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Fix Up, Look Sharp

From sharpened techniques to decedent concepts to industrial music, Colleen Nika heralds the new acuteness from the sides of New York Fashion Week

TextColleen NikaPhotographyMark Reay

With New York Minute, Rolling Stone contributing editor Colleen Nika freelances for Dazed, reporting on New York Fashion Week.

It could only get better. I - like many, apparently -  found the initial Autumn 2013 NYC shows limp-wristed and passive, failing to address anything specific or to spark any synapses, but designers' visions collectively grew sharper over the weekend – if primarily in technique, not concept. Two familiar tropes - aviation and military details - infiltrated collections from labels proudly affiliated with alpha-women, Rag & Bone, Altuzarra and Prabal Gurung. Gurung's collection was the boldest, with incredible harness-work (now available as footwear!) from leather specialist Zana Bayne lending a playful subversion to the stern black, red, and camouflage-dominated proceedings. Gurung peppered Eastern European folklore-rooted embellishments into his fox-lined coats, inviting a top-line PG-rated universality to the highly tailored collection's warm leatherette, sex cadette underbelly. It was the kind of multi-layered show that allowed you to choose your own adventure - buyers could envision the draped evening dresses well-to-do clients and the fantasists among us could imagine those coats and boots costuming any number of provocative situations. The austere electronic soundtrack - anxious reworkings of Thom Yorke, Massive Attack, and Phillip Glass - elevated the collection to an even less guarded place, and came off as a sardonic wink to those-in-the-know, as runway soundtracks often do. The devil is in those details.

Speaking of Yorke, as has become tradition, he and Nigel Godrich sound designed Rag & Bone's runway music, which bore the familiar gurgle of strut-friendly, bass-dependent glitch. The clothes themselves shared little in common with those sounds minus archly British roots, making you wonder how much less foreboding the show might feel with a lighter mix. (These are things I wonder often as a DJ, actually: how much of how we perceive these clothes comes down to how we are presented them? David Byrne, who argues environment shapes musical experience, might have some interesting thoughts on this.) Rag & Bone's Autumn is rooted in the romance of aviation, continuing a curious but welcome appreciation for Amelia Earhart that other designers, like N. Hoolywood, have been investigating. Flying means freedom, but these clothes aimed for aerodynamicism, which means necessary restriction and subtraction. Ultimately, it meant scaling back to the proportions of Savile Row menswear - a glad if predictable return to Rag & Bone's roots. 

With two of New York's most-watched names both rediscovering inspiration in structure and tailoring, maybe this augured a sea change? Hopefully, fixing up and looking sharp, to paraphrase Dizzee Rascal, might prove the new (old) way forward.  After seasons of drop-crotch trousers, baggy shapes, and matronly 'midi-lengths' that flatter no one, the pendulum was bound to swing back towards body-hugging sleek forms again. Joseph Altuzarra's minimalist, back-to-basics show Saturday only reinforced this prospect, with his 'take it to the street' separates principle proving an opportunity to throw layering techniques - skinny leather jackets over trenches with fur mittens, why not? -  at the wall to see what sticks. Obviously, it couldn't all stick, but the ensembles that did work looked both hardcore and luxurious. The techno kids will love it, but wonder what Anna Wintour will make of all that black? 

The next evening, though, Robert Geller outpaced everyone. Inspired very specifically by German Expressionism - Berlin's so-called 'Golden 20s' - Geller created enticing brooding, slim-suited looks that paid homage to the Kammerspielfilme of that era, with Scott Mou's immaculately synchronised darkwave soundtrack reinforcing its grittiness. The whole show - the clothes, the men, even the cubist runway  - not only felt interesting and exciting but seemed like they belonged in a world of their own - a universe the designer birthed himself. In an era of full of 'will this do?' patternmaking and stylist-driven presentation, creating your own tightly-schemed holistic universe remains the highest achievement of all.