Saturday, February 10, 2007

You can’t win ‘em all!

I was so looking forward to seeing Isabel Toledo’s first effort for Anne Klein on Friday. I thought it was a symbolic day to unveil the collection since the last day of shows has traditionally been THE day iconic American designers (Donna, Ralph, Ralph) have shown their lines, officially marking the end of New York Fashion Week. And after all, Anne Klein (in its heyday), was one of the most revered American sportswear houses. I was always a fan of the label, from the time Coty Award winner Anne Klein herself made it THE name to wear in the 70’s (winning fans with her impeccable tailoring and unapologetically American style), then afterwards, when Donna and Louis took over. I was their editor at Harper’s Bazaar. For me, the name Anne Klein has always conjured up the best of American Sportswear. When I heard Isabel Toledo, a talented designer with a highly individual aesthetic, was hired as the head designer, I thought it was an interesting, though albeit offbeat ‘marriage’. But hey, sometimes those pairings work better than those that seem obvious.

There was a lot of buzz surrounding the ‘debut’ and pre-show sketches plus one photo of a mismatched plaid coat and pant ensemble, looked promising. I also loved how Isabel referred to the collection: “couture-haberdashery” (how chic), talking about a clean powerful and modern silhouette. Her program notes called the line “a tribute to the dramatic sophistication, beauty and timelessness that Anne Klein always exuded…”

Unfortunately, the show was somewhat disappointing. Of the 43 pieces shown, too many were just okay but nothing special, and a few were puzzling in their shapelessness and fussiness (neither of which have anything to do with the Anne Klein philosophy or legacy). Only a few really ‘registered’ Anne Klein: the mismatched camel and brown plaid coat and pant outfit I already mentioned (too bad this group was not expanded), a chocolate brown stadium coat with a hood, an indigo cropped ‘chubby’ sweater, and two beautifully shaped red coats: one, a red wide wale corduroy coatdress and a red faille maxi coat worn over black gown that closed the show. Most pieces were accessorized with appropriately sporty visor caps and a low or high heeled lace up ghillie.

But where were the wonderful hacking jackets and blazers that Anne Klein was known for? (There was once an Anne Klein perfume called, ‘Blazer’ because this article of clothing was so associated with the brand). Where was the tailleur? This would have been a perfect time to rework some of those items and make them new again. What Isabel needed to do for a launch like this, was to ‘hit’ editors and retailers over the head, with a strong message and strong image. Alas, the line was not much about her own point of view, and it was not much about Anne Klein’s. And the inconvenient far west location (26th and 12th) which is far away from public transportation didn’t help. Neither did the strange lumbering soundtrack. I hope she uses this to regroup and focus; she certainly has the fashion world routing for her.


Dennis Basso Fall 2007 Collection - photo Isabelle Erb

I was also looking forward to Dennis Basso’s ready to wear debut. His fur collections have been great in the past few years, looking more and more modern and ‘with it’. But while Dennis says he was inspired by the “young, sophisticated, modern woman who wants interesting, exciting fashion that translates into her busy life”, I can’t really picture any of his socialite friends running around town in many of the over designed and overworked furs or thigh grazing tiered organza skirts he proposed. There were some perfectly nice and simple short black boucle dress and jumpers but do we really need staples like that from Dennis Basso? The line was completely out of sync considering the trend towards more subtle restraint and luxe sportif. The club remix soundtrack didn’t help the cause either.

The Child Magazine Fashion Show, dubbed, “A Trip around the world” was a delight and provided an entertaining and upbeat interlude. It had tired and jaded show goers smiling and clapping which is saying a lot on Friday, the last day of shows. Adorable kids, some with celebrity parents like Ming Lee Simmons and Awoki Lee Simmons, (daughters of Russell and Kimora Lee Simmons) and Justin Combs, (son of P.Diddy) modeled the newest looks for Fall and Winter 2007 from some of the most prestigious children’s wear companies. What was scary was how poised the kids were and how much attitude they had. Not to mention how the styles that were shown, were so similar to grownup fashion and especially, the way they mimicked many of the same things I just saw on the runways this past week. In addition, I was seated next to Fern Mallis who confirmed the good news: New York Fashion Week will be held at the Bryant Park Tents for at least for the next few years. Now, that’s something to smile about.

Costello Tagliapietra showed right before Ralph Rucci at the Tents for the first time, which was convenient considering they have traditionally used the Altman Building on west 18th street. The collection was short (26 pieces), sweet, well edited and to the point and the ‘Jersey Boys’ (Jeffrey and Robert), known for their chicly draped jersey dresses, even got the big guns from Vogue (Anna, Andre, etc.) to come and sit row and center. (Of course, Anna has long been a supporter). In addition to a variety of signature jersey dresses (mainly knee length) featuring cowls, folds, pleated details, gathers, done primarily in gray, brick, blue, ink, purple, and red, there were other sweaters, pants, and several 7/8 length coats with asymmetrically hemmed skirts, (one standout was in red and was trimmed with Swarovski crystal).


Ralph Rucci Couture - photo Ernest Schmatolla

Even before the Chado Ralph Rucci show began, you could just sense the luxury all around The Tent at Bryant Park, where so many shows were staged during the long Fashion Week. Certainly, it was made to feel like no other show venue and that was even before the first amazingly constructed outfit walked down the runway. After all, Ralph’s customers and fans are some of the wealthiest women in the world (‘The Billionaire’s Club’), and when they arrived to see his latest tour de force, some were not only dressed to the nines in evening dresses, high heels, jewels, furs, feathers, and feathers (Amy Fine Collins seemed to wearing them all), but the smell of Joy Perfume (the “costliest fragrance in the world”) wafted through the air.

To say that Ralph has had an amazing last year is an understatement (and well deserved I might add). He was recently celebrated his 25th anniversary in business, was honored by the Couture Council of FIT with their first ever “Artistry in Fashion Award”, and a major retrospective of his work “The Art of Weightlessness” was mounted at the Museum at FIT last month.


Ralph Rucci couture - photo Ernest Schmatolla

The fall ready-to-wear collection and the spring 2007 haute couture, shown back to back as usual, were testament to his amazing workmanship and dressmaking skills. While he cited Louise Nevelson as his inspiration this season, the references were subtle, if not vague, finding their way onto several dresses jackets and gowns in the form of curving shapes that mimicked the sculptor’s collages. But regardless of current inspirations, these collections, like all his others, are always more about the designer’s lifelong connection with art, architecture and his inner challenge to reach perfection in cut and execution. His work is always an evolution of what has followed, rather than a complete change or about face.


Ralph Rucci Couture - photo Ernest Schmatolla

In addition to some of the most beautiful and deceivingly simple jersey dresses given surface interest through ‘bas relief’ overstitching (brilliant!), there was a decidedly ‘sporty’ vibe throughout, but again, nothing new since comfort and practicality are always balanced with the luxury. And so, an oversized copper satin parka was lavishly lined with golden sable and a cinnabar satin pantsuit with an elongated jacket over narrow pants, was given pronounced cargo pockets (a great place to stuff your millions!). A fluffy white Mongolian lamb jacket was striated with chocolate brown and the thinnest white lamb imaginable was faced in white satin, fashioned into a knee length coat, and given a drawstring waist. A beautifully fitted jacket (cut like an elegant hacking jacket with a back belt) was made out of alligator printed velvet.


Ralph Rucci Couture - photo Ernest Schmatolla

For evening, Ralph used macramé to trim a black strapless hammered satin gown. Haute Couture, like ready-to-wear, was very textural and all about fabric mixes. A silk raincoat was braided in white, tan, brown leather and a tulle jacket and dress were re-embroidered with raffia. One of the most beautiful of the Nevelson inspired pieces was worn by Alek Wek: a white ‘collage’ strapless gown which had tiny pearl straps which gracefully fell off the shoulder. And I can’t leave out something else, Ralph’s father (beaming like the proud dad he must be) was there to see the glorious show. It’s obvious where Ralph gets his wonderful smile from.

-Marilyn Kirschner

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