We're three-quarters of the way through the ready-to-wear season and the reaction of designers to the worst recession in recent memory continues to thrill.
Men are from Kors, women are from Prada
We're three-quarters of the way through the ready-to-wear season and the reaction of designers to the worst recession in recent memory continues to thrill. The shock waves have clearly had an effect on the four major fashion capitals. New York offered little in the way of what we think of as commercial American, thanks to Wang, Wu, Thakoon, Rodarte and so on. Milan rocked the English eccentric vibe and London did what Italians do best: power suits and hourglass frocks.
The credit crunch, that invisible, uninvited elephant seated front row at the shows, has also provided an insightful look at the gaping gender divide (ie, the difference between how male and female designers are interpreting the crisis). Aside from the many weird and wonderful creations we've seen on the catwalk, by far the most interesting trend to emerge is not so much to do with clothes, as the sex of the person who created them.
I've been playing a game, asking several girlfriends to tell me whether they believe a man or a woman was behind images from the shows, and it was that obvious they got it right every time. When have you ever known the fashion pack to divide so neatly into two piles? Boys and girls. Take Miuccia Prada's reassuringly matronly boiled wool suits, which could only have been designed by a woman (men won't get this at all, except perhaps the kinky oversized fishing galoshes).
Or Marni, designed by Consuelo Castiglione, which looked like a 21st-century take on Virginia Woolf's wardrobe, incorporating precious stones into necklaces. Hardly what you might call credit-crunch appropriate and yet, along with shoulder pads, exactly the sort of protective armour a women needs right now. Female designers including Nicole Farhi and Donna Karan have built empires from understanding the complex relationship that women have with their clothes.
This season has certainly shone light into the workings of the male mind of the fashion species. You only have to look at the alarmingly out-of-character show from Michael Kors, to name but one, to see how he grappled to understand what a woman might want in hard times (Day-Glo fur? Really?) His philosophy, if there's one thing worse than being skint, it's looking skint, produced a wardrobe for the female Lehman Brothers executive circa 2006.
I'm not saying there are women out there who don't want fur and diamonds, just that they won't be wearing it the way they once did. So come on, guys, how should we wear it? Plenty of male designers get women (sometimes far better than we get ourselves). Marc Jacobs and Alexander Wang made the point: times are tough, so let's party. Coming from Jacobs, one of a handful of designers - male and female - who are masters of the "I really need it!" part of the female psyche, this made perfect sense.
He figures out that not every woman can pull off certain silhouettes and proportions, so why not come up with an entire look book of ideas that women of any size/age/type can enjoy. Scared of the clothes? Buy the accessories. Take the granny bag, vast enough to tip an entire drawer into for a day - is this someone who understands a woman or what? Or perhaps his grandmother told him a great handbag makes an outfit.
Of course, fashion needs male designers to put their own spin on clothes that accentuate and glorify femininity. Just so long as their concept is relevant to the average female form (rather than the willowy models who wear it so well on the catwalk). Did you know it was a man, Dr Alberto Masotti, the founder of La Perla lingerie, who came up with the idea of designing a bra in a colour other than flesh or white. (genius!). And what colour did he choose? Red (d'oh!).
Planet male does seem to be slightly better at designing women's shoes, a fact that Monsieurs Blahnik, Choo and Louboutin are testament to, but throw comfort into the equation and you simply get? Crocs. I hear that Stefano Pilati's YSL caged bootees - yes, the ones that sold out before they even reached the boutiques - make your flesh poke out like Play-Doh, and don't stay on your feet. Can fashion be both practical and perfect? Ask a woman. Better still, ask Miuccia Prada, whose latest crinkly pencil skirts feel great, look tantalising and don't need ironing.