New York Fashion Week Notes: Browne, Herrera, & Basso

“True Confession”

Thom Browne

I know some equate great fashion moments with having a religious experience (I admit to having had one or two in my life), but now and again, the two are literally intertwined (even if only satirically and tongue in cheek; which at this point, can offer a welcome comic relief). Enter Thom Browne whose usual slot is Monday at 5 PM. One never knows what to expect from Thom (other than his amazing creativity and free thinking brilliance), and that is what makes his shows so highly anticipated and wonderful. At the very least, you always know you will witness an over the top, entertaining fashion spectacle.

Last season, he turned his signature venue (548 West 22nd Street) into an insane asylum complete with pill dispensing nurses and zoned out patients, and this season, it was ‘A Nun Story’. When I arrived on the 4th floor, I felt as though I was entering a sacred place, and it was entirely made to resemble the inside of a Catholic Church down to the lighting, the wooden pews, candles, and burning incense. The appropriate ecclesiastical music was playing in the background; and of course, there were large crucifixes on the walls. It was so convincing, I almost forgot this was Fashion Week and was about to cross myself and start confessing my sins; and then I realized I’m Jewish. Of course, these days, I’ll take religion any way I can find it.

When all the ‘parishioners’ took their seats, a group of priests in long black robes (their faces covered in shrouds) took the stage and the well-dressed ‘nuns’ made their appearance. Each was wearing a powdery white wig (Lady Gaga could have been one of the models), and they were dressed in  monastically severe, floor length capes, cape jackets, exaggeratedly shaped hourglass jackets and skirts (some were petticoated to add to the volume), rendered in shades of gray, and black. Many of the pieces had stiff white collars and cuffs, and in some cases, large gold crucifixes and gold cuffs accessorized. The entire finale played out in gold. The silhouettes, construction, and fabrication were all very couture like.

Carolina Herrera

Carolina Herrera deep mahogany double face wool coat with
navy slate alligator applique and matching skirt

In any given season, it’s always the very first outfit on the runway that is indicative of the designer’s overall mood and philosophy. For Carolina Herrera, that can vacillate from an evening gown (when she is in that frame of mind), to something more daytime and grounded. On the runway yesterday at Lincoln Center, her first outfit was a simple black boiled wool coat, pony skirt, and cashmere turtleneck, signaling the importance of day wear, and specifically, outerwear, which in fact, was standout (from the relatively straightforward belted coats to collage like, mixed media pieces making use of sable and alligator appliques). The colors (navy, slate, turquoise, deep mahogany, firestone, cobalt) were used quite effectively.

Carolina Herrera cherry wood broadtail top
and marble jacquard skirt with cherry wood inserts

The overall look was very chic and ladylike (ongoing Herrera signatures which  sum up her own personal aesthetic, for which she has been rewarded with a place in the Best Dressed List Hall of Fame). The exaggeratedly severe up does, courtesy the master, Orlando Pita, imparted an elegant if not retro silhouette, and while this could have made it all feel as though she was going back in time, stuck in some glorious time warp, the wise use of kitten heeled pointy toed Manolo Blahniks (rather than sky high stilettos), helped impart a somewhat youthful, modern, and believable feeling. It is obvious that Giovanna Battaglia’s touch (the young fashion icon and former model and muse to Dolce & Gabbana who has been styling the line as of late),  has helped breathe fresh air into the label.

Carolina Herrera double triangle silk twill print gown
with black wool felt geometric applique

Of course, Carolina is also known for her artistic inclination, especially where her beloved prints and patterns are concerned. And while not all of them worked this time around (I was not crazy about the busy ‘diamond fantasy’ pieces), the group that was hand painted or inspired by geometric shapes normally associated with architectural forms, certainly did. And talk about great timing. Last week, just days before her collection, it was announced that Carolina Herrera will receive The Couture Council Award for Artistry in Fashion to take place on September 3rd at the David H. Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center.

– Marilyn Kirschner

Dennis Basso

Dennis Basso black and blue brushstroke gown
(Photos: Lieba Nesis)

The Dennis Basso show was held at the Theater in Lincoln Center, a fitting venue for this great spectacle. Basso, 58, started his fur business in 1983 and recently opened a store on Madison Avenue. While he is known for catering to the older social elite of New York, he is quickly gaining traction among the younger crowd as evidenced by this show. Some of the usual suspects such as Martha Stewart, Joan Rivers and Star Jones were absent but, a new crowd of young glitterati were there. Surprisingly, music star Mary J. Blige accompanied by stylist June Ambrose was in the front row clad in a Basso dress, along with Debra Messing, Guiliana Rancic, Carol Alt, Olivia Palermo, and Zani Gugelmann. Additionally, socialites such as Denise Rich, Julie Macklowe, Dee Hilfiger, Fe Fendi, Jean Shafiroff, Amy Fine Collins, Michelle Herbert and a couple of “Real Housewives” were in attendance.

Fuchsia and Bordeaux embroidered lace gown

However, there were also serious fashion experts in the mix such as Hal Rubenstein, Andre Leon Talley and Bobby Queen. Andre Leon Talley, in a big fur which he made sure to point out was Fendi and not Basso, lauded Basso’s “sense of quality and classicism. Mariah Carey just gave me a lovely Basso scarf for Christmas and yes I also adore his gowns.” Mary J. Blige said she, “loves the creativity and structure of his garments and the way the clothing fits and blends all different types of skin such as alligator and crocodile.” Bobby Queen, said she admires “how he is inventive without being overdone and gives the fur liquidity and a great look with his audience increasingly getting younger.” Amy Fine Collins, contributing editor at Vanity Fair, said, “he is a master in design and a constantly evolving talent. My whole family wears his coats and dresses and his furs last forever. He is superman.” With all these accolades being thrown around, it was time to see if Mr. Basso could live up to the hype and the answer was in the affirmative.

Ivory and gold hand embroidered dress with fox boa

The show opened with his signature white lynx coat and trouser coupled with a jeweled collar on the coat and blouse- nobody does winter white better and it was simultaneously opulent and elegant. Next were the black and white furs, dresses, trousers and shirts; these were timeless, fitted and modern-this combination never goes out of style. The hand embroidery on the black and white brush stroke trousers was a great pairing with the black chinchilla jacket and the tweed in the dresses was surprisingly delicate. A couple of the black and white gowns were sloppy and uncharacteristically drab but the introduction of the painted gown saved the day. The utilization of emerald in the coats, dresses and pants was effectively bold and sensuous; however, when it was later coupled with brown fur, the look was flattened.

Andre Leon Talley in Fendi

The hand painted gowns in white, black, and gold were exquisite and the ivory lynxes accompanied by hand embroidered dresses and gowns were staple Dennis Basso and executed perfectly. His bold use of color throughout the collection was blinding with sapphire alligator, chinchilla and sable coats luxuriously displayed, finishing with a beautiful black and sapphire brushstroke gown. HIs sheer gowns were lackluster and slightly dizzying when accompanied by fur. However, the fuchsia furs were breathtaking and even when paired with bordeaux, a combination which usually clashes, they highlighted each other creating a dramatic effect. The fuchsia, green and red combination was garish and lacking the elegance and edginess of the rest of the collection. The last pieces in brushstroke gold, deep red, and black appeared in a cocktail dress, pants and finally a gown and were resplendent creating an artistic effect not often seen in Basso’s shows. The dying of the furs in jewel tones of garnet, sapphire, emerald and amethyst heightened the vividness of the collection and had many in the audience agreeing it was his best collection to date.

Dee Hilfiger, Jane Schindler and Lucia Hwong Gordon

At the conclusion of the show, Dennis, unlike so many of his peers who shun the runway, came waltzing down the aisle to great plaudits and cheers. This collection had many colleagues speechless, with Guiliana Rancic telling me that she, Mary J. Blige and Debra Messing were picking out all the dresses they would love to wear on the red carpet and Jacob the Jeweler rhapsodizing about the great mix of live colors in red, blue, black and burgundy. Katie Couric, recently appeared at a UNICEF event wearing a Dennis Basso gown and that will soon become a trend; Dennis Basso is moving away from being known as the furrier to a more complex multifaceted fashion designer capable of reaching unimaginable heights.

-Lieba Nesis

The Hell at Hudson

While the fashion jury is mostly still out on whether IMG has improved Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week or destroyed the fabric of it, you can definitely put their incarnation of The Hub at Hudson (356 W. 58th St.) in the detonating bomb column.  In a press release from December, 2013 Steven Kolb, CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers (CFDA) said “Fashion Week in New York is one of the most important events for the global fashion industry.  I look forward to seeing IMG implement changes to better address the needs of designers and the industry overall.”  One of the changes that he is referring to is the establishment of The Hub at Hudson, a basement area at The Hudson Hotel which is being utilized by some designers as a display presentation space.  Kate Spade, Charlotte Ronson and Cesar Galindo are a few of the designers that have made use of this venue during fashion week.

One of the issues I have with the space is that the invite does not tell you that you are being invited to a presentation rather than a fashion show.  I was aware of this “bait and switch” tactic because one of the other contributors to Lookonline had warned me what to expect but I wanted to see for myself.  I actually had a scheduling conflict with another true Lincoln Center runway show but since the Hub “shows” are on the half hour and the “real shows” are on the hour I figured I had time to do both since The Hub is only a few (long) blocks away.  When I got there at 1:20 the line was forming a mile long and getting ever longer by the minute.  We were held in the vestibule off the lobby for about 20 minutes which ended up being ok since I met a fashion lawyer and a blogger and had an interesting conversation which rarely happens in the more formal Lincoln Center when I am waiting for a show to begin.

For some reason at Lincoln Center especially (more so than some of the downtown fashion venues) everyone seems completely preoccupied with their little glowing devices (phones) and not interested in striking up a conversation or having their personal space invaded with an actual human. (True of many places today, not just fashion week)!  At any rate, when they finally let us in there was a bit of chaos as there was an elevator and a stairway leading down to the basement and people where converging on both.  Upon arrival downstairs there was the obligatory “club” type music (I call it “bass in your face”) as well as models clad in the designers fashions all arrayed on a multi-level mirrored display as if they were cars or some other product for inspection and sale.

So is that it?  As my father used to like to say “Never have so many gathered for so little.”  I did a quick once-over of the fashions which were interesting enough but not spectacular in that setting.  I feel that clothes really need to walk the runway so that they can be experienced in 3D otherwise it is a glorified trade show.  Perhaps this venue works better for accessories but I don’t plan on finding out.  As Marilyn mentions in her article, I too am subject to claustrophobia and so I flew up the stairs and out the door to freedom, hyperventilating all the way.  The room seemed way too small to accommodate as many people as were still filing in (yes, I ran “up” the “down” staircase) and I wonder what the fire marshal would have to say about the crowd no doubt being way over the legal capacity.

Perhaps if you are a frequenter of clubs in the meatpacking district, this room would not feel so congested.   Maybe there is a social element to being “meat-packed” into a room surrounded by “beautiful people” with a pulsing bass riff but without an open bar, refreshments or hors d’oeuvres although for me, at least,  it’s tough to understand the excitement or appeal.  Granted this way of showing your designs is a fraction of the price of a fashion show however since a show is mainly about creating buzz or press for your line, why would you want to create a negative reaction?

– Laurel Marcus

The Daily Bet by Rhonda Erb
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Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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