Remember way back when the calendar was such a big deal? New York was suffering penis envy in relation to Paris and Milan and took the lead so as not to be accused of copying. That little switch in dates put us on the big stage before some of our best laid plans had hatched, or even formed. The stalwarts at that time: Calvin, Donna, Bill, Oscar and an upstart named (?) , you know, the Austrian guy (Helmut Lang) who's no longer bothering, all of them ran to the starting line desperate to be first. This ego trip proved very expensive and detrimental to all the others who raced right behind them. Still the NY output was forever considered quaint on a good day and lackluster the rest of the time. Sure, trends like Grunge benefited by the schedule, shooting to the heavens and influencing unfortunate generations (seasons) to come. Fashion on these shores didn't benefit so much as strain itself to the point of herniating the whole sacred process.
I would argue that in many ways it was a curse we still labor under to this day. When you toss in the immediacy of social media we see in many cases that fashion has been substituted for a quickie InstaStyle that has nothing to do with the original mission. We no longer celebrate the clothes, but instead the brand and all of its soulless elements. The runway has become the featured attraction with bigger and more distracting pyrotechnics. The clothes are little more than afterthoughts. It's no longer enough to design a collection. Now one must art direct a happening, a fitting setting for the vaunted front row. We must play to the sun glassed, the jaded, the counterfeit in hopes they'll grace our front row the next time around. That's a sad commentary. The progeny of our reality TV fixation have infiltrated the casting, scooped up all the juicy contracts, and all before they've learned manners, how to dress or how to walk. That may sound harsh but it's not that far from the truth. This fork in the runway has sent us hurtling on to the land of irrelevance.
Looking at Paris collections that stun, amaze and delight (Valentino, Chanel, Stella McCartney, Celine,Versace) you get the feeling that the one thing that many here forgot was to stop and think. Really think. Though I'm not of the school of thought that a collection only counts if it's tied to a current event (mass migrations of people from war torn countries) or a current cultural fixation (what the editor wants, what Kim wears, what Kanye appropriates). What does speak clearly are clothes that allow the audience to dream, to want and hopefully to buy. I'm talking about design that goes beyond the obvious. Maybe that means revisiting an idea from a completely different route.
A polo shirt and skirt at Stella McCartney comes in a crisscrossing pattern of hand painted stripes. At Chanel there would be the familiar tweed jacket beautifully tailored with hidden closures and devoid of all surface decoration.
Phoebe Philo at Celine takes the familiar and makes it extraordinary. A simple top, pants and coat become the agents of change. Sportswear is elevated to the divine... At Valentino a caftan takes on the identity of cultures far removed from Madison Avenue. None of it feels gratuitous or forced. None of it feels lazy and derivative or worse, self indulgent (see: Saint Laurent, Balmain, Balenciaga, Dior).
Donatella Versace sent out a platoon of foot soldiers in fatigue green and crazed camo-printed dresses and suits. The only thing that felt familiar or sentimental was the energy behind the clothes. Donatella's indomitable spirit shows through in their insistent relevance. The conversation moves forward with every look that stalks her runway. She gives you something to think about. She gives you something you can want.
Showing a collection on the grounds of a chateau outside Paris (The Row) isn't enough when all you're offering is pared down, pared-down-ness. Staging a show at an iconic NYC theater (Marc Jacobs) teeming with a grab bag of looks that reference your oeuvre isn't enough when all of it feels trite, derivative and just "cool". Who needs it? No one does. If it's all in service to a bag, then why not just show the bag and be done with it?
Maybe we should consider the long game and not the Instagram/Twitter quick fix. Maybe we should try doing things differently. Perhaps, we should put down our smart phones and take a look around. It's a jungle out there and the natives are beyond restless.