As the fashion flock started its annual rush around the city for the spring shows on Friday, around every corner there was another reminder -- street vendors in Times Square peddling crystal figurines of the Twin Towers; a wire fence decorated with commemorative tiles in an empty lot in Greenwich Village; hundreds of New York City firefighters in their dress blues on Fifth Avenue, waiting to go into St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a memorial service. The organ music was so loud, tourists stopped to listen out on the street, and to buy hot dogs from the umbrella carts.
Even as the fifth anniversary of 9/11 loomed in the background, the city felt more alive than ever. Hotels were booked, new buildings were going up and the U.S. Open was being played out in Flushing Meadows. There were festivals and parades on every side of Manhattan. And of course, there were the fashion shows.
The first weekend is the time to see up-and-comers and on Sunday, a star was born: Phillip Lim, a native of Los Angeles, whose nearly all-white collection was thoroughly modern and above all wearable. In a world saturated with celebrities and socialites, he addressed the new VIPs -- everyday women -- with thoughtful, easy pieces that sell for less than $1,000. He put a new spin on fall’s spare minimalism, marrying it with the romantic trend emerging for spring. And his technique, the rigorous pleating and sculpting, brought all that is great about couture together with the accessibility of ready-to-wear.
The first knockout look was a simple white T-shirt dress decorated all over with hand-sculpted white rosettes. What a brilliant idea, to take everyone’s favorite white T-shirt and turn it into something so chic. A white coat had the same hand-sculpted rosettes as closures, and by executing it in bleached burlap, which has a nice heft and texture to it, he kept it from being too sweet.
The 33-year-old designer debuted his 3.1 Phillip Lim collection in the fall of 2005, and it already sells in L.A. at Barneys New York, Fred Segal, Traffic and Satine. But the buzz about Lim is just now reaching a crescendo. This was his first proper runway show and the introduction of his menswear. He studied finance at Cal State Long Beach, switching majors midway through to study fashion. Lim started working with Katyone Adeli, then spent four years at the helm of L.A.-based contemporary label Development. In 2005, he moved to New York to launch his namesake business.
Two of spring’s emerging shapes are the high-waist paper-bag skirt and the jumper, and Lim offered great renditions of both -- the skirt with a pair of rosettes at the waist and the jumper in white lace with camp pockets in front, worn over a watercolor floral cotton voile shirt.
The flower theme unfolded on a stunning short-sleeve shift dress with a rounded collar and layered chiffon bib. On the back, chiffon petals floated gently around the shoulders. A cream crepe de Chine blouse with full, pleated opera sleeves should please those who don’t like to go sleeveless, paired with high-waist double-faced cotton trousers. And a cocoon dress in white silk chiffon with two sheer straps gathered into a rosette between the shoulders was pretty enough for a beach wedding.
It made the flower-inspired collection from Thakoon Panichgul -- another talked-about newcomer -- all but wilt. Puffy petalsleeved blouses, layered tulip skirts and peony print dresses with appliqued blossoms felt overdone and precious.
Practicing a signature
The weekend’s other standout up-and-comer was Jenni Kayne. The L.A. designer, whose fall outing was a little wobbly, proved her staying power with a tight group of sportswear to take a woman on vacation from dawn to dusk. Mischa Barton and Lake Bell showed up to cheer Kayne on as she continued to develop the kind of signatures that luxury brands are built on -- sumptuous knitwear, such as a long silk rib cardigan in a cool shade of coral worn over a poppy print bikini; and leathers, in kangaroo for spring.
Kayne is deft at creating interesting color combinations -- a saffron silk tank top with a mustard cotton short, a chocolate cashmere corset cardigan and a teal leather trench coat. And her cropped black motorcycle jacket, in the most papery fine leather, is a must-have for the season, worn over an easy purple chiffon bubble dress. A long black-on-nude lace gown was boho Malibu, worn with a purple floppy hat, as was a chocolate silk pleated dress with Kayne’s favorite latticework at the top. And the goddess gowns that closed the show, in tiered navy chiffon or a mustard poppy print, were elegantly casual.
Jovovich-Hawk, another L.A. label, designed by model-actress Milla Jovovich and her pal, former model Carmen Hawk, also made a strong showing with long sundresses that evoked the French seaside, one in a black-and-white stripe with embroidered ruffles at the hem, another in a delicate floral with purple insets at the sides.
There were also some great separates, such as a delicately crocheted, white bow-tied jacket worn over a slip dress with whimsical white crocheted knee socks, and some very Sassoon high-waist jeans with a braided silk rope for a belt. But somebody get these girls a financial backer fast: The hothouse of a walk-through, packed with sweat-soaked people and one door in and out, was a nightmare.
Alice Roi, like Lim, worked in a thousand shades of white including “blond,” except with a more subversive twist inspired by the film “La Petite Voleuse” (“The Little Thief”). In the 1988 film, Charlotte Gainsbourg plays a 16-year-old in post-World War II France who steals things as a form of escapism.
So naturally, there was an air of teen angst to rolled-out-of-bed pajama tops paired with geeky skin-tight white pants, and a white leather motorcycle jacket with a coin purse sewn onto the front. Double belt thigh-high miniskirts and zip-front jumpers in heavy cotton were reminiscent of Courreges. But there were plenty of more romantic, 1960s-era baby doll dresses too, with layered and frayed cap sleeves, the kind of dresses all the editors are already wearing now, making the front row resemble a maternity ward.
The dress is always at the heart of Diane Von Furstenberg’s collection, which this season was a romp through the Garden of Eden titled “All About Eve.” There were a number of terrific pieces -- jersey coat dresses in taxicab yellow or Kelly green, a silk jersey wrap dress in a bold print with a serpent wrapped around it, a bumblebee-print garden party dress and a narrow shift with a giant ladybug sitting on the hip. Von Furstenberg also delved deeper into the world of red carpet dressing with a pleated gold lame gown with a studded harness and a cocktail dress with bands of embroidered raffia.
There was more than one nod to the 1980s, beginning with the neon pink matte lipstick and an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt worn over a mini early in the show. Spring’s paper-bag skirt came in a Pop Art print, with the perfect cropped jacket to match. A trench coat in a spotted frog print was irresistible, and a python lame tunic was disco fine.
The 1960s met the 1980s at Luella Bartley, whose long, lean pantsuits in alphabet jacquards and pointy-toed lace-up shoes in coordinating prints to match would look just right on Brit style queen Sienna Miller.
An olive parachute silk anorak, layered over skinny black shorts, and a graphic black-and-white grid print windbreaker atop bubble gum pink skinny jeans really stirred up the memories. A fitted black dress with broken mirrors stitched all over made quite an impression too, though I’m not sure how you’d sit down. Bags came in slick patent leather -- oversized, slouchy and with mirror-ball charms. But the bigger status symbol for spring may be Bartley’s tongue-in-cheek T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Geek!”