Fashion Week wrap-up: Fresh talent has clearly joined the ranks of the old guard

See runway highlights from Rodarte, L'Wren Scott, Oscar de la Renta and others.
By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 18, 2010


The garments on the spring 2011 runway did not provide much fodder for animated conversation or debates over aesthetics, but the cultural shifts they represented were significant.

The collections ended here Thursday evening with designers delivering a season's worth of clothes that could at best be summed up as "nice." With loose-fitting pantsuits, fluid dresses that reach to mid-calf and a palette of neutrals punctuated by shades of raspberry, marigold and lettuce green, designers offered little to lure women into stores with credit cards in hand.

But the mere presence of this mighty industry -- with it big brands and idealistic entrepreneurs -- newly settled in the heart of the city's cultural community at Lincoln Center was a statement of its maturity and growth. The industry no longer needed to be nestled next to the Garment District, with its grungy charm, double-parked delivery vans and safe familiarity.

Farther uptown, fashion's doyennes -- with their outlandish heels and bags stuffed with invitations -- mingled with the Juilliard artists, Fordham law students, stroller-pushing mothers, white-collar straphangers and the rest of this city's flotsam and jetsam. Geographically, the move might have been a matter of 20 blocks, but psychically it signaled an industry that was looking toward its future with no small amount of energy.

A new, more diverse group of designers now dominates the runways. They come from all over the country, even the world. They are adept at new media, fearless about cheap fashion and make no distinction between dressing a 20-something recent graduate and her 40-something mother.

These designers are Asian American, Indian, Latino, Turkish and so on. Oddly, however, few of those stirring the waters are African American. Where are the independent black designers who will follow elder statesman Stephen Burrows, who showed whimsically printed day dresses in his signature jersey, and the solidly established Tracy Reese, who is a master at swing coats and feminine dresses with vintage-inspired frills?

Despite the tattered economy, new designers sense an opening. They are arriving with meager funds, abundant chutzpah, talent and a solid business plan. (One young designer collected donations on the Web for her show.) They are being helped along by an assortment of industry initiatives. And as a result, the runways here have been upended.

Names like Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta, Narciso Rodriguez and Michael Kors still matter -- if only because of the sheer size of some of the businesses. But another group of brands has become equally essential viewing: Jason Wu, Proenza Schouler, Rodarte and Derek Lam.

There's a certain undeniable scale and luxuriousness to Karan's show. She has the clout and the finances to a mount a production in her own Greenwich Street space. There's something about being in a designer's own world -- even if it is just a large, darkened room -- that makes for a more intimate and personal experience. Karan's collection was filled with earth tones and her fabrics were rich with texture. The first model emerged on the runway as if from a narrow crevice hewn out of a rock. The jackets were crinkled and crumpled around the models' bodies, and the dresses -- which often looked like sand-colored silk smudged with streaks of mud -- hung seductively from their shoulders.

Calvin Klein's Francisco Costa also shows in his own space, on the ground floor of his Garment District headquarters. Photographers line the congested street, straining against metal barricades as black Town Cars arrive ferrying editors and -- ta-da -- Katie Holmes. The brouhaha creates a sense of urgency and underscores the urbanity of the collection. These clothes, with their aerodynamic simplicity, belong to the city.

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