Pluots, wolverines, and grocery sacks: Dismantling Fashion Week

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Fashion shows usually conjure images of the ridiculous and the excessive, so when I heard that Time magazine fashion critic Kate Betts described the shows of New York Fashion Week as “playing it safe,” I had to know what she meant. Was the fashion world finally getting off its high horse of five-inch platforms, and beginning to cater to the majority of the population who are not 6'2" and celery stalk-like?

Wanting to understand Betts’ definition of “conservative” to describe the designs of Fashion Week 2008, I browsed the galleries of the designs of such fashion greats as Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang, and Marc Jacobs, along with the somewhat more obscure line of Malo. Betts reasonably argued that due to this year’s plunging economy, rising value of the euro, and election-year side effects, the designers were indeed “playing it safe.” Does this mean that the fashion world is actually producing clothes that are, ahem, practical and utilitarian for the rest of us? I went on a foray into fashion’s vain, complicated world to find out.

At first glance, Lauren’s supposedly “sleek, chic” American Sportswear collection seemed wearable; the pasty, pale model wore a purplish-blue jacket over a black skirt. It was wearable, indeed — if you wanted to look like a cross between the Violet character who poofed up into a giant blueberry from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and a pluot. A pluot, by the way, is a cross between a plum and an apricot, so if your goal is look like a hybrid of two fruits and a bloated blue girl, Lauren’s 2008 collection is for you.

The image of Wang’s clothing usually reminds me of immaculate, flowing wedding gowns and Michelle Kwan’s elegant skating dresses, along with the designer’s line at Kohl’s, whose purpose was to make the rest of us who were not extravagant brides or Michelle Kwan vicariously experience a little bit of that world. Vera Wang’s “Princess” perfume also smells relatively good (which means that it doesn’t make me want to vomit), so I had a pretty good impression of Wang thus far. Wang’s models on the runway, however, looked like starved wolverines: One wore brown fur hastily thrown over her shoulder, sported tousled hair, a scowl, and a shirt that looked like it went through a meat grinder. This look was aptly described as “roughed up” and “romantic.” Want to look like a Vera Wang princess? Or, what about a sidekick character from The Lion King?

Whenever I think of luxurious Italian cashmere, I think of Malo. One of Malo’s models wore a thigh-length tunic/sweater-like piece embellished with silver accents and completed by a white, presumably cashmere collar that went up to the model’s ears. It was supposedly inspired by the American abstract painter Richard Pousette-Dart. In all, it was kind of classy, minus the Henry VIII collar. I am all for the mutual inspiration of art and fashion, fashion and art. Next time though, I’d like to see some Jackson Pollock-inspired tunics, where the preparations are done right before the show begins, with makeup artists splashing dripping wet paint onto bewildered models. Don’t forget the House of Tudor cashmere collar.

I went grocery shopping recently, which is perhaps why an outfit from Marc Jacobs’ collection called out to me. Standing in the checkout line, I was prompted by the cashier to
buy a tan, potato sack-like grocery bag that helps the environment because you can use it over and over again on subsequent shopping trips. Marc Jacobs’ version of a shapeless, lifeless, tan, Giant Eagle-esque reusable shopping bag was paraded down the runway by a model who was about four sizes too small for it. This look, Kate Betts argued, was “conservative… evocative of the many ways of the 1950s and 60s.” I suppose Betts is right on this one; the liberal attitudes of the 21st century call for more than rolling around in a potato sack.

In the end, I suppose that New York Fashion Week proved me wrong. Its featured fashion designers demonstrated that fashion is not for the common people, and perhaps will never be, even in a “conservative” year. You would not run out and buy these outlandish outfits, and you certainly would not wear these outfits off of the runway. You, the common people, can only hope that you look half as good as a pluot, a wolverine, an abstract painting, or a grocery sack. Good luck dressing up to the nines.