The following is an article entitled " Two Words for Fall: Toughen Up" by Cathy Horyn from The New York Times online (www.nytimes.com) dated March 18, 2009.
ONE of the reasons fashion is a young person’s game is that older people keep wishing it were dead. Consider how often in this newspaper we’ve heard the groanings that unreal amounts of money, celebrity and marketing are knocking the more genuine stuff out of fashion. Yet even if the complaint seems valid, it is largely an older generation’s reaction to the speed and inorganic nature of change, and not a result of our changing relation to what we wear.
Fashion is not dead, but the world has slowed down and sobered up. Between last September and the start of the fall 2009 collections, on Feb. 5, merchants saw business fall dramatically as consumers shifted from spending to saving in the path of the recession. Magazines, faced with declining advertising, sent fewer editors to Milan and Paris. Fashion houses, anticipating reduced orders, cut out the theatrics as they sought to appeal to a relatively new demand in luxury fashion: value.
As Sidney Toledano, the chief executive of Dior, said after John Galliano’s almost sedate Orientalist-themed show for the house, on March 6: “John is looking for beauty. He’s not looking to do experimental work. These are expensive clothes.”
They were also expensive in the late ’90s, when Mr. Galliano was at his most flamboyant. But now there is a line drawn between that kind of artistic excess and something that today feels more precise, more wearable but no less emotional. In this remarkable season of fashion, which for the first time in years saw continuity among New York, Milan and Paris, designers seemed to discover that if their clothes were just a little bit sober, just a little bit sharper and youthful, they might actually resonate more powerfully with women.
The recession could turn out to make designers better designers.
In spite of the last-day brilliance of Marc Jacobs’s Marie Antoinette ruffles at Louis Vuitton — a collection that recalled Tom Ford’s early designs for Saint Laurent and is sure to connect with fashion-mad young women — tailoring was the dominant story of the fall shows. In New York, Michael Kors offered one-shoulder dresses in flannel and sculptural suits, while Donna Karan skipped the vagueness of seasons past and focused on well-cut blazers and trousers with seductively draped jersey tops. In Paris, Alber Elbaz at Lanvin and Stefano Pilati at Saint Laurent sounded the same note, with pinstriped suits that had a deliberate ease — and an experienced sexual attitude.
Not only did tailoring banish girlishness from runways, it also spurred American designers as different as Francisco Costa of Calvin Klein and L’Wren Scott, who started her business three years ago with tailoring, to be more creative with new fabrics. These were not your basic Calvins, Mr. Costa seemed to be saying with his geometrically cut suits and dresses in black wool that looked moth riddled. And yet precisely for those mysterious effects, they were desirable.
By the end of the shows, retailers were praising the level of craft and fabric research — and complaining when it was obscured, as at Chanel, by French-maid ruffles.
OUT of necessity, a lot of designers put on smaller shows. It meant that they couldn’t flub a seam. A month after seeing Vera Wang’s plain shirtdresses and Fortuny pleating, Ron Frasch, the chief merchant at Saks Fifth Avenue, said: “One of my favorites of the whole collections. It was about, ‘Let’s not throw on more ornament. Let’s create clothes with more craftsmanship.’ ”
In Milan, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons at Jil Sander continued to up the ante. Here, in two collections, was personal vision realized with extraordinary craft. With his spiraling S-shaped coats and lovely dresses — with vivid satin flashing behind the curls — Mr. Simons showed how you can have the wearable, and yet just a little more. Those who know of Ms. Prada’s fondness for rural life — and the tension it has long given her fashion — understand only too well the incredible allure of these clothes, their richness and plainness. In both her Prada and Miu Miu lines, Ms. Prada conveyed a different kind of glamour. She also, in a dozen small ways, expressed key trends: the return of the coatdress, the use of asymmetry and the new cut of sleeveless dresses, so that the shoulders of a velvet and tweed dress extend slightly over the arms.
Mr. Elbaz’s opening dress at Lanvin, a black wool sheath with a twist of fabric over one shoulder, had a similar cut. As Linda Fargo, the fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, said, “It’s a simple sheath — well, it is and it isn’t.”
Retailers seemed almost surprised that designers had managed to cram so much style into classics like the coatdress without overdoing it. As Mr. Frasch said, “It’s fashion, but it’s not going to be going out of fashion.” Julie Gilhart, the fashion director at Barneys New York, brought up the Lanvin sheath with the twist, which will cost about $2,300. “It’s the kind of dress you can wear, then put away in your closet for 10 years. When you bring it back out, people will say, ‘What is that?’ And you can say, ‘Yeah, it’s a 10-year-old Lanvin.’ ”
With consumers likely to remain “picky and negative,” as one merchant put it, most retailers focused on strong items like thigh-high boots, leggings and the distinctive capes at Comme des Garçons. “Listen, we can’t fill up our stores with collections,” said Linda Dresner, the owner of a boutique in Birmingham, Mich. “Clothes become too recognizable, and before you know it, the good idea becomes the old idea.”
Considering the economy, retailers were dismayed that houses didn’t come up with more affordable items. “I’m still befuddled with blouses over $1,000,” Mr. Frasch said. “We’re talking about something that women wear to work.”
Although Balenciaga’s satin drapes and emerald print dresses are certain to tempt women, if only for their Parisian influence, it was interesting to hear what editors who will photograph the collections had to say. “To me the classicism was kind of brilliant, but it wasn’t dull,” said Paul Cavaco, the creative director at Allure, adding: “My challenge is always how do you take something normal and make it covetable. This time, I think the designers did that. They took the pinstriped suits and made them covetable. And it wasn’t over the top.”
Alex White, who styles many of the shoots for W, said in an e-mail message: “Over all, I was quite struck by the number of clothes that I want to wear,” and she plans her first story to illustrate how wearable the collections are. Seeing Burberry, Prada and Comme des Garçons, she said she thought of Bruce Weber in the country. Thinking more, Ms. White wrote: “The photographs of Louise Dahl-Wolfe came to mind when reviewing the Dries Van Noten show. The nonchalant elegance and the ease of the collection have definitely inspired me for a shoot.”
It’s amazing what you can see when things slow down.