There were a few notable ghosts hanging around New York Fashion Week this season. The Spring/ Summer 2008 shows – roundly summarized as a bit comme ci, comme ca, all things considered – could pretty much be divided up into a few category moods: The Balenciaga mood, the Olivier Theyskens mood and the Bianca Jagger mood. Then there was Marc, and then were the minimalists; more on that in a minute.
The Jaggerophiles picked up where the trend for high-waist, wide-legged denim leaves off, summoning a post-hippie, Studio 54 vibe in long, billowing dresses, shiny jumpsuits and summery blouses paired with (yup) high-waist, wide-legged jeans. Michael Kors went bananas on this theme for Spring, doing an almost camp reinterpetation of a ‘70s key party in the Palm Beach colors John Galliano made kosher again at his Dior Haute Couture show this summer; it’s nice to see Kors showing some nerve. Among independent designers, Sue Stemp gave this look its most coherent interpretation: Whereas lots of designers reference the dress of rock stars, Stemp, decadent and a little nuts, is firmly in the camp of the rock stars’ wives. Nothing too original here, but Charlotte Ronson’s savvy sportswear show likewise offered proof that this look has legs for another season, on the street at least.
Theyskens’ influence was more diffuse, showing up in a whole host of romantic clothes for Spring. Watery pastels and a loose silhouette made a lot of appearances; so did soft ombre treatments to fabrics and tie-dye effects. Thakoon – very much a romantic himself – had one of the nicest takes on the Theyskens vibe in a one-shouldered draped dress in a seemingly tie-dyed silver. (Metallics came back big this season, as an aside.) He also offered a really distinctive reinterpretation of the romantic mood in a floral print best described as daytime gothic. (Watch for florals, as well.)
Interestingly, however, much of Thakoon’s show also showed a debt to last season’s laurelled Balenciaga collection, with its tribal prints, crested blazers, jodhpurs and robot shoes. Like a lot of designers, among them Philip Lim, Proenza Schouler and new kids Ohne Titel, Thakoon was playing with a lot of tribal notes for Spring, but joined them – Balenciaga-style – to a host of dissonant influences. Lim showed tribal necklaces with preppy gear; Proenza mixed a martial smartness with coolly African colors and textures, for a safari feel, and Ohne Titel gave bold, schematic prints a Stephen Sprouse paint job. (Neo-rave lives on, for now.)
The influence of Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquiere is more in the mixing than in the specifics of what’s mixed; it was the synthesis of so many heretofore unrelated ideas that made his Fall show feel so modern. But Ghesquiere is a great designer – fearless, observant and intuitive – and in lesser hands, his hunt and peck strategy comes off clunky and cluttered, in outfits with ADHD. Seeing so many all-over-the-place references – bowler hats! floral prints! oversize jackets! neon! gingham! – takes a toll after a while, and made more subdued, focused shows a welcome change of pace. Among young designers, Mary Ping and Jeremy Laing really do make the case for a downtown take on minimalism with unashamedly sexy dresses pared to their architectural essential. Even the usually ethereal-minded Erin Fetherston came down to earth this season, restraining the cutesy flimflammery of previous outings; it was a pleasure to see so much of just one color – gray – on one runway. Ahhh…
But just when you think that these stripped-down clothes augur an early ‘90s Armani moment of urbane neutrals, along comes Marc Jacobs with a pointedly maximal collection that gets your head spinning. A few key trends at Marc emerged in other shows, as well – a focus on boudoir dressing, for one, sheer fabrics, and the florals, neons and brights that were almost everywhere, (especially yellows both vicious and sunny, and a coral-tipped red that felt especially fresh.) But otherwise, Marc’s show was sui generis. No one seems to have any particular idea what he was up to, aside from an obvious debt to Commes des Garcons and a truly out-of-the-box take on sex. Small bags sewn on top of large bags. A tee-shirt dress inspired by a football jersey. “Too-small” shoes. Too-big shoes. Bra straps. Trompe l’oeil undies. A show that ran backwards. Marc Jacobs for Spring 2008 seemed like nothing so much as an inversion of his super put-together collection last season, an ode to deshabille. In a way, it was the perfect summing up of a season (in New York at least) with too many ideas and no all-encompassing guidance about what to wear. Shifting himself into the mindset of a woman staring wide-eyed at her overstuffed closet of shoes that don’t quite fit, prints that don’t quite match, bags and more bags, and dress-up clothes with nowhere to go, Marc sent out a season of looks fully appreciative that some days, the question “what to wear?” is more compelling than any answer.