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Altuzarra’s sexuality, Prabal Gurung’s old drapes and fly fishing with Alexander Wang, in New York.

Alex Fury
photo 1 300x300 Altuzarras sexuality, Prabal Gurungs old drapes and fly fishing with Alexander Wang, in New York.

A double-faced coat for autumn/winter 2014 by Altuzarra

At the Prabal Gurung show, of all places, I ended up discussing Joseph Altuzarra with Natalie Kingham, the international buyer for MatchesFashion.com (as they were recently rebranded). I espoused my thoughts and theories about Altuzarra’s dressing and undressing, the deshabille mood of his last collection, the shift you see between his summer and winter collections: the latter, trussed up, the former let loose. The former also generally don’t feature leatherette, unlike the latter. Because Altuzarra is clever enough (as in, clever at all) to know women don’t want to sweat in fake leather in spring/summer. Not all fashion designers do.

Kingham shrugged. “His clothes are really sexy,” she said. That’s why she buys them. And for all my theoretical rhetoric, I realised that she had nailed the discreet charm of Altuzarra. He knows that lots of women like to look sexy. Not conceptual, not “fashion-forward,” (whatever that means outside of the pages of glossy magazines) but sexy. It’s the foundation of the Altuzarra style. And, oddly, there is a style, despite his collections ricocheting from theme to theme. There’s a manner of cutting, a silhouette, those thigh-high slits. There’s something about these clothes that is immediately distinctive. That gives them a power, an impact.

photo 2 300x300 Altuzarras sexuality, Prabal Gurungs old drapes and fly fishing with Alexander Wang, in New York.

An embroidered apron-front dress by Altuzarra

The impact, however, isn’t just superficial. Lots of the fabrics had to be touched to really make sense. There was a lot of texture in this Altuzarra show, the best in apron-front dresses knotted and braided like those rag rugs you can buy in Ikea, a tussle of ragged, knotted cloth along the front flank of a few dresses. In back, they tied with a single spaghetti-strap, knotted into a bow across an otherwise bared expanse of flesh. That was new for Altuzarra. Simple. The revelation implied in its unfastening was sexual dynamite.

He also showed a great eye for colour, mixing virulent juicy shades of cerise and satsuma in blocked crepe or giant double-faced coats like chic bathrobes. That sounds antithetical to the Altuzarra brand of va-va-voom, but somehow he imbued them with a sly sensuality that taps into the more wanton desires of his woman. They bore his imprimatur.

Maybe that’s part of my continuing issue with Prabal Gurung. I can’t figure out what he really stands for. What does the label Prabal Gurung actually mean? Does he know? This show was his best to date, undoubtedly. But it felt a volte-face from spring’s pastel satins. There were also echoes of many other people’s ideas in here – I couldn’t put my finger on where I’d seen his wrapped knitwear before, but it felt a bit old hat. It’ll sell, because the familiar always does. We’re comfortable with it. But will Gurung ever jolt us somewhere new? That said, there were some tailored jackets, sliced open, with sections of drapery wound outside and in, that looked fresh. They looked a bit lumpy, too, especially next to refined but rehashed Balenciaga-lite fabric-trussed dresses and tops. Would you rather a new idea ineptly executed, or something refined to the nth degree but rather old hat? I’m more into the new. But should we have to choose, at New York Fashion Week?

photo 3 300x207 Altuzarras sexuality, Prabal Gurungs old drapes and fly fishing with Alexander Wang, in New York.

Two looks from the autumn/winter 2014 Alexander Wang collection

Alexander Wang is all about the new. New for him, I mean. Out with spring’s cotton shirting and nineties logo-mania, in with dark cocoons of cloth and muggy, sickly colours. There was obviously something utilitarian going on. Utilitarian is fashion-speak for sticking lots of pockets on something. Its original dictionary definition? “Designed to be useful or practical rather than attractive.”

Useful and practical are not considerations: the Wang wellington-cum-riding boot hybrids with the entire back cleaved out, set on a stacked heel, made that abundantly clear from the get-go. Anyone attempting to navigate the jammed Brooklyn streets to or from Wang’s show venue would succumb to hypothermia and/or frostbite within seconds. But the attractive element is the part I’m mulling over. Were these clothes really attractive? Probably not. Not in the way Altuzarra’s clothes were, or even some of Prabal Gurung’s. Didn’t make them utilitarian though.

That’s a bit churlish: this collection felt like it had more meat to it that many of Wang’s previous outings. He’s not a great fan of colour: here, however, it was utilised with slick confidence, juxtaposing a haemoglobin-red fur vest with white leather trousers knotted with a spearmint drawstring, or the same mixing aubergine, black and red. A few flashes of neon gave a pep, especially when piping the tip of an ascot scarf knotted high at the throat. Those bright colours reminded me of the feathered hooks of fly fishing. That was unexpected, on a New York catwalk.

Ultimately, with Alexander Wang, you feel a bit like the fish on the line. You take the bait, you get hooked. But there isn’t really anything substantial there for you to chew on. It does look pretty, though.

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