Fashion Month Highlights from New York, London, Paris and Milan

(l-r) Looks from Simone Rocha, Lanvin, and Rick Owens Spring/Summer 2012 Runways
((l-r) Stuart Wilson/Pascal Le Segretain/Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images)

By now, the shows for the spring 2013 season, which wrapped last week in Paris, seem like one big blur. There were loads of florals (like the painterly poppies in Dries van Noten’s stand-out girly-gone-grunge collection, and in Simone Rocha’s sweet but rebellious lace and plastic looks), surprisingly un-spring-like materials (leather leather everywhere, and even some fabulous vintage-tinged furs at Miu Miu) and spectacular tailoring (like the lux workwear looks at Altuzarra and the fem-fatale tuxedos at Lanvin). But, of course, the collections were dominated by the over-hyped battle royal between Raf Simons, who made his ready to wear debut at Dior, and Hedi Slimane, who showed his first ever womenswear collection at Saint Laurent.

Critics and consumers alike seem to be split, although, thanks to the Saint Laurent PR department’s failed attempts to micromanage their brand image, as well as the alleged ill-treatment of journalists (like Cathy Horyn who was not invited, or Lisa Armstrong who could hardly see the clothes due to the fact that journalists’ usual front row spots were allocated to waifish, black-clad musicians), Dior seems to be getting the best press. The Saint Laurent collection, which will undoubtedly sell, was criticized as being too derivative of vintage YSL, and underwhelming. Personally, I loved the collection. And as I said in a previous story, it won’t start a revolution, but it was a wonderful contemporary take on Le Smoking (reimagined with leather pants and sequin jackets) and Mr. Saint Laurent’s bohemian gowns (shown in sheer chiffon, cinched with thick leather belts and topped with wide brimmed fedoras).

As for Dior, there were a few great looks, like the black suits that opened the show, a score of grown up A-line ensembles and a couple of textured frocks with tulle overlay. However, I fail to see how this collection will push fashion forward, as many critics have claimed it will. It was merely a continuance of the minimal silhouette that Raf championed at Jil Sander, and Phoebe Philo continues to explore, successfully, at Celine (this season, her spot-on collection included some more feminine looks in rough-cut linen and fluid silk satin). Furthermore, Simons’s spring outing was riddled with missteps. The looks were completely disjointed and some, like the iridescent cloud-shaped tops over shorts, were just plain confusing. Simons is fashion’s current darling. There’s no doubt about that. But if he wants to sell clothes, or actually give fashion some momentum, he’s going to need to step it up. While Slimane’s clothes will indeed induce frenzy amongst consumers, it would be nice to see some new ideas there next season, too. As well as an updated PR strategy. 

Several shows shone brightly through the smog that was the Dior-Saint Laurent showdown. Parsons's inaugural MFA presentation marked a new generation of young, innovative New York designers, as well as a shift in focus from the city’s notorious obsession with sales to raw creativity. It was easily one of the most exciting moments of New York Fashion Week. Marc Jacobs’s offerings for his eponymous line, as well as at Louis Vuitton, featured sharp, retro garments (more feminine Edie Sedgwick futurism at Marc Jacobs, while Vuitton looked like a marvelous cross between a buttoned-up gogo dancer and Jackie O) that fused his forward-thinking vision with ‘60s nostalgia.

Rick Owens deserves an honorable mention for his bubbly use of volume, eerie femininity and, of course, that fantastic broom-like hair. Dolce & Gabbana put forth a stunning display of ‘50s ladylike excess in their fanciful Sicilian summer festival-inspired collection. Fresh stripes, theatre puppet prints, heavy embroidery and woven raffia corsets, frocks and crinolines were playful and indulgent. Over in London, Meadham Kirchhoff put a more serious spin on indulgence with their extravagant French-themed collection, “A Cautionary Tale,” whose crystal embellishments, satin bows and lavish hats evoked images of Marie Antoinette.

Sarah Burton’s outing at McQueen was filled with striking, expertly crafted garments, as always. Her honeycomb hats and giant flower-embellished dresses were unquestionably beautiful. But, perhaps only because we are still comparing her to the visionary for whom her house is named, it felt like there was something lacking. Burton is an exceptionally talented designer in her own right and the house of McQueen has become decidedly more feminine since she took the creative helm. But the magnificence of Lee McQueen’s designs lay not simply in lovely clothes, expert construction and desirability, but in a balance of the disturbing, the uncomfortable and the beautiful. Burton’s spring looks were breathtaking. I can’t stress that enough. But there’s nothing shockingabout a gorgeous gown topped with a harness. We’ve seen this from her before. This lack of an “it” factor seems to be an epidemic within this generation of designers. Marc Jacobs is an exception: like it or not, he’s got a unique, extreme vision. It may vary from season to season, but it’s there. Judging strictly by the clothes, Simons at Dior seems to lack the fire of his predecessor (minimal can still be passionate. And extreme.) And Slimane, while he’s undoubtedly an improvement from Stefano Pilatti, exudes an air of indifference or complacency. Last time I checked, complacency never got us anywhere.

Best to look to the masters to see what the future of fashion has in store. Those graphic florals from Rei Kawakubo’s  2D Comme des Garcons fall show appeared everywhere on the spring runways. Not surprisingly, the designer blew our minds again with her high-concept, predominantly black and white collection of crushed metal hats and voluminous de-and-re constructed dresses. Just a note to you contemporary wunderkinds; and up-and-comers, it’s extreme collections like that that form the face of fashion. Perhaps no one knew what to make of her strange, 2D looks last fall. Maybe it took us a few weeks to decide whether or not we liked them. But you couldn’t take five steps during Paris fashion week without seeing someone wearing one of those flat flower-printed coats or skirts. 

Last but not least, how could we talk about spring without mentioning Karl Lagerfeld’s ingenious super-sized hula-hoop quilted beach bag? It was irreverent fashion at its best. And it’s nice to see that, for all his years in the industry, Lagerfeld has not, like so many of use this season, completely lost the plot.

Click through the slide show to see highlights from the spring 2013 collections.