their own path in an otherwise high-luxury season.
As far to the other end of the scale as can be imagined, Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein presented an utterly modern collection in block colours and crisp silhouettes that were all about cut: rigid woollen A-line dresses, rounded shoulders that looked almost moulded and natural waistlines emphasised by metallic belts. Those who made it past the 25 or so Occupy Wall Street protesters outside were impressed.
Michael Kors, meanwhile, took his trademark city glamour down a softer, more rustic route (albeit in the most exquisite way). "Cosy" was the word he repeatedly used to describe these beautifully soft outfits, with bouclé wools, cable knits, curly sheepskins and luscious textures that you long to run your hand over. Sending out looks for men and women, he used as inspiration the 1930s screen idols Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. The couple, married until she died at 33, pursued a rural idyll of a life on a ranch, and it was this urbanely rustic look that came through, combining flattering, slick silhouettes (slender below-the-knee skirts, culottes and frocks, with extravagant furry collars) with red and black checks and thick cashmere. For evening, though, the silver-screen sparkle was present and correct, in vermilion sequins, shimmering gossamer-light gold lace and, most extravagantly, a sequinned bias-cut dress that looked like molten silver.
Many of those 1930s and 1940s silhouettes were seen elsewhere, from Jill Stuart's subtle, printed daywear to J Mendel's architectural monochrome gowns (though beyond the red carpet, his collection felt more modern by far). Diane von Furstenberg, too, offered a very Ginger Rogers silhouette, pepped up with a brilliantly up-to-date palette (pale blue and raspberry being one of the best combinations).
References to the past were most explicit in the extraordinary array of accessories on display at a press preview in Ralph Lauren's Madison Avenue store, though it was a past far beyond the 1940s. Here, structured bags in richly polished jewel-coloured alligator bore art deco hardware, purple and black suede shoes were piped in gold leather, and jewellery, belts and clutches came in gleaming, stylised gold; the tortoiseshell sunglasses looked as though they belonged poolside at a Hollywood mansion.
On the final day of fashion week, he continued the theme with a Downton Abbey-inspired collection, accompanied by the rather stirring soundtrack to the TV show, that showed once again why he is the king of New York fashion. Lauren offered characters ranging from bluff below-stairs types (tweeds, Fair Isle tops, brown bowler hats) to top-hat-wearing cads with dark tartan or panne velvet suits.
Evening was where the ladies of the house came in, with a series of exquisitely crafted gowns heavily bugle-beaded in gold or simply sleek and black with sparkling jewelled collars.
This was far from the only point of nostalgia for the week, though. Marc Jacobs offered up a series of Edwardian urchins and fallen women, while the high-necked frocks at Jill Stuart also had something of the American Gothic about them.
The ubiquitous Lana Del Rey was brought to mind by Jenny Packham's sultry 1940s-inspired collection (with a soundtrack of Anna Calvi, the Suburbs and Santogold): it was all very Touch of Evil. The dark side of the 1990s even made an appearance with Jeremy Laing's edgy masculine tailoring and wide trousers in a pared-back palette of black, white and stone, Y-3 by Yohji Yamamoto's avant-garde sportswear and Marc by Marc Jacobs's return to grunge.
But still by far the biggest obsession for New York fashion remains mid-century couture. Whether it's still the continuing influence of Mad Men, or simply that this refined, chic look suits the lifestyle of New York's socialites, the likes of Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta and Reem Acra are producing beautiful, immaculately cut suits with three-quarter sleeves, boxy or sack jackets and knee-length pencil skirts, together with extravagant evening gowns in faille silks, imaginative brocades, billowing satins and beaded, layered tulle.
Quite simply, these are the sorts of pieces that can sell again and again, and as luxury fashion companies continue to turn in high profits while the rest of the industry suffers, they must be doing something very right indeed.
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