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Tailoring and Lace Rise Above It All

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Fashion Week has started — or, rather, the continuing onslaught of apparel has resumed after a brief intermission. The prefall collections ended only in January. Anyway, you don’t need a runway to feel the flow of goods, like a tidal surge. Go to Times Square or Herald Square, where the tourists and the teenagers drain the merchandise out of H & M and Forever 21 during the day, and trucks return more at night. This means only one thing for designers who spend a small fortune to show 30 to 40 looks on a runway. Their styling and quality must be exceptional because the rest of the big bad market is going to suck them into oblivion. During the first two days of the New York fall 2011 collections the most obvious disparity was the so-so quality of some fabrics. And everybody is paying more this season for wool, silk and cotton.
So it was a pleasure to see very good collections on Friday from Peter Som andJason Wu. Both emphasized super-sharp tailoring. Mr. Wu’s main idea was a slim coat, with baroque lace down the outside of the sleeves, with high-waist trousers and ascot shirts. The collection used more than 15 different types of lace, for femmy dresses as well as for the trim of a gray wool sweatshirt.
Mr. Som had the edge in creativity. He offered smart variations on sportswear, like a chestnut check blazer over a bright orange shell and slim, lacquered-bronze jersey pants; and twill parkas; and an unusual black herringbone coat with a square neckline. Everything fit well, the colors popped, the attitude was chic but not old lady, and Mr. Som made his fabric choices pay.
Richard Chai’s Love collection started off in such friendly form — all those speckled gray blazers, roomy charcoal coats and gray cashmere utility vests with dark draped trousers — but it soon made me think of a big dirty mound of snow I wished someone would clear. Handsome though some things were, I fear they won’t look like much on the racks next fall. Everybody seems to have a dark gray coat, a sad-sack dress and a sequined T-shirt, which does about as much good as a 40-watt bulb.
Designers have adapted their presentations so beautifully to digital look-books, run with the punctuality of a commuter train, that I’m beginning to feel about some shows that I was never there. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I love Rachel Comey’s femininity — there’s nothing synthetic about it, it’s completely her, even if some of her models looked like members of the Wallflower Club. This season her new looks include bold zigzag patterns with shoes in the same fabric, charming knits with lacing and popcorn balls, slouchy trousers and her mottled prints.
But suddenly, I swear, it was over, and I was next to a young woman in a big fur trapper hat, just another punched ticket.
By contrast, Wes Gordon did a fine job on Thursday with a presentation of about 20 looks at the St. Regis. I asked Mr. Gordon, who is 24, what he has learned in the last year, and he replied, “Sleeves.” He has been on the trunk-show circuit, and women tell him they want long sleeves — and quality. This is not an ageist quibble. A long-sleeve dress looks better at the moment.
Mr. Gordon’s strength is tailoring. You can tell he has taste. His collection included a sleek-looking double-breasted coat in camel cashmere worn with a cream silk blouse that had a long tie, and wide-leg black trousers. His jackets have oomph: sharp shoulders, neat waists. But he struggles in the dress department when he tries to go soft. And though his line is still small, by necessity, he should think of modest ways to fill it out.
Brian Wolk and Claude Morais of Ruffian obviously put a lot of effort into their “Tuxedo Park” collection, based on the tuxedo. So why were the clothes neither impeccable (as you might expect from a formal theme) nor completely punk? Tailored pieces in white satin or black patent leather might have been well made, but the styling was in bad taste. If the designers were playing a game, the effort was wasted. And some of the fabrics, especially silver and black lace, looked borderline cheesy, while the pleating and design level of the dresses seemed aimed at an unsophisticated teenager.

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