New York Fashion Week Notes: Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein & Marc Jacobs


Mercedes Benz Fashion Week finally came to a close yesterday, and what a great close it was. Three iconic American designers presented their collections. Each was completely different and they were thankfully all (way) off site and away from the (really) maddening crowds.

Spring 2014 Ralph Lauren black white cady volute plaid coat
black double faced wool pant

Ralph Lauren held three back-to-back shows at the St. Johns Center Studios at 560 Washington Street. He always goes his own way and marches to his own beat, and these days, he’s apparently feeling Mod. If it didn’t necessarily advance the cause of fashion, the collection, with its school girl undertones (black knee highs, crisp white collars and cuffs, and ‘schoolbags’), abbreviated lengths (minis and shorts), and gleaming patent accessories in black and white, was fresh, clean lined, pretty straight forward, and quite youthful. Though maybe too youthful at times, and let’s just say that some of it would be better left to the young. (I also had to wonder if the skirt lengths would moderate a bit when they hit the selling floor).

There were two color stories. The first 25 outfits (out of 52), were all in combinations of black & white, with patterns (tattersalls, cricket stripes, a greek key pattern, a plaid, and a mod floral) often mixed. A black white tattersall three piece suit, and a black white cady volute plaid coat worn with a black white cotton tattersall shirt and mod floral tie floral had a Carnaby Street feeling. There was wool crepe, knit jersey, cotton canvas, leather, and patent. It was a mix of timeless classics, with more novelty pieces, like the two trench coats: a black white greek key pattern in leather, and a black white mod floral in patent. But let’s call a spade a spade. Ralph’s absolute undeniable strength lies in his impeccable tailoring, and nobody cuts a pantsuit like Ralph Lauren. So I would have to say my favorite pieces were the white, off white, and black pantsuits with elongated jackets and double vent backs, shown with long, slightly flared pants, and crisp white shirts.

Ralph Lauren red cady evening dress

The show then sequed into strong (and I mean STRONG) jolts of color (lime green, bright green, cobalt blue, neon orange, yellow, and red). If you were not fully awake prior to the show, the color would have jolted you into consciousness. Sometimes the color was mixed with black, and sometimes, it was shown head to toe. (Needless to say, a little bit goes a long way, and head to toe color may make for great pictures, but it’s hard to wear and not very realistic). There were leather jackets, coats, dresses; ribbed sweater dresses; and a group of dresses, long and short, in silk gazaar with petal like skirts (one in acid green stood out). There were also dresses and skirts in white silk gazaar and silk organza (a ‘signature’ Ralph look would be the white cotton canvas jacket juxtaposed with a white charmeuse shirt and a white silk organza mini skirt). But proving that simple is often the best, was the show’s finale: the red cady evening dress with a dramatic cape back. By the way, Ralph and Ricky are always dressed in sync, and their choice of attire is indicative of the mood of the season. When Ralph came out, he was wearing a simple black top and white pants, and Ricky was wearing a white shirt and bright green pants.

Spring 2014 Calvin Klein white double faced jersey emerald tweed wrap top
 and double faced cotton twill skirt

Francisco Costa for Calvin Klein is celebrating his 10th anniversary as head of design for the label, so he decided to change things up this season, and instead of showing at 205 West 39th Street, he showed downtown at the Spring Street Studios, at 50 Varick Street (not too far from where Ralph showed earlier). In addition, instead of having two shows, he had one, and a celebratory party last night, was held at the same venue. It was an interesting loft like space with high ceilings and maybe 20 foot windows, but the windows were darkened glass, which made it seem as though it was the middle of the night (it was disorienting since it was only 2 pm).

Calvin Klein patched printed snakeskin strip coat

But while it might have looked dark looking out, it was light on the runway. Not just light in color, but in tone and mood. And en-lightened (in terms of advancing fashion design). The fully realized anniversary collection, one of Francisco’s best, was illustrative of his desire to move fashion forward through his ongoing experimentation with architectural shapes, experimentation with volume, and his continued application of innovative fabric technology. There was a hard to miss Japanese feeling throughout, and it was quite artisanal, if not tribal at times (as exemplified by the duo of patchwork  leather and silk dresses). This wasn’t flat one dimensional minimalism: the clothes had surface interest, dimension, depth, soul, and personality. It was highly textural, a study in texture mixes, and it looked a bit unfinished with frayed edges, fringe, threaded mesh, and mesh feathers. The end result was modern and cool and not self consciously put together.

Calvin Klein black threaded woven leather jacket sleeveless
 knit tank cotton nylon lattice skirt

As for the color palette, the entire opening segment was in sand, a color practically synonymous with the label Calvin Klein (and THE man Calvin Klein). A double faced canvas wrap tank and wrap skirt opened the show and there was a canvas wide cuff jacket with wrap skirt, and a silk intarsia split waist short sleeve t shirt with sand cotton twill wide cuff painter’s pants (the exaggerated cuffs were shown again in white). And while black was not forgotten (there was an amazing coat in silk nylon twill with an open back, a black silk twill crepe threaded slashed dress  and a black silk twill threaded slashed top shown with wide cuff painter’s pants), and of course, plenty of white, and black and white, this was perhaps one of Francisco’s most colorful collections to date. There were hits of red (a red hand-woven Japanese cotton tweed sleeveless dress), emerald green (an emerald/black hand-woven Japanese cotton tweed coat), and multi colored leather and snakeskin.

Calvin Klein snakeskin fringed oversized clutch bag

Among the standouts were the patched printed snakeskin strip coat, and the black threaded woven leather jacket and black cotton nylon lattice skirt, the latter of which seemed like an uncharacteristic explosion of color on a Calvin Klein runway. Both leather and snakeskin were used throughout, and brilliantly. At one point, a marble snakeskin patchwork skirt and woven tank were further accessorized with python woven molded sandals, and one of the most amazing bags I’ve seen: an enormous fringed python clutch (I think I heard Andre Leon Talley gasp when this came out).

Here, as elsewhere, the footwear of choice was a sturdy platform sandal on a chunky high heel. Francisco’s were moulded sandals and sneaker sandals, and they were made of brushed calf, brushed calf/shearling and rubber, and woven python. They were shown in graphic black and white, solid black, solid white, green, and carnelian. While I myself do not love platforms, I have to admit that in this collection, they offset the voluminous and structured coats and jackets, the over sized t shirts, and exaggeratedly wide cuffed pants. A dainty heel and pointy toe would have looked wrong.

Spring 2014 Marc Jacobs

It’s quite symbolic that Marc Jacobs is now officially ending Mercedes Benz Fashion Week since nobody puts an exclamation mark on the week, quite like Marc. His conceptual collections are not only highly visual, but are food for thought; they give you something to think about. Just when you think minimalism is the way to go, Marc Jacobs effectively makes a case for more is more. But of course, isn’t that always the way? Going from one thing to the next, and having the ability to quick change when the mood strikes, is part of the fun of fashion. Who wants a steady diet of just one thing? There are always many different plots and subplots going on at the same time, and one can make a case for all of them. It just depends on what your needs and desires are. By the way, that’s why I so hate it when so called fashion experts on television, advise you to throw or give away anything you haven’t work for, say 2 years. That is the dumbest thing I ever heard. When you have something great, it pays to hold onto it because you never know. You may see something that inspires you to re-think it and wear it again, maybe in a different way.

Marc Jacobs short black dress worn with flat sandals

It’s always hard to describe a Marc Jacobs collection, but suffice it to say that it not only looked like nobody else this season; it was the exact opposite of what he presented last year, which is very typical. Actually, if you want to know what Marc will do from one season to the next, just think of what would be the most opposite of what he had just shown. The collection, played out in dark moody colors, was notable for its gorgeous fabrics and the over the top use of embellishments and decoration (on everything). You didn’t know where to look first. There were tassels, embroideries, pom-poms and beads, and they were all used together. Some of the jackets could be described as vintage YSL on steroids. And the shapes were exaggeratedly large as well; many looked at least 3 sizes too large for the models wearing them. Actually, I have a vintage black wool jacket decorated with white embroidery, that I purchased awhile ago, and I was planning to take to the tailor because it’s quite large on me. I just realized that it looks very much like what Marc showed on the runway last night, so I might save myself money and just wear it as is.

I also loved that Marc sort of mixed it all up. It wasn’t day and it wasn’t evening. He blurred the lines and this was best illustrated by his use of grounded, athletic looking at times, flat footwear (yay!!!!). Not one heel in sight. I love it when designers show alternatives to high high heels. Women think that heel height is equated with fashion but it could not be farthest from the truth. Maybe with a designer like Marc endorsing flat shoes and boots, women might begin to follow suit.

Marilyn Kirschner

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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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