Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New York Runways Hardly Inspire Praise

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New York Runways Hardly Inspire Praise

Article excerpt

PICTURE 1,000 people sitting under a tent in the middle of Manhattan's Bryant Park, their miners' headlights flashing on models wearing glow-in-the-dark clothes made of reflective fiberglass-coated fabrics that look like liquid silver.

Now imagine the majority of New York's most famous designers telling the women of America that the single-most important clothing items for spring and summer 1994 are slips and tank dresses.

If it sounds surreal to you, it looked surreal to many fashion-watchers hoping that this first season of American fashion under the big top would be a biggie.

Among the designers who proved they could take center stage and not be blinded by the spotlights was Donna Karan. For spring and summer she gave an inspired look into a space-age future filled with wearable, light-reflective clothes that prove fashion can be at once exciting and commonsensical.

Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, who, like Karan, normally preview collections in showrooms, joined colleagues in the tents as a show of industry support.

If Klein's ode to a tank (99 percent of his signature collection involved a tank dress or tank top, often doubled over each other) and Lauren's foray into colonial Indochina (with cropped army jackets and sarongs) perform as well with their customers as they did with their trade audiences, they will both have hits come spring.

Others did not fare as well. The two tents, which were brilliantly conceived and constructed, made this season easy for press and retailers, but turned out to be difficult for many designers.

Their general endorsement of the three-year-old fashion idea that women want to slip out of the house in a slip was not only surprising, but also disappointing to those who came to the tents hoping to find the "real clothes" so lacking in Europe - the believable, working-and-lunching clothes that are the backbone of designer business.

The slip slip-up and the tank trip are also indicative of the generic, Brand-X offerings that dominated many runways.

Why buy a designer-label slip or tank when it looks just like the one in your closet or the one already available in the catalogs?

Many of the new spring clothes also show a lack of understanding of shifting demographics.

The 18- to 34-year-old market is shrinking. It is also the one hardest hit by the economy. The 40- to 70-year-old market - the core group for designer merchandise - is growing. And yet many designers persisted this season in offering clothes patterned after the little girl/Lolita/nymphet model. Unless you are Anna Sui, Cynthia Rowley, or one of the other designers with young customers and less expensive prices, the nursery has no rhyme or reason.

Isaac Mizrahi's collection was a celebration of America from such unlikely fashion heroes as Sammy Davis Jr. …

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