NEW YORK — The spring 2015 fashion shows have begun in earnest here, and on the womenswear side of the business there has been very little that is head-snappingly remarkable – at least above the ankles.
The sparks so far have been few. Peter Som’s floral printed swing coats and dresses in pea soup green popped off the runway. (They were joyful reminders of the splendid floral gown he created for actress Julia Bowen to wear to the Emmys.)
And Stuart Vevers’ collection for Coach, which was inspired by road-tripping through the Texas landscape, was filled with quirky shades of pink and lavender, cropped skirts and leopard-spotted jackets.
But mostly, only the shoes – a seemingly endless parade of flats and reasonable platforms that were designed for the actual purpose of walking around easily but stylishly – have offered any reassurance that the denizens of Seventh Avenue are alive and well and paying some attention to the women living and working around them.
So much of what is happening up top – with the dresses, skirts and blouses – feels precious and staid. Fussy and ultimately uncomfortable.
The designer Wes Gordon presented his collection late Friday morning to a full house. Still in his 20s, Gordon has become a designer to watch thanks to support from top retailers such as Neiman Marcus and a 2014 nomination as best up-and-coming womenswear designer by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Gordon used his prodigious skills to craft a spring collection that, quite simply, looked old. With skirts that fell to mid-calf, blazers that seemed only fleetingly familiar with the curves of the torso, colors that were noncommittal and fabrics that looked heavy, the collection called to mind that dreaded term: career dressing. There is nothing wrong with professional style, but career dressing has the ring of something that is a costume, a self-conscious choice that has little to do with personal sensibilities but that is dictated by an unforgiving and impersonal series of corporate memos. It is dress code attire for the kinds of careers that those just beginning their professional lives do all in their power to avoid. All that was missing from the runway were nude pantyhose and color-coordinated lanyards.
Gordon, who apprenticed with Oscar de la Renta and Tom Ford, has always been a bit of an old soul. From his brand’s 2009 beginning, his work exuded polish and maturity. But for spring, it lacks the energy of “now.” There is no hint at the chaos and tumult that make modern cities exciting places to live. The joy of serendipity, the enlightening tension that comes from diverse environments, the invigorating bustle of a crowd are missing from his work.
But Gordon isn’t alone in that failure. That same energy goes missing in the work of Jason Wu, as well.
Famous for having created both of first lady Michelle Obama’s inaugural gowns, Wu has built an admirable business on his well-executed, feminine dresses. He recently announced that he’d sold a majority stake in his business to an investment firm, thus allowing the brand to grow even bigger. He is a designer with a strong business sense. But the collection he showed Friday afternoon was built around a palette of unflattering olive green. There were trenchcoats and olive drab camouflage prints and uninspiring day dresses. Is a navy split front pencil skirt going to delight the eye of a twenty- or thirty- something woman enough that she’d be willing to spend $1,000 for it? Maybe. And God bless. But reasonable folks would surely question such a purchase.
Designers, particularly male ones, talk a lot about the women who inspire them – their muses. In his show notes, Wu pointed out that he was introducing a new handbag called the Diana, named after his perennial muse actress Diana Kruger. Surely Kruger is a lovely and kind woman. But it would probably benefit both designers and women in general, if Wu and others would cease relying on actresses and models as their muses and perhaps look for inspiration in the woman who owns their neighborhood coffee shop, or their yoga instructor or even their housekeeper – not because these women are any less attractive than a model or because they are not as wealthy as an actress, but because they live the kind of lives with which so many more women can empathize.
The tedium on the women’s runway has been especially striking given how much fun the men seem to be having. Menswear designers have played directly to the impish boy presumably hiding inside every man. For every business suit that Perry Ellis’s new creative director Michael Maccari put on the runway, there was an accompanying backpack or athletic sandals or sneakers masquerading as loafers.
To be blunt, there was a lot that went wrong at Maccari’s debut, most notably the tendency to put virtually every piece of clothing and every accessory bearing the Perry Ellis label on every model – all at once. Models emerged wearing a polo shirt, a pair of trousers, an anorak, a backpack, sandals, socks, sunglasses and, undoubtedly Perry Ellis briefs. But what Maccari did get right, was the sense of informality, flexibility and quirky individuality that are so fundamental to modern dressing.
Each generation needs its own designers who speak to the moment. Young menswear designers are not trying to be the Giorgio Armani or the Calvin Klein of their era. They are attempting to create their own fashion vernacular. But womenswear designers, too many of them, are striving to be the Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass or Charles James of their generation.
But that is not what this or the next generation of women need. Will anyone make an argument for the beauty and joy of right-this-minute?
Shoes give us hope. Yes, remember the shoes.
For while the dresses and coats and gowns remain stubbornly prissy and removed from the world of subways and hoofing it home on a hot summer evening, the shoes are meant for walking, maybe even running. They are not bland and pragmatic. Not even close. They are more exciting than heels because for so long have been a rare sight. And they are more interesting, than the standard stiletto-heeled sandals.
At Peter Som, there were chunky sandals in sparkling silver. Wes Gordon alternated high strappy sandals with point-toed flats. At Coach, the chunky leather slides were practically orthopedic but came in glorious shades of purple and orange. Everywhere there was proof that fashion can offer women ideas that not only look good, but also look as if they are meant to be lived in – energetically, enthusiastically, beautifully and comfortably. And to do so, right now.