Spring Buds

Clockwise from top left: Roland Mouret, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Cloak.
Clockwise from top left: Roland Mouret, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Cloak. (Maria Valentino - for The Washington Post)
By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 16, 2005

NEW YORK, Sept. 15 At the Diane von Furstenberg spring 2006 show, the arrival of Paris Hilton -- platinum-haired reality show star and rich girl about town -- sent photographers into a frenzy of sharp elbows, foot-stomping and guttural howls. A similar level of flailing desperation greeted Oscar winners Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones when they attended the Michael Kors show Wednesday afternoon at the Bryant Park tents. Indeed, one young photographer had the glassy-eyed, jumpy look of an addict about 30 seconds away from his next fix.

All this was on par with the stampede for actress Eva Longoria, arriving as a guest of Oscar de la Renta. It did not seem to matter that the star of "Desperate Housewives" -- the only housewife not nominated for an Emmy -- has been so ubiquitous in the tabloids that she has become like a piece of chewed gum that can't be fully scraped from one's shoe. Can there really be any money in a photo of Longoria, who is so press-shy -- note the heavy sarcasm here -- that she invited the celebrity brown-noser Billy Bush to document her intimate family birthday party?

Fashion makes no distinction, celebritywise; it is a glutton at the cultural buffet.

It does not discriminate between high and low, between kitsch and crass, between Bette Midler at Badgley Mischka and Carmen Electra at Luca Luca, or between smart and what so often appears to be distressingly stupid. The industry embraces it all. A veteran designer such as de la Renta, who has dressed first ladies, can pair a classic ball skirt with his logo T-shirt and show off the result to the soundtrack of deliciously vulgar rap. Wal-Mart can put its clothes on the runway in a studio off Times Square, as it did Monday night, just before Marc Jacobs showed his collection in an armory on Lexington Avenue. Kors can show a mink coat for spring.

And fashion's youngest designers can create some of the stodgiest and most uncomfortable garments of the spring season. How can a generation of designers, whose non-industry peers shuffle through their lives in flip-flops, keep a straight face when they make an argument for fussy or binding clothes? Peter Som got all bogged down with sailor shirts and trousers as well as silhouettes that looked old and matronly. He put them on the thinnest and youngest-looking models around, and those hungry urchins wandered down the runway like lost little children, their loose ponytails serving only to emphasize their tiny doll-like heads. With the clothes so lacking, one tended to get lost in a daydream of pinheads, boats, gowns, "three-hour tours" . . . Gilligan.

What weighs so heavily on the hearts of young designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez that the collection for their label, Proenza Schouler, would be filled with narrow, mid-calf skirts that groaned under the weight of heavy ribbon embroidery? Yes, congratulations for sticking to your guns and making a strong statement and setting off on your own version of an Yves Saint Laurent style, and blah, blah, blah. But really, no one wants to hear a designer say: Wear a skirt of a most unflattering length.

And what so bedevils Roland Mouret that he sends out elaborately tailored suits with long, tight skirts and jackets overwrought with fussy tucks and darts and fitted so close to the body that they look as though the seams are about to pop? (Indeed, Mouret once created a red-carpet dress for actress Scarlett Johansson that was so tight she freely admitted she could not breathe.)

It's hard to imagine that the audience for these shows -- the very same women padding around in dresses that don't even skim the body but rather swirl around it -- will ever be persuaded to bind themselves into a tight mid-calf skirt when the outside temperature is well over 80 degrees.

And if these women are unwilling to do such a thing -- these women who tick off the trends of a season the way others assemble a grocery list -- then who?

Plokhov, Sarafpour, Gueron, Chung

Despite those missteps, the most compelling clothes of the spring season come from young designers, those who are still building the foundations of their business.

Designers Alexandre Plokhov of Cloak, Doo.Ri Chung, Sari Gueron, and Behnaz Sarafpour stir excitement because their collections are still filled with surprises. They are still defining their aesthetic, and it is a pleasure to watch as it bends and shifts from one season to the next, each time moving toward something unique and intriguing. Plokhov is a menswear designer who blends a sober, dark view of masculinity with expert tailoring. His show was set in an old SoHo loft with no air conditioning and little ventilation, reached by a narrow staircase that leaned precariously to the left. The unsettling atmosphere only added to the Dickensian sobriety of his aesthetic.

Plokhov may draw from the look of vintage attire, but it is only a starting point; he is not beholden to the past. A coat may be lackadaisically tossed over a pair of narrow trousers, but it fits perfectly in the shoulders. An oversize shirt may hang from below the hem of a jacket but that jacket has been painstakingly crafted.

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