NEW YORK — Square, chunky Bauhaus art doesn’t prompt visions of gracefulness. Especially when it comes to garments: The dance costumes designed by Bauhaus painter-choreographer Oskar Schlemmer were geometrical and bulky, concerning shape more than dynamics. But with a spring 2012 collection inspired by the German modernist movement, fashion designer Carolina Herrera has successfully channeled the bold energy of the 1930s art. Interpreted in chiffon and crepe de Chine, Bauhaus finally swings.
Herrera is the consummate pro in a business that banks on new looks. You won’t find the avant-garde on her Lincoln Center runway, but her take on retro graphics and vintage colors blends vitality with grace. In the relentless human traffic jam that is Fashion Week, Herrera’s show was a reminder of an overlooked aspect of fine design: movement. Clothes that move well liberate the body and attract the eye.
A black silk organza gown covered with triangular cutouts had so much dimension it resembled a living sculpture. Yet unlike Schlemmer, Herrera works fluidity into the equation, and her geometry dances. Her daywear also contrasted textures: A silk dress whose hem fluttered just below the knee was charming in a red-and-white sparrow print; its hard-edged patent leather belt kept the look from being too sweet. And everywhere, lots of oxygen: In A-line skirts as well as red-carpet gowns, a skillful mix of air and fabric created rhythmic play with every step.
Backstage after the show, Herrera said she was drawn by the “simplicity and modernity of the lines” in Bauhaus art. The colors in her collection sprang from the deep tones of Bakelite bracelets of the era, the jade greens, straw-yellows and rich reds.
Designing clothes that move well stems from her view of femininity, she said. “A woman likes to feel like we’re not a structure.” Herrera described a box in the air with her hands. “Not a blazer, very square.” Besides, she added, “you move better when you’re wearing something that moves well. That’s what I was thinking when I made the Renee dress” — the stunning beaded, backless gown that Renee Zellweger wore to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute gala in May. Perhaps the actress was ordering up another in her backstage visit with Herrera after Monday’s runway show, before donning oversize shades, flashing smiles to the crush of cameras and sweeping away.
Easy getaways were not only the privilege of celebrities, however. The breeziness of Herrera’s collection was echoed on other runways, and it’s good news — we’ll be moving easier when these clothes hit the stores. Who knows? Maybe a great wave of self-empowerment will take over. Think Katharine Hepburn and the authoritative swing of her high-waisted, wide-leg trousers.
Or go back to French designer Paul Poiret in the early 1900s, the original bra burner — before there were bras. His fashions — T-shaped gowns, Greco-Roman and kimono-inspired dresses — celebrated the uncorseted woman in her natural grace. Decades later, Halston picked up on Poiret’s loose simplicity, and its echoes are in the air here. The vibe was felt at Tommy Hilfiger’s Sunday night show, when his linear color-blocked silk kaftans soared at full sail down the catwalk.