Derek Lam confronted normal head-on in his Derek Lam + eBay collection. A crowd formed on the sidewalk outside Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center during Lam's hour-long presentation in the sunny, glass-walled lobby earlier in the week. Sixteen models stood in a wedge formation at one end, wearing Lam's moderately priced crisp summer shirtdresses. (After a public vote, some of them will be available on eBay next month.) The frocks were simple, as was the living-sculpture arrangement. And the effect was stop-you-in-your-tracks stunning.
It was a showdown of chic, at once stark and charming. The lobby's airy, modern architecture and its tidy, unfussy human artworks felt like the antidote to the week's excess. The ponytailed models looked like the kind of idealized young romantics that populate a Jerome Robbins ballet.
Surveying his creations, Lam said he was inspired by a quote from choreographer George Balanchine: "There are no new steps, only new combinations."
"That's not just about dance but about anything we do in life," the designer said. "You know, the body doesn't change. We're not growing a second set of arms. The art is about dressing the human body, and how do you do it of the moment?" Lam found a way with fashion's greatest asset: simplicity.
Then there's the native drama in cramming thousands of harried, image-focused humans together in small spaces spread throughout a wintry megalopolis. Watching much-feared and fawned-over Vogue editor Anna Wintour is a terrific spectator sport. She arrives at shows with an entourage of assistants and bodyguards, strolling slowly down an avenue of calm to her premium seat, sunglasses in hand. Everything about her says keep your distance. Weirdly, some don't get the message.
As she stood in the aisle before the Michael Kors show began, the young man she was chatting with placed a hand familiarly on her shoulder. Oops! What followed was like that slow-motion scene in "The Matrix" in which Keanu Reeves's character is dodging bullets. With creamy smoothness, and no change in her mildly attentive expression, Wintour thrust the offended shoulder into the air and arched away, all in one seamless move. The poor guy responded with a backward tip of his own, snatching his hand back as if he'd been scorched.
Behind the scenes
Backstage at Alexander Wang: It takes a village to put on a fashion show. Armies of hair and makeup foot soldiers, mani-pedi obsessives, clothing stylists who dress the models like dolls, seamstresses, caterers (I've never seen so much uneaten food). Models doze through their pedicures. Clothes hang like cuts of beef in a meat locker, all disembodied parts, ready for assembly.
And always, cameras and more cameras. Where there is one photographer, more are sure to follow. I spied several zeroing to shoot a gleaming, polished set of . . . fingernails.
Models never say no to a photo request. One still in her own skinny jeans and riding boots stands with chin tucked and eyes glowing, as a camera flashes inches from her nose. As soon as the photographer is finished, all that sultry composure evaporates and she runs - sprints - to the ladies' room around the corner. The thrill of seeing someone that tall move so fast!
What a waste that all that physical power is smothered once the models are strapped into five- or six-inch heels for the runway. If the cameras want drama, they should focus on the feet. That's where the train wrecks are lurking, where surely the height limit has been exceeded.
"They hurt," confessed Shanina Shaik, a raven-haired Australian model. "At one show we had to have a special run-through because of the shoes. Some of the girls were crying, taking their shoes off as soon as they got off the runway."
Even the designers fall victim to this fashion. When she was finished fielding interviews about her new line, "Pearls of Wisdom," Donna Karan, standing in a pair of devastatingly high, pointy-toed mules, lamented to her assistant, "Can I please change into flats now?"
As designers wrap up Fashion Week, all the excess and overload have gone into mere minutes of highly scrutinized walking. In hoping to craft an unforgettable performance, it's too bad so many of them overlooked one critical asset: the beauty of a natural gait.