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New York from afar: malaise, messiness, nineties redux, and Altuzarra

Alex Fury
Screen Shot 2013 09 08 at 02.06.40 199x300 New York from afar: malaise, messiness, nineties redux, and Altuzarra

Karen Elson in the opening look of the spring 2014 Jason Wu show in New York

The New York collections have begun. I’m not attending this season – which is the case with many British editors, the trek across the pond too arduous (and let’s face it, too damn expensive) for many to endure. There is also the all-important question of return on your investment. While New York Fashion Week still hits hard – and has world-renowned, and instantly recognisable names like Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs heavily peppering the schedule (Karan and Jacobs with two shows a piece) – it just doesn’t seem as exciting as its European counterparts. There, I’ve said it.

I participated in a panel discussion yesterday, broadcast on SHOWstudio.com, the fashion website of photographer Nick Knight. And as my fellow panellists – and myself – struggled to express exactly what it was about New York Fashion that failed to ignite quite the spark that London, Paris and Milan do, it sank in that there was obviously a general malaise.

The issue with New York, looking at websites like style.com that cover the entire roster of shows, is that there’s just far too much stuff. The schedule is rammed with shows, from designers whose aesthetic few of us could pinpoint. Even better-known designers often have that issue. I’m hard-pressed to summarise Peter Som’s style, or Derek Lam’s. They’re just yet more names on yet more labels, inside yet more clothes. And, on the internet, they’re merely names attached to fashion shows you never click the thumbnail of. It’s sad, but true.

Of course, experiencing the shows online is very different to watching them in person. I harped on about the Burberry Prorsum spring menswear show looking better online earlier this year. I wonder if Prabal Gurung’s looked better in person? The pictures show a collection that’s a bit clunky and lumpy, full of odd prints and uncomfortable proportions. It looks messy. Nothing seems to fit right, and there’s too much pellucid satin, plastic and tricky effects. Gurung is another name whose aesthetic seems difficult to pin down. He experiments, sure. He experiments a lot. But it never seems to properly pay off.

That’s why the news of investment by Kering (formerly PPR) in the New York designer Altuzarra doesn’t really come as a shock. Altuzarra’s risk-taking is convincing. It’s also balls-to-the-wall. He doesn’t care if everyone like what he does. He likes it – and he knows there’s a cadre of women that share his taste. It’s interesting that when Carine Roitfeld visits Altuzarra’s studio in the documentary Mademoiselle C (out on the 11th), there are pictures of her plastered over his mood board. It doesn’t strike you as an empty gesture. Roitfeld is his customer, exactly the kind of woman who would willingly truss herself up in Altuzarra leather – or, even better, his mink-lined leatherette sheath-dress. Said dress was a stand-out piece from his autumn collection. It was utterly repulsive: so repulsive, in fact, that it came all the way back round to being amazing. It was the dress of the season, for me. There are a few versions of it kicking about retailers, generally minus the mink. Net-a-Porter and MatchesFashion.com both have similar pleather-pannelled number retailing around the £1,500 mark. They’ll be a good investment. Just like the company is. He shows later tonight.

There’s aren’t many designers who experiment in New York, honestly. That’s why the few that do are interesting. This season, I also found it exciting to see Jason Wu move out of his comfort zone of delicate femininity into something sleeker and harder. Well, you couldn’t really call his sheer panelled safari jackets and gossamer summer dresses “hard”, but the utility air of the collection felt fresh, and it also told us something new about Wu as a designer. Namely, that he well understands a life beyond cocktail hour and gala balls.

There was a nod to the nineties, the heady American dreams proffered first by Calvin, Karan and Kors and latterly by Tom Ford at Gucci. Namely, easy shapes in hyper-luxe fabrics. Wu opened his show with Karen Elson in a sequinned halter-neck vest dress. It reminded me a little of Lawrence Steele, a nineties favourite, especially on Elson, another stalwart of that era. What Wu seemed to be saying in that look was that he was moving his aesthetic on, going for something cleaner and meaner. That dress also reminded me that, although fashion shifts, style is kind of eternal. It would look great anytime, and anywhere.

Surprising how much impact you can make in just one look. Some other New Yorkers should look to Wu and Altuzarra for guidance on how to build a business and still create an impact. They’re leading the race.

  • Sam

    This article could not be more wrong. No surprise it comes from London, currently the red headed stepchild of the big 4 cities. London is a muddy mess of crappy gaudy young designers who’s companies wont exist in a year or two. New York’s collections SELL. That was the POINT of fashion weeks. These are not meant to be some kind of big spectacle. New York designers know how to make luxury clothing that is artistic but still actually can sell at department stores. Why do you think almost all the good English designers don’t even show in London? It’s a joke.


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