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New York, New Look: A unique catwalk-side view of New York Fashion Week

From Kinderwhore kink and streetwear to the Wang thang, Susie Lau gives her catwalk-side view of New York Fashion Week spring / summer 2014

Before New York Fashion Week had even begun, there was already talk of fashion week ennui, fatigue.

Too many shows, too many hangers-on, and generally too much noise, so cried the old guard of fashion. You could hear the moans and groans as seasoned show-goers walked into the sponsor-heavy hell pit of the Lincoln Centre, the (official) eye of the New York Fashion Week storm, as though facing a life condemned to a Victorian workhouse.

While there’s certainly cause for complaint given the rammed New York schedule – eight long days, and more than 100 shows – the ever-growing beast that is NYFW is not about to shrink any time soon. You may as well learn to appreciate the things that make New York a perfectly peppy place to start the season. You go there for the noise, the gushings of “Oh my god, that tote’s amazing!”, for slickness in abundance, for sightings of celebs (Justin Bieber, Rihanna, and members of the cast of Girls got people excited), for the energetic vibes of what’s going on both inside and outside the shows, and, above all, for “great product” (said with a glossy American buyer’s voice). And there was a lot of that to see, to tweet and Instagram, to remark upon with an emoji. It was postmodern fashion week: #NYFW. And so it is that I lapped it up with three spare phone batteries to get me through each day, a perma-smile plastered in place New York-style.

First significant trend hash tag – the Nineties.  Bruce Weber photos, pics of Kate Moss in slip dresses and yesteryear Calvin Klein and Helmut Lang collections have been doing the mood board rounds. Rag & Bone adopted diaphanous slip dresses, slung over with messenger bags and oversized cricket jumpers as its tomboyish uniform of choice. Olivier Theyskens’ romantic Belgian sensibility has ebbed away in favour of Nineties’ minimalism, as his Theyskens Theory line went born slippy in sunset hues and sheer black layers. Just as the nineties thing was getting a shade dull, Thakoon waded into the more tawdry side of the era, as broken strings of pearls and diamante chains on delicate precious baby doll dresses worn with thigh-high skin-tight lace boots suggested more than a hint of Kinderwhore kink. 

The young-ish set of American designers did well to corner in on their specific niche. Phillip Lim, purveyor of vaguely off-beat contemporary clothing, looked to natural elements and wonders of the earth to amp up his particular brand of go-to wardrobe pieces. Band of Outsiders’ Scott Sternberg tried his hand at sportswear, pulling it off with charm. He does appease the crowd with Momofuku-brand cookies and a jazzy backdrop, though. This time it was a replica of the Hollywood sign that looms over his native Los Angeles: a new twist on West meets East.

Reaching out for an ultra-sophisticated customer was Jason Wu. For someone so young, Wu takes to elegance rather well. His fixation with feminine restraint loosened up to reveal soft shades of mint and peach, bias-cut loveliness and New York’s favourite buzzword of New York – ease.

“Ease” was the word of choice for Joseph Altuzarra, too, the most recent investment opportunity spotted by luxury goods conglomerate Kering Group (formerly PPR). Timely, then, that he should show a terrific collection, bookended with utilitarian shirting pieces with tie-up detailing and liquid metal dresses and skirts that oozed around the body. Lamé never looked so effortless. He’s another name chasing the female power players of this world.

The pressure on Alexander Wang has cooled off somewhat now that he’s navigated his way through his Freshman season at Balençiaga.  That also meant Wang could do his “Wang thang” for his namesake brand. The Wang-obsessed tribe can get down with a clever spin on logo-mania as the Alexander Wang logo was laser-cut in repeat typographic formation on leather pinafore dresses. Cue repeat calls of #Obsessed echoing across the social media sphere.

Heads above the rest, though, was undeniably Proenza Schouler. They’re reaching for great heights. Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez looked at home comforts with an arching eye of precision. Simple crêpe and suede tailoring looked lush and complex in their hands, Seventies sunray pleats given a 21st-century metallic foil refresh and a shaggy silk jacket resembling a Moroccan Beldi rug looked anything but homespun. The point is that the duo never lose sight of making desirable clothing, even once they’ve achieved all that advanced fabrication know-how. That’s why they’ve earned their head-boys status in New York. 

#NYFW has few true curveballs, but you can always count on Rodarte to take you on a wild trip. This time it was through the Eighties, Sunset Strip sleaze and LA’s ghetto-fabulous Slauson Super Mall. I enjoyed seeing the front row’s eyebrows arch to their hairline over animal prints, Showgirls-esque tassels and padlocked chastity belts. The Mulleavy sisters are nothing if not contrary. Thom Browne was another trip and a half. Some fled before the show even started (50 minutes late) but those of us who stuck it out delved deep into Browne’s psychotic psyche. Nurses doling out white M&M’s as pills, smeared red lipstick, shrieking laughter soundtrack, and we haven’t even got to the clothes yet.  Browne is a masochistic perfectionist, fetishising detail and craft wherever possible. It’s not to everyone’s taste but Browne overindulges as he pleases because the show has little correlation with the white shirts and natty tailoring he actually sells. All the better for the folk at NYFW crying out for something other than “great product”.

The Brits in New York party was headed up by Victoria Beckham. She moved location to an airier spot. So, too, did her collection, which shifted away from taut zippered body-con dresses to looser territory. If you diverted your attention away from oh-so-cute Harper Beckham on David’s lap, then you might have got excited over geometric panelling, flippy frill-edged skirts and dropped-waist tennis tunics. Louise Goldin also looked to Centre Court for inspiration. Her latest collection smacks of assuredness in what she does best – highly technical knits, which pack a punch.   

What got me most excited, though, was the impending hope of a handful of newbies. London may take the new designer crown but there’s an undeniable energy in New York that continues to bubble away. Creatures of the Wind continues its ascent through prim-laced kook and turned out a sweet-as-pie collection. Suno also ramped up the polish on its signature prints. Tim Coppens is a new menswear name to watch. Adam Selman, costume designer to Rihanna, pulled off an evocative ode to 1970s Cosmopolitan covers. The sort of energy that connects with a crowd beyond rarified fashionistas is even better. Seeing kids pile in for conceptual streetwear brand Hood by Air and whooping at every ensemble of deconstructed basketball jerseys, bomber jackets and photo-print tracksuits was a real eye-opener. 

So was the extravaganza that was the Opening Ceremony show, which, at time of writing, was by far the most high-octane spectacle of the week. Who can trump hot cars driving into a cavernous show space and models exiting from each one in Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift ensembles, and goodie bags containing cronuts (that almost indigestibly rich hybrid of croissant and doughnut)? Humberto Leon and Carol Lim – incidentally, also creative directors at Kenzo in Paris – understand how to engage and delight. They, along with a number of their contemporaries, just get that beyond wayward creativity, fashion today is about the whole package. There’s your take-away from New York fashion week, in a handy hashtag.

Susie Lau writes and edits the fashion blog stylebubble.co.uk