Before the ‘Fall’

Yesterday, I attended The Fashion Group International ( Fall/Winter 2008 Audio Visual Trend Overview, held in an auditorium on the 8th floor of the Time & Life Building. The ‘main event’ is always the videotaped comprehensive look at the trends from the runways of New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Edited by the “best eyes in the business” (as the organization’s President, Margaret Hayes proudly described it), it is spearheaded, and narrated by FGI’s Fashion Director Marylou Luther who also comprises the list of clothes and accessories “most likely to make it from the runway to reality”. This season, that would be: Color (black is back in a big way and purple in every shade ‘rules’); Prints (especially winter florals); The Coat (a ‘style statement in and of itself’); The Jacket (structured, cutaway, swallowtail, peplumed, boyfriend); Pants (wider in New York, narrower in Europe); The Blouse (often bow tied at the neckline and worn with a skirt or tailored pants): The Skirt (there is literally a “hemline for every age”): Knits (particularly the knitted coat); Evening (cocktail lengths outnumber full-blown gowns); Embellishment (everything from safety pins and staples, to sequins, holograms, feathers); Fur (from savage to super-chic); Accessories (the “fundamental ornamental for fall is the necklace”); The Shoulder Bag (slung diagonally across the body).

The bonus of covering the noontime show, as I did, is the panel discussion which follows. This time, the group that comprised the “best eyes in the business” consisted of Linda Fargo, Senior Vice President, Bergdorf Goodman; Michael Fink, Vice President – Women’s Fashion Apparel, Saks Fifth Avenue; Ana Maria Pimentel, Senior Accessories Director, Harper’s Bazaar; and Jane Larkworthy, Beauty Director, W. The Special Guest Moderator was Hal Rubenstein, Fashion Director, InStyle, someone who is animated, passionate, speaks his mind, does not mince words, and gets right to the point. And boy, were those qualities ever on display.

Immediately after Hal was introduced, he wasted no time showing his displeasure and disapproval, and got right to the heart of the matter, which for him, was the lack of direction and disappointment with the fall winter collections (for the record, he praised Marylou’s wonderful as always audiovisual report; after all, it’s not her fault that the clothing was not up to par). While at first he seemed to be so exasperated and so angry (with the fashion designers it seemed), that he had a hard time getting his words out, he quickly composed himself and fired off the following questions to the assembled crowd and panel: ”Where was that wonderful emotion we saw for spring?” “What are we watching?” “What are we looking at? “What are we selling”? He also pointed out that ‘pre collections’ (pre fall, pre spring) have become such huge markets, with so much more fashion being injected in them, they have diluted fall, and he questioned whether fall has become an “after thought”.

Suffice is to say that everyone on the panel agreed (Michael Fink chimed in that he felt the “designers let us down” this season and Jane Larkworthy bemoaned that she didn’t even like the shows of her “favorite designers”). Having said that, each one of the four had his or her own take on the situation, and found something positive to say. Ms. Pimentel and Ms. Fargo celebrated the many “options” out there (the former cited the “return of the boot” and delicate pumps a la Manolo Blahnik as two big footwear trends that look good).

At one point, Hal mentioned the overly theatrical, costumey, and unwearable clothing and makeup shown on the runways, using the latex dresses shown by Nicolas Guesquiere for Balenciaga as an example. “I don’t want to be the person sitting next to a woman at a party whose been wearing one of those dresses for 3 hours”, he joked, (in obvious reference to the fact that latex does not breathe and the wearer most likely will be sweating bullets in her costly encasement). But Linda Fargo argued that exaggeration and fantasy has its place (it’s all about the ‘trickle down’ effect). “You need the extreme to move the eye. It’s like a revolution”, she cautioned.

It was then that Hal brought up the “one area where fantasy and exaggeration worked” (which also happens to be the most important ‘trend’ of the season): “expensive costume jewelry”. Ms. Pimentel singled out the cut crystal at Lanvin as her favorite group and Ms. Fargo said “fantastic costume jewelry is “really hot” and it’s possible to “transform what you own if you invest in these pieces”.

He also made the observation that “there isn’t that ‘It’ bag or shoe anymore” and there is too much overkill within those categories right now. All were in complete agreement including Michael Fink (though Mr. Fink said that certain hand bag brands, like Chanel, always sell and are always sought after) and Harper’s Bazaar’s accessory editor, Ana Marie Pimentel. Of course, it was not lost on me that Harper’s Bazaar is one magazine that often uses the term ‘it bag’ in their copy…sometimes the words are even used by Glenda Bailey in her Editor’s Letter. I personally think the notion of ‘it’ bags or shoes is as passé as ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ which is an ongoing feature within HB each month (their last page is a column, ‘What’s in, what’s out’).
Hal directed the subject to the idea of “too much” of everything in fashion these days (too many brands, too many labels, too many designer collaborations, too many perfumes). But for her part, Linda Fargo (who mixes it all up these days, as do her friends) feels the more is merrier, and welcomes the influx and deluge of names, products, and choices.

Then came the ‘s’ word. Hal said he noticed the word ‘sexy’ was not mentioned once by Marylou during the audio visual presentation but yet, “sexy sells”. It’s not lost on him that women are spending a lot of time going to the gym and getting in shape and they want to show their bodies. “Why are women’s bodies so covered these days” he asked? But not all the panelists agreed there was nothing sexy to be found this season. Michael Fink cited the “bare legs” seen on the recent runways and the form fitting dresses at Jil Sander and Giambattista Valli; Ana Marie Pimentel argued “there were sexy shoes”; Linda Fargo bragged about Roland Mouret’s body hugging dresses and the “sexy secretary look” inherent in that otherwise simple combination of a blouse and pencil skirt. Hal himself could not seem to get his mind off what he considers to be “the sexiest shoe ever”: the stiletto, although he admitted a woman may not be able to walk in them (“that’s not my problem” he added).

HR ended the discussion by asking the panelists what their favorite collections were. Linda Fargo wasted no time answering “Lanvin by Alber Elbaz because his clothes are wearable, modern, balanced, and they never wear a woman”. Jane Larkworthy reeled off “YSL, Prada, Michael Kors, and Oscar de la Renta”.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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