NEW YORK, N.Y. - The simple things can be the hardest to do in fashion, because you have to do them well.
Take the white shirt. Designers Peter Som and Max Azria both said a plain white button-down shirt is their favourite thing to see on a woman, and versions of it have been on nearly every catwalk during the previews of Spring 2014 at New York Fashion Week that entered their third day Saturday.
But these basics are far from simple for designers. Prabal Gurung said that with such crisp pieces, you can't hide behind embellishment or interesting fabric. When it's simple, it has to be perfect.
"Ease isn't easy," echoed Jason Wu, who showed feather-light and sometimes sheer slip dresses that were carefully constructed. "The things you think are going to be simple can sometimes be really hard."
Lucky magazine Editor in Chief Eva Chen wore a white button-down to previews on Friday and said the versions popping up on runways — whether as detail peeking out from a dress or reflecting spare 90s minimalism — are "nothing if not wearable — with jeans and ballet slippers, with a ballgown, and everything in between."
"This season, when it comes to choosing a white shirt, it IS all about the tweaks and the details. Is the cut cropped (a silhouette of the season, whether you like it or not!), are there details or embellishments at the collar?" she said by email. "Those details are what feminize a white shirt and make it special."
As if fashion fans didn't already know his name and the youthful, hipster esthetic he owns at New York Fashion Week, Alexander Wang spelled it all out for them at his runway show Saturday.
Several of the models who zigzagged the complicated catwalk at the West Side pier that the designer often uses wore looks adorned with "Wang."
Wang, who now splits his time between his own label in New York and Balenciaga in Paris, sat Kanye West, Kerry Washington and Miguel in his front row and first came out with uncharacteristic crisp and clean looks. Think of the cotton miniskirts and cropped button-downs that his downtown muse would wear if they were invited to the country club over a weekend.
Eventually, though, those morphed into laser-cut leather, which seems more of a fit for his customer.
Erin Wasson, a longtime friend of Wang's, walked in a white jumper — sans shirt — that hid the designer's name under each pleat, visible with each step.
It's "Wang-xiety," said Courtney Love from her front-row seat.
Prabal Gurung's spring collection was built on the idea of "the idealized woman."
But don't confuse Gurung's feminine muse with a girly one: The sheath dresses with unexpected cutouts and harnesses, and the pearlescent pink shirtdress and sky-blue draped dress with a cascading back ruffle were more chic than sweet.
He also showed a crisp white shirt — seemingly simple from the front —that had an open back engineered with a clear, plastic harness.
The finale gown, a black column with a white satin panel embroidered with vertical blocks of black and purple sequins, was incredibly artful and worthy of the elaborate stage setting. Gurung had all the models boxed inside clear plastic panels, and one by one, they'd take a spin around the runway.
Transparency was a theme here, including an eye-catching sheer sheath with a giant, hand-embroidered red rose, paired with a slim rose-painted pencil skirt. There also was a printed PVC raincoat worn with green silk skinny pants.
Gurung said in an interview that sometimes the craftsmen he works with are skeptical of his requests, but together they'll take the risks. "They look at me perhaps as if I have 12 heads, you know," he said. "I always say, 'Look, if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out,' but at least we have the satisfaction of trying."
Jill Stuart had rock chicks on holiday in mind for her edgy but girly spring collection.
Caftans, micro-minis and teeny shorts with tunics came mostly in the requisite black and white for a beachy yet chic-y vibe.
The designer said in a backstage interview that she had just returned from Patmos in Greece when inspiration struck, though this Stuart girl is a rock girlfriend of yore.
"I was thinking what they should be wearing on this great holiday, or what they'd be wearing back in 1971 and in the south of France," she said.
There was plenty for New York streets, too, including a little black dress in black crepe with black lace. "You can look like a rock star girlfriend on holiday in New York," Stuart offered.
For a time, Stuart's girl had gone uptown, but this collection was all rock 'n' roll. Lace embellishment adorned risque, sheer chest panels and a pale blue colour showed off flouncy pleats in short dresses and skirts. Stuart opted for restraint in the number of leather pieces, mixing in just a few in black.
RAG & BONE
There were no bells and whistles on the Rag & Bone runway at New York Fashion Week, and that's how the label's co-founders Marcus Wainwright and David Neville intended it.
It was a risk to go with the more minimalist — maybe 1990s-esque — esthetic, Wainwright said in an interview Friday just before the models stepped on to the runway, but a risk work taking. "I think we want to see something quite new for us, actually, quite a big departure from last season. We felt like we needed to change it up and do something cleaner and really fresh, and I hope you will see that."
Even though the styles were a departure from the British tailoring that the label has emphasized over the years, there were the hallmarks of the Rag & Bone hipster in the collection. There also were the looks that hit on the trends emerging for next season: delicate dresses — the best one, the finale, was a whisper-like slip with layers of pink, peach and white; belly-baring cropped tops; and the unlikely synergy between oversized menswear-inspired styles, such as carpenter pants and blazers, and the most ladylike lingerie. Wainwright and Neville even made a convincing case for coveralls paired with a bra top.
They played with metallics, and featured a palette of black, white, peach, sand and aqua, which, used for a polo dress, was an unexpected dose of country-club cool.
"You know, I think every season the aim is to try and push forward the idea of what the Rag & Bone girl is and what she could be," said Wainwright. "Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not."
No worries, designers.
A new belle of the ball might have stepped off the Marissa Webb runway.
Webb's collection is quickly becoming an insider's favourite, and even though it was shown in one of the smaller venues of the Lincoln Center tents, the audience was largely one that matters: top editors, stylists and retailers. One of the first outfits was a slim-cut, slightly sheer top and a blush-colored blouse with a men's style — but definitively feminine in silk — tie that was worn with a high-waist, bell-shape skirt.
It set the tone for a mostly chic collection full of interesting-yet-wearable pairings.
Webb, who used to design for J. Crew, turned a strapless tulle ballerina dress into something more urban and modern by using an army green colour, and the finale black crepe gown was harnessed in black leather suspenders.
There were subtle references to lingerie, but not your typical bustier top. The belted tunics and babydoll dresses had an ease and glamour to them rather than an overt sexiness. Let's call them the underpinnings of a label with potential.
Nicole Miller's springtime fashion statement hinges on a patchwork of gardens, mazes, chandeliers and shattered mirrors. Forget subtly.
It's "the gardens of Versailles and storming the castle," Miller said in her notes to the crowd on Friday at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Lincoln Center.
The first look out was a slim sheath covered in a zigzag mix of flowers, shattered glass and stripes — and touches of "powernet," sort of like a mesh.
Many of the super-skinny jeans that followed were distressed, and they were paired with a beaded denim jacket or crinkled leather one. A scoop-neck dress dotted with with sequins of bright teal, pink and purple was topped with a black neoprene vest.
Miller named her collection "Rebels With a Cause," and offered a tagline: "Power Meets Pretty."
Never mind that she normally dresses young women who can get away with fluttery miniskirts every day of the week, Rebecca Taylor put old-school work wear to work in her spring collection.
She showed perforated bomber jackets, denim T-shirts and carpenter pants.
"Key silhouettes experiment with proportion — crop tops, full trousers and teacup skirts are paired with soft modern volume in rounded sleeve shapes. Very crisp white poplin shirting and geo-eyelet are layered with tactile matelaffe, laminated knits and crystal-encrusted lace," the show notes said.
The crowd in the Chelsea gallery also saw some '80s influences and tapped their feet to a remix of "Buffalo Stamp," a 1989 dance hit.
Leanne Italie contributed to this report.
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