NYFW: Sea, Sports, and Planet Jacobs

September 13, 2014 • Fashion

Fashion, they say, is art. Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte are turning it into some kind of sensational science, defying the basic rules of biology and physics that govern the making of matter. Last season the sisters closed their show with a series of draped silk dresses printed with the faces of Star Wars characters; this season, however, they’ve abandoned that distant galaxy and plunged, head first, into the ocean’s unknowable abyss. Aquatic references were abundant: the translucent chiffon that swung from skirts, the heavy embellishment that seized these dresses like violent, uncontrolled colonies of coral. It was a visually arresting show, curious in its inexplicable clutter, like that gripping excitement of sorting through the contents of a hundred-year-old sunken ship. Or a mermaid’s bounty. There has always been, I think, an innocent, juvenile humour in Rodarte.

To be constantly leaning toward the stars, or the sand, is encoded in human DNA: we are the stuff of collapsed stars, we rose from the water, and there are secrets floating freely in these vast, unexplored oceans. Pseudo-scientific folly, of course, but there’s a certain amount of reaching involved in making sense of Rodarte. The main problem, however, is that their references sit at two extremes—this season’s coral and last season’s cosmos—and there is very little (if at all) regard to what becomes of human nature, and human comfort. People of earth will need to wear these clothes. Mermaid’s language may sound sweet and soothing under the water, where wacky ideas can be incubated without wrinkling, but when they reach human ears it starts to sound like gibberish. The Mulleavy sisters appear to have incredible difficulty articulating what they’re about, so much so that I’m starting to suspect that they simply drop all their references in water, mix it around, and pray that it emerges from shore looking halfway decent.

Articulation: a skill that many young American designers must learn if they don’t want to end up being boxed into the sportswear category. Proenza Schouler doesn’t seem too concerned about that, though, having presented the umpteenth collection that challenges (or purports to challenge) the American aesthetic default. “We’re attracted to something that feels a little conservative, but underneath all that conservative stuff there’s something sort of fraying, something sort of broken,” designer Lazaro Hernandez, one half of Proenza Schouler, told Style.com. Like Rodarte, this team played around with sartorial science. T-shirts were spliced with python panels; cotton and crochet worked to their own curious chemistry; and, in those final dresses with dangling tentacle fringing, Proenza Schouler made a bold cry to pleasure and practicality. It was a welcomed jolt—it got me excited about this brand for the first time in a long time. If clear articulation is part of what makes Proenza Schouler such a successful brand (about to be elevated to the next level if these LVMH rumours are true), it isn’t that their message is entirely novel. In fact, if anything, it’s that they say the same thing so tirelessly, so convincingly, that we start to believe it.

The same goes for Francisco Costa, whose work, unlike Proenza Schouler’s, carries with it one of the most famous, fabled names in American fashion history. Sportswear will inevitably come into everything he does for Calvin Klein Collection. The narrative doesn’t seem to change (nor does it need to), and the gist is a series of fast, bold dot points referencing classic Americana, presented somewhat heavy-handedly in the strict colour scheme of red, blue and white. A bit much, really. Here, the image of water once again manifested in my mind—there was something undeniably wet about this collection. Consider the glossiness of these leathers, the metallic yarns, the skirts that netted around the waist, the models’ washed hair. The silhouette also seemed to drop, drip and swing around the legs. It was beautifully done. Since its inception, the Calvin Klein Empire has developed into its own universe, rotating on its own axis, with its blazing planetary bodies spinning around a huge vacuum of denim, underwear, and perfumes. The luxury lines, particularly those pertaining to Collection, are often an afterthought. There’s something oddly calming about that. Most people will never see these clothes in stores, certainly not when billboards of raging virility sell underwear so effectively, but there’s a tacit technicality in Collection that is quite seductive.

Calvin Klein Collection (left) and Marc Jacobs (right). Images from Style.com.

And now, finally, we move to Marc Jacobs. The last designer of New York Fashion Week presented a collection that was, again, spurred on by wit and whimsy. The collection was an upsetting of military precision and utilitarianism (vacant buzzwords, I apologise, but how else to describe this collection?) with something altogether unrecognisable: bumps and buttons embroidered almost everywhere. Proportions were blown and ballooned; t-shirts and sweaters oversized; and necklines sculpted to resemble shapes traditionally associated with couture, according to Jacobs. It was an utterly confusing collection. By now, though, any attempt to rationalise Marc Jacobs would be futile. His direction changes too quickly from one season to the next to follow any clear, consistent trajectory. To extend this intergalactic metaphor: perhaps Planet Jacobs spins in an entirely different solar system. He speaks a language seemingly alien upon the initial hearing, but brilliantly audible in hindsight. And that, I think, is why people keep turning back to him: Jacobs’s gravitational pull is difficult for his fans to fight, and almost impossible for his rivals to beat.

Now to London…

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