As this city was battered by high winds and torrential rain from Tropical Storm Floyd, the spring 2000 shows here were either canceled, delayed or dotted with far more empty seats than usual.
The majority of the hundred-odd shows being mounted this week are staged under the auspices of 7th on Sixth, the production arm of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The venues include a Flatiron District exhibition space as well as three elaborate tents in Bryant Park. It was the park site that most concerned organizers.
Just as designer Bill Blass was preparing to send his first model down the runway this morning, rain pounded the top of the tent. CFDA Executive Director Fern Mallis reassured the audience that the tent was structurally sound--despite some visible leaks--but informed everyone that all 7th on Sixth venues would close for the afternoon, "in compliance with the mayor's request." Indeed, businesses throughout the city, from the cavernous Old Navy store on Sixth Avenue to a host of mom-and-pop shops, had closed their doors by early afternoon.
The decision to close the tents meant that a handful of shows had to be canceled or postponed, and rescheduling them will be difficult. Many out-of-town editors and buyers will not be able to alter their travel plans, and the spring 2000 shows begin in London next week. For designers, particularly at small houses, such a twist of fate can be devastating in terms of lost publicity and money.
But neither rain, threats of hurricanes nor Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's stern requests to stay home could keep Bill Blass's ladies from turning out in their heels and natty suits to bid Blass good wishes after what he says is his last collection. As the lights dimmed and the music soared and the raindrops on the tent reverberated like a bass drum, the first model walked out in pure Blass style: the sleek lines of a cream-colored column gown with bands of bold color painted across the hem. The collection was bursting with color, from a fuchsia beaded skirt paired with an ice-blue hooded jacket to a red-and-white skirt embroidered and printed with red poppies.
There were fewer traditional suits in the collection than usual. Instead, this one was dominated by relaxed chiffon dresses, party skirts and elegant gowns. The collection was not a stunner; there was nothing particularly surprising or daring. But it wasn't stale either. One did not look at the clothes and gently whisper, "Yes, it was time for him to go." Instead, Blass's departure comes during the summer of his career rather than the fall.
When he took his bows, the full house stood up in honor of the designer. He quietly greeted well-wishers backstage and then, about an hour later, after the crowds had dispersed and gone on to other shows, an assistant walked him outside, where his car and driver waited. Blass stepped inside and was gone.
But Blass's style, that cool, jazz elegance in which a ruffled chiffon dress flows sweetly like a soft piano interlude, survives through labels such as Tuleh. That collection was presented this afternoon and was filled with the company's signature floral-print dresses with their demure hemlines and sex appeal. The delicate blouses with their sweet embroidery and sprinkles of crystals make one realize how rare it is to find shells and tank tops that leave a lasting impression.
Tuleh caters to an old-fashioned definition of femininity, but with the lightness and fluidity of modern fabrics and cuts. There are full-skirted tea dresses, ruffled day dresses, slim skirts and special blouses. This is white-glove femininity at its best. A woman who wants to look tough and urbane would be unlikely to find satisfaction here.
The strongest trends for spring 2000 expound on the belief that it is time to take a break from gender wars, to celebrate the trappings of femininity and to stop shunning the word "pretty" as if it were a mark of weakness.
Collections from designers as diverse as Nicole Farhi, Anna Sui and James Purcell all offered their own riff on what pretty can be. Farhi is by far the most adventurous. The collection she put on the runway Wednesday was at its best with wrap skirts and simply drawn blouses that look as though they have been splashed with watercolor in shades of pine green, chocolate brown and magenta. The clothes suggest the bold canvases of abstract artists in which color takes precedence over form.
Indeed, Farhi's strength is her use of color, for she chooses shades such as celadon green, cantaloupe and raspberry. The heavy-handed use of large paillettes often weighs her work down, and the pale trench coats in daunting leather suffer without the benefit of Farhi's color sense.
For Anna Sui, this was a pastoral collection filled with peasant skirts, romantic blouses, faded jeans and whimsical bustles. It is one of Sui's better collections, filled with intriguing pieces that could bring charm and wit to any wardrobe. Too many of these pieces worn simultaneously would have the unfortunate effect of making one look like an extra from a revival of "Hair." But in the right doses, they capture a carefree hippie attitude.
Sui also introduced a new line of denim with this collection. It is filled with faded bluejeans and dungarees adorned with crystals, sequins and embroidery. While all those designers who have latched onto decorated denim owe a debt to Gucci's Tom Ford, Sui manages to make the trend her own with denim that has more of a homemade sensibility than Gucci's.
Indeed, throughout the Sui presentation on Wednesday one could hear the steady drip, drip, drip of trends trickling down from other houses onto the sketch pad of Sui. The bustles that designer Dries Van Noten bravely put on his runway almost a year ago are reborn here as bustled skirts, corsets with attached bustles and aprons that create a bustle effect. Designers so often consider any suggestion that they were inspired by another designer to be an insult. But to Sui's credit, she is not satisfied to simply re-create but instead manages to add a new perspective.
Designer Purcell, who has been selling to stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York for years, mounted his first full-scale runway presentation Wednesday. The result was a collection that conjured up images of balls, bar mitzvahs, weddings and New Year's Eve celebrations. In short, Purcell creates special-occasion clothes. They are important dresses for landmark events.
A full-length jacket tops sequined trousers that ride low on the hips. The pale green organza fabric is dotted with wisps of hairlike fringe that flutter around the garment like an eerie white mist. He creates crescent-shaped overskirts that barely contain an explosion of tulle from an underlying petticoat. And sleek cocktail dresses are split over the derriere to reveal a spray of plumage.
But the pieces also can look heavy and grand, as if one must be prepared to make a day out of getting ready for the ball. The clothes may be easy to slip into, but they lack the sense of informality that is intrinsic to so much of the evening wear now being championed.
Purcell's work is for the woman who would be appalled to arrive at a black-tie gala only to find that one of her table-mates believes that a denim skirt and beaded camisole are appropriate attire. That table-mate, by the way, would be wearing pieces from the collection that designer Victor Alfaro presented this morning. In Alfaro's enticing view, a woman's closet is filled with leather capri pants in mocha and chocolate, bark-brown linen cardigans and organza shirts, cocoa beaded tops worn with aqua leather capris, leather skirts with laser-cut patterns of lace along the hemline, and embroidered tulle slip dresses that look as delicate as if they had been spun out of sugar.
Alfaro's work combines simple shapes and comforting fabrics with glamorous details such as lace, embroidery and beading. Alfaro is one of several designers who have moved their runway presentations from Europe to New York. Farhi shifted her presentation from London, Lawrence Steele left Milan, and of course, Helmut Lang several years ago made the shift from Paris to America's fashion capital.
Lang presented both his men's and women's collection in his SoHo boutique this afternoon. It was a masterly display of color and feminine styling as light and refreshing as a fine mist on a hot day. His models dressed in cream-colored trouser suits and high heels seemingly bound to the foot by a single ribbon of satin. They came out in shades of fuchsia, jade and violet sheer organza skirts, sweat pants and dresses that seemed to float around the body as if the models had simply stepped through a rainbow and emerged glistening in its miraculous color.
Even the men benefited from Lang's fascination with color as they appeared in cashmere sweaters in hues of bright pink and violet. The collection included basics, such as black cotton coats and dark blue raw denim jeans. But it was the color that emerged from the sea of heavy black, in such whisper-thin fabrics that it left one believing in silver linings, pots of gold and rainbows.
CAPTION: The Bill Blass collection, which he says is his last, bursts with color.
CAPTION: Tuleh sent flirtatious floral-print dresses onto the runway.
CAPTION: Rain and wind couldn't stop these clothes from making it to the runway. From left, Anna Sui's hippie jeweled jeans and romantic blouse, leather capri pants from Victor Alfaro, a luminous coat with white pants from James Purcell and a wrap dress from Nicole Farhi.