Monday, September 14, 2009

A Varied Skyline Enlivens the View

By Cathy Horyn
Published: September 13, 2009 in The New York Times

The soaring tensile designs of architecture increasingly find an expression in fashion, especially by young designers. There are the street aesthetes like Alexander Wang, whose game is to manipulate classics. But others see grids and transparent openings, as if trying to match the form of a new skyscraper.
Alexander Wang S/S'10 (Marcio Madeira)

Designers like Alexa Adams and Flora Gill of the label Ohne Titel may be limited to silk, leather and knitted wool, yet their modernist collages suggested they weren’t constrained and that they wanted to create a feeling of suspension and void. They did this very well, with multicolor knit dresses, textured leggings and leather sandals that seemed to have tension wires for lacing. The curving lines continued in the tailoring and in evening dresses with overlapping pieces and hems barnacled with silk knots and feathers. At the moment, round, rather than sharp-cut, looks right — perhaps because it follows the body.

At Preen, a British label designed by Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi, ribs of fabric randomly intersected French lace or frilly patches inspired by Victorian trim. The same densely packed frills (imagine topiary) also gave a different dimension to the shoulders of chiffon tops. Grainy black prints were based on vintage tulle.

Preen S/S'10 (IMAXTREE)

You may be wondering how the designers managed to use so many historical references (punk, too) without producing a doughy lump. And the answer is a modern-looking structure. To stand out today, fashion “needs to have craft,” Mr. Thornton said.

“But it needs to work in a clean way,” Ms. Bregazzi added.

Mr. Wang’s reworking of classics, like the polo shirt and anorak, often recalls the cutting techniques of Rei Kawakubo and Vivienne Westwood, without their magical lightness. There was much to like in the attitude of Mr. Wang’s collection, especially metallic Fair Isle sweaters and the funny references to football padding. His new trousers are worn low on the hips and show off a top of underwear.

But too many of the styles, notably army-green cape jackets and asymmetrical skirts, seem cadged from other designers. It is Mr. Wang’s unpadded view of dressing that people want to see.

Joseph Altuzarra’s collection seemed to jolt those who expected the young designer to stick with the course he established over the last two seasons: delicately ruched dresses and smart tailoring. Yet, jolt or not, it was a fascinating show, with slim-fitting bib-front dresses done in a seemingly random mixture of brown suede and girlish white or pink Swiss dot. The collection, which included ivory capes, had a fresh feeling of nostalgia and a do-it-yourself quality that has been lurking at fashion’s edges. It also seems a concerted effort to move away from the rigidity of branded looks.

“When you start a collection,” Mr. Altuzarra said, “you have to push yourself to limits that may make you uncomfortable but that are also challenging.” He added that the new clothes use all the same techniques as before.

Richard Chai calls his new moderate-priced line Love, perhaps so people can say the look of Love. Well, fussy consumers need something. Mr. Chai nicely balanced urban hipness with feel-good merchandising, offering breezy cropped jackets in ivory windowpane-check cotton or leather, pleated bucket shorts and berry-colored prints.

“Carnal and a little bit tawdry” is how Derek Lam described the mood of his collection. That sounds like a teaser for a romance novel. The high-waist skirts, draped blouses and saucy crepe de Chine prints definitely had a boardwalk glow about them. Round-edge wrap skirts in double crepe looked modern, though. The prints were luscious and different, and a halter dress done in a patchwork of black and white poplin and sashed with a black leather belt shouldn’t be served to minors.

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