Saturday, September 13, 2008

The ‘Sheer’ Genius of Ralph Rucci

Ralph Rucci Spring 2009 Collection (All photos by Frazer Harrison)

After showing his ready-to-wear and haute couture in Paris for the last two seasons, Ralph Rucci returned home to a familiar time and place: the 6 pm time slot on Friday evening, officially closing New York Fashion Week. And how fitting, because he is undeniably in a class by himself (in fact, he was chosen as the Mercedes Benz featured designer for New York Fashion Week). While RR has traditionally shown ready-to-wear and couture back to back, this time, he opted only for the former; yet in his hands, given the amazing level of technical mastery, architecturally complex construction methods, workmanship, painstaking attention to detail, and artistic expression, the results were the same.

Ralph Rucci is highly consistent and does not change for change’s sake…or because of pressure from the outside but rather pressure from within: to perfect, hone in, and fine tune his craft. It’s all about continuity, and evolving from one season to the next, and this time, the emphasis was on experimentation with texture (sometimes to a 3-D effect), transparency, and the use of sheer fabrics (horsehair and organza were inset into the seams, and silk tulle was used as a base throughout). Sheer insets decorated a black jersey tube dress, a mesh shell was shown with wide black hopsack gazar trousers, and a black wool crepe cutwork jacket was shown over a black silk tulle full skirt.

Ralph seems to be taken with the idea of creating back interest thereby adding the element of surprise. This was illustrated by a black mohair ‘smoking’ which looked chicly sedate from the front, but was anything but when you saw that back of the jacket was transparent. Along those same lines, a floor length white silk crepe tube with a self braided belt looked elegant and serene until you happened to notice (and it would be hard not to) the fringed silver mylar cascading down the entire back (how would one actually sit in that?) Speaking of which, silver mylar was another recurring theme, and showed up for day as a duo of raincoats (one knee length and fitted; the other ¾ length and shown over white trousers). Paillettes may be used on other runways, but they never look the same in Ralph’s hands. Geometry has always figured into the Rucci oeuvre, and this season, he took the math to a new creative level, decorating black, white, and light taupe silk crepe dresses with geometric panels comprised of paillettes.

Black paillettes were transformed into an evening ‘tailleur’ (comprised of a cardigan jacket, floor length skirt and sheer black top); the use of matte paillettes had astounding results when used on fishnet, resulting in a ‘simple’, long sleeved form fitting gown; and let’s face it, who else but Ralph could use matte gold paillettes and beige puckered silk chiffon to create a soft skirt suit with the effect of tattered tweed? Madame Chanel would have undoubtedly approved.

And by the way, this couldn't be timelier, since the highly anticipated three hour movie, 'Coco Chanel' starring Shirley MacLaine, airs tonight on the Lifetime channel.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Christian Francis Roth: “Too Cool for School”

Christian Francis Roth Spring 2009 Collection (Photos: JP Yim)

Spring 2009 signifies the return of fashion’s boy wonder of the early nineties, Christian Francis Roth. Apparently, Francis (as the new label is known), doesn’t “give a damn about his bad reputation” as Joan Jett’s rebellious tune pumped through the speakers at the start of his presentation yesterday. Held in St. Patrick’s Youth Center downtown, one quickly sensed that Roth’s “comeback collection” drew inspiration from NYC school kids; i.e. gossip girls, preppies, downtown hipsters and the like. Forty ensembles were broken up into groups (or “cliques” if you will), and girls stood in a posse by the entranceway of the space (which seemed to be a gym) arms folded, hands on hips, exuding aloof attitude and lack of concern.

The first “clique” to strut their stuff, clad in a fusion of madras patchwork paired with Navy, looked like a pack of misbehaving Catholic school girls. This group was comprised of shrunken blazers, tiny shorts, a sexy little vest baring a lot of skin, and an adorable pleated mini skirt embroidered with faux safety pin closures. Brightly color blocked tank dresses and T-shirt dresses in jersey bounced through the gym next, followed by a nautical flag printed sundress, cotton Bermudas and pique polo dresses, one of which (cleverly named the “Accost”) was branded with an oversize embroidery on the left chest.

Succeeding the nautical theme, girls donned a gallery of artwork displaying charmeuse dresses with spray painted and appliquéd graffiti, and an adorable pleated baby doll dress printed with the NYC subway map. The final clump of ensembles channeled the elite upper crust and its black tie affair charm. Dresses in grey cire cotton and black taffeta were detailed with ruffled trim, a white tuxedo bib and bow ties. Additional bow ties were directly inked onto the models necks forming perfect little triangles joined oppositely at a point. One girl wore a black top hat with a blonde hair extension tied around acting as the band. Another wore a black, shiny streamer pom-pom hat (a cute way to add some school spirit).

Roth’s humor and creativity were ever present and I loved the way he previewed his collection in terms of carrying out the theme. It really felt as if the models were a bunch of school girls hanging out after class, while we happened to be privy to a little glimpse of their world. Though humor was used throughout, the pieces weren’t all quirky. Pants, shorts, skirts, vests and jackets were tailored beautifully and fit well, preventing them from appearing too “tween.” Classic styles such as a denim trench and denim shirt dress were livened up with red topstitching, and a short army green cotton jacket sported an elastic cinched waist in back, along with orange topstitching. The bias cut, chevron dress was very grown up, but Roth kept it young by fitting it tight to the body and hacking off one arm, creating an asymmetrical look (another ‘trend’ that seems to be in the air for Spring ’09).

After a fairly long hiatus from designing his own label, Francis’ point of view remains intact. His style is (and was) young, flirty and playful. The clothes are not for the demure, the self conscious, or the uptight. Rather, they cater to the bold, confident woman (young woman), who craves attention and strives to be individual. Welcome back Francis, school’s in session.

-Stacy Lomman

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

“Naughty Narciso”

Narciso Rodriquez Spring 2009 collection (Photo:

Ooh la la! The subtle implication of bondage played a role in Nariciso Rodriguez’ runway presentation of Spring 2009 last evening on West 26th Street. Strapping and taping details spiced up the otherwise demure pieces in what manifested into a very cohesive show.

Though the scene was not as chaotic as Monday’s Marc Jacobs frenzy, the show attracted a sizeable number of “A-listers” including; Jessica Alba, Julianna Margulies, Gwyneth Paltrow, Debi Mazar (of HBO’s “Entourage”), Isabel Toledo, Kelly Klein, Hal Rubenstein, Linda Wells, Glenda Bailey, Hamish Bowles and Andre Leon Talley.

Mr. Rodriguez’ show was one of the most successful of fashion week thus far highlighting elegant, understandable styling. Represented by impeccable tailoring, clean lines, sculptural shapes and pared down prints and color, the pieces were unmistakably Narciso. Garments were complex and well thought out, but never overworked. Fabrics consisting of natural fibers such as cotton, linen and silk, were kept to a minimum, further contributing to the tightness of the collection. While black and white were the staple colors, Rodriguez livened it up by introducing an acid yellow, linen dress, followed by dusty aqua, cayenne, coral and a touch of bright red and green toward the end. Black and white graphic prints in linear and small geometric patterns, also offered a break from the slightly solid assortment.

Yet again this week, the shape was streamlined with emphasis on the waist and shoulder. Rodriguez featured jackets sans lapels, opting for open squarish and angled V neckline shapes, or stiff stand type collars. Proportion was balanced using skinny pants to counter wider shoulders, and dresses demonstrated fuller skirts to off-set body conscious tops. Rodriguez played with asymmetry and shape, many times adopting a body wrapping technique, suggestive of Azzedine or Leger (perhaps due to the resurgence of the label). Models were bandaged like mummies in solid columnar dresses with one long sleeve (and the other side bare armed). Another asymmetric (and particularly interesting) dress in black and white knit looked as though two balls of yarn attacked the model winding feverishly around till she was trapped. Skin was revealed through forbidden, angular cut outs, and backs were provocatively exposed in different variations creating a sense of risqué.

Zippers appeared on a vast number of outfits, mostly set in the back of dresses (with taping exposed). They were attached to fabric chocker collars acting as an adjoining metal hitch to the rest of the garments. Jackets also turned to the zipper to preserve the linear theme, skipping buttons which may have otherwise created a distraction. Contrast taping delineated seams and crisscrossed over waistlines eliciting an awareness of restrain and constriction.

Although the collection accented the idea of restrain; it also aroused a feeling of overall ease. Perhaps it was due to the fact that Rodriguez set pockets into every look, allowing the models to comfortably saunter down the catwalk. Or, maybe it was the comfortable fabrics or the body grazing, flattering silhouettes. Whatever the case, one thing is certain; women will want to wear these clothes. And after all, isn’t that the point?

-Stacy Lomman

Monique’s ‘Platform’ for Change

Monique Lhuillier Spring 2009 collection (Photo: Scot Gries)

Monique Lhuillier’s spring show, dubbed “Luxurious Tropical Island Chic” was inspired by “sandy walks on the beach” during a recent island vacation, and referenced nature, which is figuring to be a consistent theme throughout the collections thus far. The color palette consisted of sand tones, fossil whites, sea blues and sun yellows and there were wave prints, basket patterns, golden wheat stalks prints, and straw braiding. In addition a casual, laid back islandy, vacationy vibe carried all the way through thanks in large part to Bruno Frisoni's platform sandals, a cross between an espadrille and the Cork-Ease (remember those?) and the only shoe used on the runway. Offered in luggage brown and bronzey gold, they were the perfect neutral and were paired with everything: stiff dark denim lean pantsuits, jewel encrusted denim dresses, gazar trench coats, pearl embroidered short sleeved costs, chiffon, organza and illusion lace cocktail dresses, heavily bejeweled jeweled shifts and tulle ballgowns. While they may not be for everyone, they were a nice unexpected surprise and far less predictable than say, high heeled stiletto sandals. My vote for the ‘coolest’ dresses are the knee length ‘Taj’ jeweled embroidered halter cocktail dress outlined with black and the gold silk chiffon embroidered cocktail dress with a low draped back.

Betsey Johnson Spring 2009 Collection (Photo: Scott Gries)

It’s a given that Betsey will break up the week and the day with a fun party/fashion show which celebrates life and speaks to the little kid inside all of us; you know, the one that doesn’t really want to grow up, just like Betsey, who manages to stay forever young (it’s obvious her granddaughter Leyla, is the apple of her eye and will keep her forever young). In that respect, it’s one of the most consistent shows during Fashion Week with its kid’s birthday party exuberance and wide eyed innocence, providing the perfect excuse to stop, take a breath, and realize that, business aside, fashion is not exactly rocket science, doesn’t cure cancer, and is basically, superficial and fun. The show could easily have been called ‘Petticoat Junction’ because there were endless hooped skirts (long and short), often tiered and shown with petticoats to exaggerate their fullness, plenty of ruffles (ruffles upon ruffles), eyelet, rose prints, ginghams, and nightgowns. Just when it was all getting a bit too sweet and frothy, thankfully, out came a sober group in black (a romper, a fitted military jacket, a cutaway jacket with tails). Another nice surprise were the chic Chanel inspired white quilted patent bags: one with a gold chain and the other with a top handle.

Dennis Basso Spring 2009 collection (Photo: Frazier Harrison)

The PETA protesters were out in force right before Dennis Basso’s spring collection, but they really didn’t need to waste their time - given that Dennis showed very few furs. This proved to be unfortunate because the ready to wear (full sleeved mousseline blouses, knee grazing day dresses, chiffon gowns, floral jacquards and floral prints) was rather ordinary at best, the layering and proportions looked clumsy, and the colors were off. The most successful idea was the use of lace in combination with Russian broadtail and alligator (one grouping in white was notable), and an abbreviated camel alligator vest shown with a silk taffeta batik plaid dress was chic. But those special pieces were few and far between and in a sea of dowdy prints, the pieces that looked the best were the simple black dresses. But do we really need to go to Dennis Basso for simple black dresses?

Vivienne Tam

Vivienne Tam Spring 2009 collection (Photo: Isabelle Erb)
"In the Garden With Yves"... "Peonies open quickly after spring rain, chiffon petals unfurling, Voluptuous blossoms swoon heavy on silk stem, sap rising in teardrops glistening on crisp taffeta."...
The above extract is of a poem written by M Huang and submitted to the guests attending the runway show of Ms. Tam, it resounds to the beat of this fascinating collection.

Vivienne Tam showcased a collection using a mix of materials - some of humble origins like stiff cotton duck along with luxurious silk and gleaming florals. Of course, peonies were the stars of the show : of the 39 designs featured, I counted 20 whose description include the word "peony" in it.

(Photo: Frazier Harrison)

The show was all a perfect and well balanced exercise of design for
clothes for every and any occasion: Ms. Tam succeeds in offering unique
and outstanding designs that can respond to the demands of different
lifestyles. INES, a wool pinstripe suit is a perfect rendering of
efficient design for the working woman coupled with the sexiness and
allure that makes one feel well, just that - one and not another.

(Photo: Isabelle Erb)

The designer's talent resides in her strong sense of balance. What is
vibrant should be vibrant. Long, flowing dresses adorned with florals
are reminiscent of a delicate spring. As a surprise, other florals
with bold colors and stronger tailoring create a different mood linked
to the rich and complex Chinese culture. Ms. Tam excelled with the
finely pleated floral dresses as well as the ones with red tones that
made for a very alluring and exotic look.

In contrast to many designers, she barely cinches the waist. She
wants the fabric and the adornments to create the structure of the
whole design. As a result, everything seems weightless and easy to wear. A
very important consideration for the woman of today's world. The
designer artfully exploits the fabric to become the reason for the
design. The beads that weigh dresses are precisely scattered for a
very special effect. A beautiful wrap dress in a purple jersey shows
the detail of a different pleating technique on the overlapping side
of the dress, creating interest and bringing a clear sense of style.

(Photo: Isabelle Erb)

From suits and jackets to dreamy dresses, the result is a delightful
journey to a land where the designer artfully blends East and West and
offers us a collection that "makes sense": from a chic and
effective working woman during the day, to a elegant and
glamorous one at night, all desires are filled in a delightful way:
hence the diversity of the collection, where wildly colored florals
collide with strict and reserved dresses.

- Muriel Geny-Triffaut


Monday, September 08, 2008

A ‘Platform’ for Change

Boy…the promoters for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week certainly did not exaggerate when they promised a heavily election themed setting for the Bryant Park Tents (the main venue once again, for the New York Spring/Summer 2009 Collections). A bit corny and predictable but hey, this is no ordinary election year so why not milk it for what it’s worth? Even from blocks away, it would be virtually impossible to miss the blown up, poster sized red, white, blue campaign ‘buttons’, decorating the 6th avenue entrance. But thankfully, they were not endorsing a political candidate, but rather, fashion, with slogans such as “Fashion Wins”, “Vote Fashion”, “Wear Your Vote”, “Super Model Delegate”, “Hope, Change, Shoes”, and “Fashion, Change”.

And speaking of ‘change’; as the campaign slogan for one Presidential candidate in particular, and the mantra of the season, it’s been impossible to escape hearing, reading, or seeing the word these days. Of course, forgetting politics, there is perhaps no industry more than fashion, where the notion of change is so inherent. Like it or not, whether it’s subtle and under the radar, or obvious , it’s all about change: changing seasons, changing inspirations, changing styles, changing trends, changing merchandise, changing windows. After all, how else can the retailer tempt their customers and entice them to dig deep into their pockets, if not with something ‘new’ and ‘improved’ (hopefully) and something she doesn’t already have?

There are numerous sayings, which include the word ‘change’ that apply to the world of fashion, such as, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”; “change for change’s sake”; “quick change artist” (Miuccia Prada and Marc Jacobs are two celebrated designers who are known to completely ‘change’ their tune from one season); “…for a change” (the PETA protesters were out in force for a change”, as they were Sunday morning in front of the Tents, or “Marc Jacobs started his show two hours late for a change”, or “Anna Wintour was watching good ‘friend’ Roger Federer play in the finals of the US Open Finals and missed the Diane Von Furstenberg Sunday show for a change”.

Of course, this season, thanks to Hurricane Hannah, the men’s final was moved from Sunday to Monday at 5 pm, and so Anna was sitting front row center at DVF. Now the question is, will she make it to the Marc Jacobs 9 pm show at the Armory? (It’s a collection she never misses). Let’s put it this way, if she does, it means there was a ‘record breaker’ of one kind of another. Either the match ended in record breaking time, or the Marc Jacobs show began at a record breaking late hour. Maybe Marc should think of installing several large screens at the Armory, televising the tennis match in progress. It would give the show attendees something more interesting to watch than, say, Posh Spice or Mishka Barton making their entrances.

And speaking of change - no doubt we will witness some interesting ‘changes’ during the coming week, and actually, while Donna Karan’s Sunday morning DKNY show was not exactly revolutionary, it was certainly different from those of the recent past. Instead of showing at the Stephen Weiss Studio in the far west village (her venue of choice), Donna chose the Bryant Park Tents in order to accommodate a larger crowd, in celebration of the label’s 20th anniversary. While Donna is an avowed world traveler and citizen of the world, she has always drawn inspiration from New York and even uses the city’s urban landscape (including the Statue of Liberty) as the symbol of her brand. A photo montage in black and white, showing New York symbols (the Empire State Building, subways, Soho) preceded the 74 piece collection which she described as “modern and eclectic”. It was also sporty, energetic, youthful, sexy, and very short (the abbreviated mini skirts and dresses boasted a curved bell shape silhouette). Sports and athletic influences abounded (anoraks, hoods, drawstrings, zippers), as did the idea of utility and function (thanks to techno fabrics), and there was an overall feeling of ease thanks to the use of volume, which looks fresh. It was also all about the idea of offhanded mixes (boy meets girl; day and night; soft and hard; dressed up and casual; street and couture). Other recurring themes were prints and pattern mixes (including an overblown graphic ikat print that looked especially good in the form of a short full hooded coat thrown over a striped top and mini skirt), as well as graphic color blocking (black, hot pink, and chartreuse), the latter of which formed the finale in a group of draped mini dresses, many of which had pronounced bows).

By the way, in celebration of the 20th anniversary, Domaine Chandon, the leading sparkling wine producer in Napa Valley, created a limited edition “Twenty Year Cuvee”, featuring DKNY’s signature New York skyline imagery and one bottle was placed on each show attendee’s seat. While I thought this to be a nice touch, I also thought it was rather impractical because unless you were going straight home, had an office at the nearby Conde Nast Building, or a car and driver at your disposal all day, it would be a rather heavy addition to one’s bag. Still, it didn’t stop me from taking my bubbly. You may draw your own conclusions. Cheers!

Tracy Reese was inspired by nature (hey, it’s spring, what else is new?) and form, for her soft, feminine and romantic 45 piece collection. Delicate florals, lace (colored this time), peplums, blousons, ruching, and frills were recurring themes and while there was an emphasis on dresses, the eggshell pleated trouser which opened the show, shown with a matching hued frilled sleeve‘t’ looked pretty darn good, as did a pale oleander trench covered with delicate roses. Tracy used the runway show as a way to ‘inaugurate’ (see, there’s no escaping the Presidential election) her new Black Label collection which she refers to as an “upstairs version of the core items of Tracy Reese”. Comprised of frothy organza, chiffon and brocades, (many with necklace like embellishments and appliqués that obliterates the need for accessories); one standout in particular was a beautifully shaped pastel floral jewel encrusted knee length dress.

The Herve Leger by Max Azria show notes spoke of the “seductive sophistication” of spring 2009, and promised “graphic slices” and the use of “body revealing optical illusion”. Sexy and body revealing it was, as one would expect, and out of the 34 pieces (including a finale of rather risqué barely there swimwear that often left nothing to the imagination), more than half were the signature mini bandage dresses that have become synonymous with the label. Which is precisely why the pieces that seemed more interesting to me were the ones that were less obvious and predictable: a knee length grey and neon coral leather dress with airbrush inserts; a molded grey zip front top that resembled a scuba jacket; a supple cropped black leather vest that would look amazing paired with gray flannel trousers; a graceful floor length black bandage mesh gown with beaded detail.

Diane Von Furstenberg dubbed her collection “Rock Goddess” and while she cited Diana Vreeland as inspiration (“Diana Vreeland taught us we could be goddesses and rock stars” is how DVF described it in her show notes), it seemed more of an homage to uber stylist Rachel Zoe (seated in the front row) with its boho flower child vibe and emphasis on long flowy gypsy dresses. I suppose Diane was signaling ‘change’ when she decided to open the show with a rather loose floor length black plisse wrap dress, rather than something printed (and somewhat fitted), which is far more in keeping with her signature. Best pieces were the khaki cotton lace up safari dress (an ‘homage’ to the late YSL that seemed to come out of nowhere), simple white cotton lace dress, a gold sequined blouson blazer shown over a floral long dress, a group of ‘Missoni-esque’ crochet knits (a deep spice striped cardigan and dress), the graphically patterned chiffon and mini caftan dresses, and a ‘lollipop’ (white, green, pink) striped sequined shift trimmed with teeny tiny ruffles.

Marilyn Kirschner

“The ‘Printcess’ and the Pleat”

Colorful prints and feminine silhouettes marked the overall feeling of Tuleh’s spring ’09 collection last night at West 26th Street. Little rosettes of printed chiffon sat brightly atop the cushions of every chair. A little sneak preview, if you will. Andre Leon Talley, Martha Stewart and Hamish Bowles were just a few important names in attendance.

2008 marks the 10 year anniversary for the Tuleh label, and staying true to his point of view, designer Bryan Bradley displayed a montage of floral chiffon printed dresses and classic styling with a slight 50’s influence. The silhouette was narrow and body conscious, but it never revealed too much. Although I found the collection to be a bit disjointed, it felt grown up, evoking an air of sophistication entwined with flirtation. The classic Tuleh foundation was present, though it seemed Bradley pushed the envelope this season. While it’s important for designers to experiment a little so they don’t become too predictable or formulaic, we hope they don’t veer too far and lose their fans. In this case, there shouldn’t be a problem, as Bradley has a strong and loyal following.

The show commenced with tailored, elegant skirt suits and dresses in satin and other novelty and lace fabrics. Prints were introduced and chiffon blouses were ruffled, pleated, layered and gathered, all the while maintaining a sense of the body. Fabric cascaded and flowed in a sheer, mesmerizing array of blurred color, as prints were gloriously utilized in long, billowy dresses. Bradley seemed to use one style (or variation of) to cut in several different prints. It was interesting to see how the same dress changed due to switching up the print.

Bradley mixed it up toward the middle, where things seemed to go slightly awry. Pencil skirts “sported” seemingly athletic inspired side pockets, and long (ankle length) column skirts branded with the same patch pocket, revealed a slight bit of skin underneath the side slit (yes, side slit). There was a printed silk robe-like blouse with fur cuffs, and another one with ostrich feathers. Maybe I’m just a purist, but I don’t see the need for fur in the spring (or anytime for that matter).
Mixing patterns has been a constant in the Tuleh shows, but there were a couple of “graphically challenged” ensembles that passed down the runway, including a narrow, camouflage type capri pant and canary yellow, floral chiffon blouse. I’m a fan of mixing contrasting patterns, but for me, this didn’t work.

As per usual, Bradley played with some luxurious fabrics; jacquards, metallic and sheer laces, and sequin decorated were among a few. One of my favorite looks was a sexy black pencil skirt, paired with a fuchsia and red chiffon blouse flaunting a soft, flouncy bow tie and wide, elbow length, crystal pleated sleeves. This look captured exquisitely the concept of sophisticated femininity. Overall, Bradley delivered a good season and the Tuleh label should continue to please its followers and recruit more as it enters its second decade.

-Stacy Lomman