To those of us not attending the highly touted, uber-produced fashion shows in New York, Paris, London or Milan, the concept of a designated Fashion Week feels remote. It is easy to wonder: Do the current designs by Balenciaga or Valentino or Calvin Klein have anything to do with our everyday lives? The answer is yes, although their influence may come in a trickle-down manner. But eventually, some version of those designs is going to show up at the stores at the mall, in the accessories or shoes or jackets we will buy to spruce up our existing wardrobes.
For many of us, every week is our own personal fashion week—every day we struggle to look good within our budgets, to shop our closets, to figure out how we can wear those same black pants or that familiar ruched top in some new way. It may not matter to those around us, but, at heart, women want to feel that we have done our personal best to look good. What we are looking for in our wardrobes isn’t excitement or innovation but purpose.
The designated fashion weeks that begin in September and wrap up in early October are held to inspire, to set a mood in the market. The clothes presented by designers in these runway shows are rarely wearable as shown. Occasionally, there have been breath-taking moments on the runways, when the entire direction of fashion changed. Think of Christian Dior’s “New Look,” presented in 1947. His cinched waist, rounded shoulders, and full skirts defined a decade of women’s silhouettes. And there was the Japanese avant-garde revolution on the Paris runways of the early 1980’s. There Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons threw symmetry and body-contoured shapes into the history bin. Their designs were geometric, textured and slightly frayed looking; this, too, became the look of a decade.
But usually fashion shows don’t turn the world upside down. Instead, they exaggerate an idea or set in motion a trend. Fashion is, after all, all about change. And what we see during the weeks of shows is just a tantalizing glimpse of what will lie ahead for us in the next season.
With that mind, some of the most interesting shows this fall—promoting looks for spring 2013—offer promising trends: graphic prints, baroque details, and a return—of sorts—to the pantsuit. Here are a few highlights of designs you will eventually be seeing in all brands, at all price points.
Calvin Klein showed bold, optic print dresses with Peter Pan collars and a beautiful pants suit accented with slivers of black on the sides. The pantsuit looked fresh and fluid, not dowdy. Ralph Lauren presented what the New York Times called “an American in Paris…and Barcelona and perhaps Mexico City” look. Certainly, it was romantic and more fanciful than his recent designs. Lauren relied on wide leather belts laser-cut into lacy designs, slim ankle pants, and heavy embroidery.
By far, my favorite American designer was Michael Kors. He doesn’t just dish out advice on Project Runway; he executes some of the most elegantly understated—and wearable—clothes around. Almost any Kors outfit could straight off the runway and into your closet. Kors played up his sporty designs in bold spring green colors; no one does a swing skirt and pullover sweater with such panache. Also he had one of the most gorgeous gowns: a sleek black dress with just enough cutouts to be racy. Kors gave us The Great Gatsby for the 21st century, a reach for a totally American dream of a look.
Giorgio Armani, so popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s, returned with a strong updated version of his classic look. Minimalism is his strength and he didn’t vary from it, choosing a blue steel palate for spring. Armani, too, returned to the pantsuit, but his version was flow-y and unstructured to the point of resembling pajamas. Still, no one beats his jackets in the little-is-so-powerfully-much category.
Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton showed bold black-and-white grid patterns. As always, his clothes looked young and desirable and fresh for spring. Lanvin presented tuxedos for women (again, an exquisitely tailored jacket that looks so now) and Raf Simons for Dior had lots of dresses with fitted jackets.
Celine was unbeatable, though, for her understated work. Phoebe Philo, head designer for Celine, also emphasized jackets. Some were slim-fitting and some were more popovers instead of the expected open-down-the-front look. But clearly Celine sees a fitted separate bodice for spring—sometimes with little cap sleeves--paired with slouchy pants or draped skirts. It’s a nice reverse of the current slim legs look. Also at Celine, frayed edges and fabrics that twist across the body effortlessly.
No one would seriously entertain the idea of wearing a honeycomb-shaped ball gown; all poufy and decked out with a beekeeper’s veiled hat, like the ones Sarah Burton designed for Alexander McQueen. This is one of those fantasy shows that just kick your mind into high gear. But Burton/McQueen isn’t just spectacle, either. Probably best known for designing Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, Burton has a supreme sense of what women want to wear and how they look good. When you break down her bee-themed show, you find another fabulous jacket. This one is structured but lightweight, with vents of organza to give a lighter-than-air look. The material most often used for black pants or pencil skirts was a honeycomb jacquard, which provided suitable structure without weighing down the garment—or the wearer. Add in those narrow, cinched queen bee waists and you have a look that is sweet, but packs a powerful punch.