A few minutes into Alexander Wang’s spring show at Pier 94, grimaces appeared on the faces of a few editors in the front row. Anna Wintour skipped the show entirely, choosing the excitement of the U.S. Open over a display leather-and-mesh motorcycle vests. It seemed all thought the same thing: How do we work board shorts into a fashion spread?
Upon the show’s conclusion, some editors whispered diplomatic verdicts. “Not his best,” one muttered. Another onlooker was more candid: “I loved it. It’s as if he just said [expletive] you to everyone here.”
Irreverence and subversion is to be expected from Alexander Wang, whose tough, just-rolled-out-of-an-East-Village-bed aesthetic bridges elements of street style and high fashion. But the surprise of Fashion Week was that many buttoned-up designers seemed to mutter these same expletives at Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, whose conservative aesthetic didn’t influence the runways in the ways many critics had predicted.
This season, it appears New York Fashion Week declared its independence from icon worship, ignoring the “Kate effect” and preferring art as muse for more colorful, bold forms of expression.
Sure, there were long sleeves and long hemlines, but not without boxy silhouettes or draped prints that would hinder a good glance at a 24-inch waist. Classic and conservative Uptown designers like Tommy Hilfiger, Prabal Gurung and even Diane von Furstenberg seemed to rebel against convention and preconceived notions of just who influences their collections.
Many expected this Fashion Week to purport lady-like Princess decorum inspired by Kate Middleton’s staid and tailored British style. But even at shows like Diane von Furstenberg — an American designer Kate’s worn publicly — sportswear seemed a bit too relaxed for High Street princesses like the Middleton sisters.
Many designers claimed the bold colors and graphics on the runway were inspired by artistic rebellion and innovation of past decades. Hilfiger claimed that pop art influenced his collections; his color choices of red leather and vibrant camouflage certainly confirmed his inspiration and revamped his modern prep aesthetic.
Other designers like Prabal Gurung claimed to be inspired by photography. And the sensual spirit of Nobuyoshi Araki’s photographs showed through his racier than usual violet-hued dresses.
The parties, too, confirmed that classic designers are looking toward the avant-garde for inspiration. Giorgio Armani sponsored “Richard Hambleton: A Retrospective,” which was co-curated by former French Vogue editor Carine Roifeld’s son Vladimir. The party brought in a host of celebrities and socialites like Owen Wilson and Lauren Hutton, as well as international bon vivants just back from Burning Man. Hambleton, part of the Basquiat and Warhol peer circle, produced the sort of art that inspires the wild vibrancy seen in many of the spring collections.
While some British designers like Jenny Packham displayed collections fit for a princess required to wear pantyhose and sleeves, much of New York seemed mesmerized by its own energy.
For spring, uptown girls are heading downtown. Perhaps, the British invasion of 2011 is already passé.