Vera’s ‘Chain’ of Command

Vera Wang is nothing, if not consistent. She has finely honed and perfected a personal, and highly identifiable look and one that evolves rather than abruptly changes with the wind each season. As such, she represents one of a handful of designers whose work can immediately be identified (among the others are Ralph Rucci whose highly anticipated show will put the perfect finishing touch and exclamation point on New York Fashion Week this evening).

Her by now legendary signatures, which were all in force on the Bryant Park Tent runway yesterday morning, include a reliance on black, navy, gray, and an admittedly ‘mousey’ neutral color palette (enlivened only with hits of color here and there), clean architectural and sculptural shapes, experimentation with cut and volume, stiff couture like fabrics such as gazar, organza, and taffeta, creative layering, an abundance of cardigans, streetwise leggings and t shirts, and of course, the artful expression (which is not only evident in her hand painted fabrics, but in the overall look and feel of the collection). And of course, the amazing ornamentation, which has, in the past few seasons, focused on large, statement making, necklaces.

One of the consistent themes throughout Vera’s spring 2009 collection, which was dedicated to the amazing personal style of Niki de Saint Phalle, was the use of massive, crystal ‘motorcycle chains’ in a variety of shades and finishes. They appeared as necklaces, belts, bracelets, and found their way onto bags. Just when you thought chains couldn’t get any bigger and more pronounced, they have (come to think of it, I think they weighed more than the models themselves).

The shine and bling factor was so high at Naeem Khan, which directly followed Vera Wang (not only on the runway but in the audience as loyal fans paid homage to their favorite designer by wearing his beaded, shiny gold pieces), that one could have used sunglasses. The designer dedicated the collection, dubbed ‘Orient’, to exotic style icons Diana Vreeland, Loulou de la Falaise, DD Ryan, Babe Paley and Tina Chow and he is not alone in his embrace of the Far East. While he chose to open the show with a very chic ‘China’ white silk jersey one shoulder draped gown, what followed was an explosion of exuberant color, floral patterns, and ornamentation, much of it with a decidedly Oriental flavor. Among the standout pieces were the red peony and pink cherry blossom ¾ sleeve embroidered kimono style coat and dresses (long and short including one with an origami pleated bustier); the orange/red great wave embroidered kimono sleeve coat shown over a matching mini dress; the coral and red beaded silk georgette draped halter gown with an amazing back; and a duo of satin show stoppers: the red satin halter gown and the orange satin ‘byzantine’ gown, both with heavily jewel encrusted collars, obliterating the need for any other accessories. But the outfit that got the most applause from the audience (and his following is comprised of some of the most photographed social butterflies in town) was a simple white silk jersey t shirt shown with gold sequined embroidered wide cuffed trousers, which I instantly thought would look as amazing, if not better, worn with a black tuxedo jacket.

Anyone who knows Zang Toi, knows that he is as passionate about cycling as he is about creating, and he possesses a generous spirit that has moved him to find ways to give back. His “fun afternoon of fashion, auctions, and a special performance by a celebrity guest (talented Julian Fleicher & Band)” as the invite promised, took place at Daniel, on East 65th street, and while the spring 2009 collection was the ‘main event’, it was not necessarily the only, or most important part of the afternoon.

There was a live auction of 9 items, the proceeds of which will benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation (the 7 time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor is a friend and often, cycling companion of Zang’s). Included was a private bike ride with cancer survivor and 7 time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, (which fetched $9500), the legend’s autographed candy red Trek 7.3 FX 20” men’s bike (which sold for $5000), and a framed Livestrong Jersey in the foundation’s signature yellow and black racing colors, donated by Zang Toi himself (this went for $8000).

The chic 26 piece spring collection, a very urbane study in black and white with accents of pink, was filled with chic tailleur, knockout coats, silk/satin gowns, and unusual combinations of lace and plaid (my favorite was the black and white boucle plaid floor length ‘diva’ skirt shown with a long sleeved white silk chiffon jewel neck top pieced with black Chantilly lace on front and on the cuffs). It ended with 4 show stopping pieces that bore beaded, sequined, and mirrored facsimiles of iconic New York buildings: the Crown Building, the Hearst and Time Warner Towers, the No. 9 building, and the finale, a dramatic white floor length cape whose back was covered with a black beaded New York skyline. Considering the date, (9/11), this could not have been a more fitting way to celebrate the spirit of New York.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Reem Radiates

Rich, saturated jewel tones and soft, iridescent metallics paraded down the runway at Reem Acra on the penultimate day at the tents. Colors given names such as “Cobalt”, “Garnet” “Flamingo”, “Sunshine” and “Clover” (a bright emerald) indicated inspiration from the Far East, as did the luminescent jacquards. Other clues revealing the Eastern vibe were lovely water color, sumi ink style prints, and the golden jacquard jacket with mandarin collar and frog closures (worn with tonal charmeuse pants).

We should all be grateful that the talented Ms. Acra (whom started her career as a wedding gown designer and embroidery artist) crossed over to evening and daywear, as each piece was more spectacular than the next. Garments were jewel encrusted, dramatically beaded, ornately embroidered and “littered’’ with paillettes. Sunburst pleating was used throughout in skirts as well as dresses. A magnificent dress in a color Reem called “Sunshine” (how appropriate), neatly gathered the pleats together on one shoulder, then dropped a large section of the pleated fabric to the floor, emulating the rays of the sun.

Volume played a large part in the show as well, though garments never appeared heavy due to the light and airy nature of the fabrics. This was illustrated through sheer, iridescent cross dyed (and solid) chiffon caftans, and full, billowy pieces in translucent jacquard. Perhaps one of my favorite pieces of the collection was a pale blue and gold shimmering jacquard with embroidered cuffs. The dress’ V neck plunged all the way down to the belted waist, and the sleeves and skirt were so full, it looked as though it were a hot air balloon becoming inflated.

Of the forty looks comprising the collection, Acra only showed four pants; one of which was part of a ½” width, black and white stripe double breasted suit. While clearly the “odd man out” it was still a gorgeous suit! Long belted jackets with top collars and shirt dresses also made an appearance. Accessories were limited, however a twisted rope belt with (what appeared to be) an enamel and crystal closure, secured the waist of many looks. Shoes were kept simple so as not to distract from the glamorous pieces, and models glided in colored snakeskin high heeled mules or silk embroidered slippers.

Finding fault with this Spring ’09 presentation was impossible. Ms. Acra certainly knows her customer, and remains true to her own philosophy — appreciation for the traditional and classic with the modern fashion needs of today’s stylish woman.

-Stacy Lomman

Custo Barcelona

At the previous Fashion Week in February 2008, Custo Barcelona created a surprise with a somewhat gothic runway show performed under dimmed lights with an almost spiritual procession of models whose cadence slowed as the show neared the end. This time around, the highly creative Spanish designer takes us in a whirlwind tour of colors, patterns, appliques, lames and patchworks. It was an upbeat mix of a decidedly very iconoclastic fashion sense.

Metallic fabrics dominated the show, as seen in hats, jackets, pants and skirts, a reminder of the ever strong metallic effect. In recent years, these fabrics have steadily gained ground to become strongly enmeshed in the every day life: while silver and gold were once unseen outside of fancy parties and entertaining affairs, it now is everywhere, just as any other type of fabrics : Mr Barcelona embraces the use of silver and gold finishes fabrics with a great exuberance as seen in the runway show. Most of the designs gleamed from the use of fabrics or beading, with contrasting fabrics blending beautifully together a a result.

The show was carefully and precisely orchestrated: greens and cerulean blues dominated at the start, abruptly interrupted by bold and daring men’s suits in all sorts of colors and fabric patterns: from a boldly and colorful striped suit to another one all in black and white with a flowery pattern, the suits were also about the call many designers make for bolder and more diversified men’s fashion styles.

The women’s line was extremely colored, with neon and sorbet colors taking the first step followed by cerulean blues, greens, then pinks, oranges, purples… life as seen by Custo Barcelona is all about bright and cheerful colors.

As seen in other collections this week, the most prominent details were about the waist, cinched at most times, and adorned with bows in the back on some designs, a reminder of the predominance of the Far East for the next spring-summer season.

The designer surprises and enchants with his skillful placement of contrasting fabrics and patterns to create an always stunning effect. What could look as tacky and “unmatched” (read ugly) with other designs is simply beautiful when it comes to the clothes Mr Barcelona creates. Appliques, lames, beaded fabrics abounded in this collection, yet each and every design had its own sense of minimalism: the genius of this designer is in his excellent choice of fabrics paired with a strict and relatively simple tailoring of the clothes. The result is a rich display of clothes that are not overwhelming to live with, and at the best, be dressed with.

– Muriel Geny-Triffaut

Zac Posen’s Night of Stars

I arrived to check in for the Zac Posen Spring 2009 show on Thursday night prepared for the usual experience: long waits, being herded from one holding area to another in order to reach my seat. Much to my surprise, there was very little waiting time at all, the crowd flowed smoothly, and I was able to make my way into the tent in record time. This allowed me to settle in comfortably to enjoy all the pre-show festivities.

The parade of VIPs began almost immediately. A woman seated behind me emarked, “This show has real celebrities.” At that moment, the crowd began to cheer as tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams arrived. They were followed closely by Jada Pinkett Smith and Claire Danes. The Williams sisters were installed front and center on one side of the runway, directly across from Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune, and seated quietly in the third row behind her, Miss J from America’s Next Top Model.

Zac Posen’s spring collection was a study in contrasts. There were peach sorbet colored dresses with metallic accents (perplex plating), and suede biker jackets layered over chiffon. Sheer leopard print dresses were presented in delicate colors like lemon and pistachio lipstick.

Some of Posen’s most appealing looks included a pastel biker jacket paired with a feminine flared skirt and a figure flattering ribbon dress that had just the right amount of sparkle. I was somewhat less enamored of his combination of a suede biker jacket shown with a loose top and capris and the short shorts and bikini top seemed rather out of place here.

There were several adorable bags in a variety of styles (drawstring pouches, totes, oversized clutches). I also liked the peep toe, sling back shoes with colorful contrasting heels. These looked appropriate with both day and evening looks.

The collection of gowns that closed the show varied from the sexy, navy starry night fringe gown to a black strapless look with an empire waist and an asymmetrical loose skirt. The most striking was the black and white silk Alhambra gown that worked surprisingly well in its unique color pattern.

-Rhonda Erb

Rhonda Erb

Rhonda Erb writes about fashion, travel and lifestyle from a New Yorker’s perspective in Better Bets. A self-confessed Instagram addict, her work has also appeared in such publications as Runway Magazine. Follow her at: Instagram: @betterbets Twitter: @betterbetsny tumblr:

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