New York Fashion Week: Spring/summer 2012 round-up
Paris has creativity, London has talent and Milan offers luxury - but what is New York's niche? Perceived as the poor relation, the city needed to raise its game. So did the shows deliver?
Giddying debt, unwinnable wars, the end of another Jennifer Lopez marriage - these are testing times for the 20th century's last great superpower. Has America got what it takes to face down near insuperable challenges to its cultural and moral supremacy? Will Mad Men ever return to the BBC? And the most vexatious uncertainty of all: can fashion still cut it?
Question marks have hovered, like a radical new eyebrow-shape, over the merits of New York Fashion Week since its inception during the Second World War. Compared with the what-do-you-mean-it-has-to-be-wearable creativity of Paris, the seedbed of talent in London or the luxury label Mecca that is Milan, New York's home team has, more or less, permanently been considered a bit of a busted flush.
More worryingly still for patriots, Hurricane Irene meant Marc Jacobs, the designer everyone really flies in to see because he's the only one in New York with the influence to change fashion's direction, had to postpone his mainline show until tomorrow, by which time most of the international press will have left town. Reasons for the delay remain shrouded in mystery. Maybe his dermatologist was marooned on Long Island.
So far, so dicey. But guess what? Without Marc up front to take the hit, the rest of New York's fashion hitters were finally empowered to deliver a bunch of accomplished clothes that may give Milanese polish a run for its money, especially now that some of the latter is being outsourced to China.
We trotted off to Jason Wu's midtown showroom to have a closer inspection of his collection the day after his show, and his craftsmanship - T-shirts made from hand-beaded lace woven into a houndstooth pattern; airy, bustle skirts padded with horsehair and trimmed with burned feathers - was impressive. American tailoring and finishes used to be considered below par, but Wu makes all his clothes in New York. He is influenced by New York's casual glamour, too. His work might be painstaking, but the way he mixed jersey vests with silk gazar cocktail skirts, or commissioned Brooklyn-based graffiti artist Kaws to overlay a custom-made print with squiggles, is youthful and modern.
Soft saturated colour (plus a few sulphurous stinkers) washed over these collections. Metallic accessories were everywhere. The new bag is a flat envelope. Hems are below the knee, or asymmetric. And bold patterns - an area New York's designers often shy away from - are huge, literally.
Not everything was fabulous. When New York Fashion Week identifies a trend, it likes to flog it to death. Some 90 drawstring pockets and 790 mesh polo shirts later, I'm hoping the game is already up for Olympic-inspired clothing. Don't hold your breath, though - some enterprising designer might try to sell you a jacket made from scuba-diving rubber.