Thursday 24 August 2017

New York at risk of losing its spark

The Big Apple's premier fashion week is putting commercialism ahead of creative flair, says Constance Harris

Constance Harris

Fashion can be hugely frustrating. For all sorts of reasons. When it's mad, too youth orientated or when it works against the body to the point of ugliness. It can be frustrating, too, when it is too sensible, too commercial and too same-y.



While observing last season's New York catwalk unfold -- the collections that are now arriving in stores around the world -- I thought the city's designer presentations were lovely, with some stars. I did, however, worry that there was a danger of the show becoming predictable and safe.

This season, my thoughts are no longer vague concerns but a reality. The autumn/ winter 2012/13 New York presentations, while very wearable, did not inspire.

I feel the Big Apple has decided to settle for commerciality instead of creativity.

From a business point of view, this will work for a few seasons, but then buyers will get bored and move on.

I loved Diane Von Furstenberg these past few seasons, but am now thoroughly bored of her colour-block ensembles and silky, Seventies clubbing couture.

Sure, maybe it still sells and is being knocked off by the high street but it is not doing it for me, a fashion editor. When a fashion editor is not inspired s/he won't talk about a label, which is the last thing a designer wants.

Early in my career as a fashion editor, I learnt that what I liked most in John Rocha's collections often did not go into final production because they were too edgy for buyers. But they served to keep John inspired -- and fashion editors, too. Both end-results kept the designer at the top of his game, and 30 years on he continues to strengthen and grow.

Designers need to introduce change to keep their, as well as our, creative hearts pumping.

The catwalks of New York were beautifully smart, evocatively autumnal in colouring, but very buttoned up and sexually inhibited.

Many designers were creeping their way back to power dressing. Unlike the soft femininity of their summer 2012 offerings, sexuality was becoming more masculine, something America loves to do to women -- strip them of their sexuality and make them asexual.

In many cases collections were actively moving women into SM (sadomasochistic) clothing again.

There was a lot of hard leather, hard corsets, big buckles, skirts with slashes, dominatrix knee-high boots, stiletto heels, etc. It is true that those catwalks did look strong. But we should watch out for where this is all heading.

There were three collections I utterly adored, that did inspire me: Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs and Y-3 by Yohji Yamamoto. Self-confidence and competence were at the heart of all three.

Donna Karan has a feel for winter. She loves the tailoring, structure and pieces it requires: fabulous coats, working suits and dresses, stunning blouses and shirts. She emerged as the true powerful-working-woman's designer in the Eighties. She knows power dressing inside out.

Because Karan has been there before, she is not going to repeat herself.

Karan is exploring strength and womanliness in her designs, and I find the beauty she has created hugely inspiring.

In total contrast to Karan's tight tailoring, was the soft, sensuous, playful, eclectic world created by Marc Jacobs.

There were eccentric hats, fabric and texture used playfully to create a strong silhouette.

We saw the asymmetric, draped and folded necklines together with the accentuated bottle skirts. There was a vague air of 17th-Century vagabond meets monarchy. Jacobs's collection was inspiring and lifted the soul.

It was rumoured Jacobs was looking to take over at the House of Dior in the wake of John Galliano's departure. If the story is true, then this collection was evidence that Jacobs could do something fabulous with the wonderful heritage and archive created by Galliano over his 15-year reign.

In contrast to Karan's formality and Jacobs's fantasy, I list Y-3 for its consistency and truth. Y-3 is Yohji Yamamoto's collaborative collection with Adidas. Founded in 2003, it was inspired by sports-fabric technology and the practical necessity of sportswear, combined with the beauty required of designer wear.

It was a richly coloured, extremely comfortable looking, yet streamlined, modern collection that inspired the desire to want to wear it now.

It wasn't pretending to be something else, trying to grab a new audience.

This is something I think New York Fashion Week's designers need to remember. Commercial concerns alone will ultimately kill their creativity and the life force that attracts in the first place.

Risk and change is a way of life in America. These are essential elements for its fashion industry, too, if it is to survive and thrive.

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