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.
Sarafpour had mounted one of her most beautifully defined and focused collections in several seasons.
The former designer of Barneys New York private label has a keen eye for a perfect dress, and this collection was focused on soft tailoring, simplicity invigorated with judicious details, and a richness that did not tip into flamboyant luxury.
Gueron, among the newest designers to claim a spot on the New York fashion calendar, made a memorable impression for spring with her easy silk dresses with a "gathered tassel neckline" -- a kind of knotted embellishment at the neck. Her shows are blissfully intimate affairs with little fuss and hype. The people are there for the clothes; the celebrity hyping hasn't begun. And so the director Sofia Coppola -- that waifish muse to champions of unfashionable fashion -- sat quietly in her front-row seat attracting little attention.
Chung's clothes have never looked more beautiful. A protege of the late designer Geoffrey Beene, Chung has mastered the subtle art of draping, and her collection of silk jersey dresses combined sexiness, femininity and a nod to the mystery of seduction. It was a stellar collection for the designer who, with Plokhov, was a finalist in the first CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.
Narciso Rodriguez, Michael Kors
Claire Danes arrived at the Narciso Rodriguez show Tuesday night in an art gallery on the city's far West Side. The actress stood for a few moments wearing a half-smirk as photographers clicked, clicked, clicked away. And then she sat down. Reporters approached. Her handler/publicist/stylist, the Turtle of her "entourage," announced: Claire isn't doing any media tonight. Well then why, dear Claire, did you walk into the eye of the media hurricane? Silly, silly celebrity.
Rodriguez has become a master of restraint, of using only subtle seaming for adornment when other designers would be scrambling for handfuls of beads or crystals.
For spring, the strength of his collection was in the tailoring, the almost austere white jackets with their standing collars and corset-seamed waists. Faded colors and peekaboo harness bodices -- a style that has become a Rodriguez signature -- distinguished his washed linen dresses.
His evening dresses were the least interesting pieces he sent down the runway, with their open backs, fitted bodices and flutters of silk. They were pretty, but there was little to distinguish them from last season's version. No, this was a collection that was founded on sharp shoulders, defined waists and clean lines. It was also notable for its lack of high heels. All of the looks were shown either with flats or sandals with the tiniest sliver of a wedge.
Michael Kors, meanwhile, is at his best when he is reinterpreting the American West. For spring his collection was inspired by the 1956 film "Giant" and by the work of artists Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. That's fine source material and it served Kors well. He offered up skirts with tiers of ruffles, camouflage-print georgette dresses; short eyelet dresses paired with cozy cardigans; and evening gowns with sharp knife pleats. Rather than trying to create a rustic celebration of the West, Kors envisions a glamorous fantasy where cowboys carry sterling silver canteens and the saddles are by Hermes.
Marc Jacobs, Stephen Burrows,
Diane von Furstenberg
Marc Jacobs -- no longer part of the young, rebel pack but now one of America's premier designers -- received a round of cheers before the first garment appeared on his runway Monday night. His show was starting on time, at least by fashion standards. Last season, Jacobs's show had begun almost two hours late and had sparked outrage -- but no walkouts -- within the industry. And so yes, the bar for professionalism is set that low in fashion: Starting only 30 minutes late is cause for cheers.
He kicked off his show with members of the Penn State marching band -- led by a baton twirler -- playing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." (The brass section's rendition of the chorus was better than Paul Anka's swing version, but it paled in comparison with the infamous mash-up with "Bootylicious" titled "Smells Like Teen Booty.")
The collection was a mix of reworked tuxedos, starched navy dresses with cowl backs, windbreaker capes, and cropped super-wide trousers in unforgiving fabrics.
The collection will surely not be as influential as Jacobs's fall collection, which is credited with setting fashion on a course of big-volume skirts, dark hues and an overall gloomier sensibility. There are numerous striking pieces for spring, particularly the dresses, but what the collection lacked in aesthetic aggressiveness it failed to make up for in commercial enticements.
Two veterans, not to be outdone by their younger colleagues, offered strong collections for spring.
Stephen Burrows focused on what he does best, which are matte jersey dresses with a sexy sensibility in exuberant colors. He transformed his signature lettuce hemline into a series of tiny ruffles that gave his dresses a flirtatious air.
And Diane von Furstenberg presented a line inspired by Rome in the 1960s, the period of "La Dolce Vita." Her bold colors livened up sexy little jersey suits, her signature wrap dresses and a collection of gowns that combined sex appeal and comfort. But von Furstenberg's spring show may unfortunately be best remembered for the collapse of a lighting pole just as models were making their final pass around the crowded and congested showroom -- just before the designer was to take her bows. Several people were injured -- although none seriously -- and sought medical attention.
Only toes were trampled at Badgley Mischka, where photographers took aim at Bette Midler as she sat ringside at the show, the company's first under the auspices of its new owner, Iconix Brand Group. Singer Ashanti and actresses Regina King and Diane Neal of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" also turned out Wednesday night to help designers Mark Badgley and James Mischka celebrate a fresh start for their company.
In an elaborate presentation on a double runway the length of a ship terminal and decorated with hanging baskets of ferns and orchids, the designers reconfirmed their love for glamorous beaded gowns. But glitz -- at least the obvious kind -- is on the wane.
Their collection was at its best when the designers reined in their affection for the red-carpet entrance-makers. Their hopsack dresses and suits with the lightest splashes of beading were among their most evocative pieces. Satin and chiffon in dresses that floated on air highlighted the designers' sense of volume and silhouette. And one of the most striking pieces was a strapless black cotton gown that was utterly unadorned. Sometimes a quiet return is better than a raucous one.
After the show, Badgley and Mischka were toasted with champagne. The TV crews rushed in to record their victory lap. And the starlets were thrilled that the designers of Cinderella frocks were back in business.
Marc Jacobs's timely but not trend-setting collection included cropped super-wide trousers. Marc Jacobs kicked off his show with the Penn State marching band -- led by a baton twirler. Clockwise from top left, from Cloak, a jacket is tossed lackadaisically over a pair of narrow trousers but fits perfectly; a loose pantsuit from Sari Gueron; Stephen Burrows's lettuce hemline, with flirtatious little ruffles; Diane von Furstenberg's line was inspired by the age of "La Dolce Vita." A parade of wannabe-gorgeous designs: From left, Roland Mouret's fussy tucks and darts fit closely; Peter Som, bogged down with sailor shirts; Badgley Mischka made a glam comeback; narrow constriction from Proenza Schouler; Behnaz Sarafpour, simplicity invigorated with judicious details; and Narciso Rodriguez's austere white jackets.