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Who's on First? The Flea vs. Fashion Week's Runway

Posted: 02/10/2012 5:00 pm

By Marion Hart

The schedule for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which began yesterday and runs through Feb. 16, is jampacked with runway shows, parties, and events. But given Catherine Malandrino's recent Flea visit (not to mention Maggie Gyllenhaal, Padma Lakshmi, Ethan Hawke, and Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend making the rounds), don't be surprised if a few fashionistas steal away this weekend to see what's showing at Skylight One Hanson. And those who do will probably like what they see since many of the vintage looks offered at the Flea last weekend looked remarkably similar to those shown on the Spring 2012 Fashion Week runways last fall.

Peplums, which flounced down the catwalks of Jason Wu and Vera Wang among others, are in stock -- both from the '80s, when Thierry Mugler worked them into suits and dresses, and in their 1940s incarnations as the hip-grazing ruffled appendage to many a fitted jacket. And since it's hard to have one without the other, Flea vendors also brought to market the pencil skirts -- done up in leather by Versace and Miuccia Prada for their spring shows -- that usually go underneath.

Mad Men, which returns for its fifth season March 25, put the pencil skirt back on Flea shoppers' radar a few years ago, and vendors always keep a few in stock, mainly around Halloween when the search for Betty Draper costumes heats up. But since then, interest in the hip- and thigh-hugging skirt has grown. And that raises an interesting question: How does a vintage staple cross over from dress-up item onto store racks and onto people's backs?

Pop-culture phenoms help. But thanks also goes to designers who look to the past and markets like the Flea where flourishes like the peplum -- which had an earlier heyday in the 1800s as the topper for the bustle -- live to see another runway. It takes real vision to endow an old standard, like, say, a '50s cashmere sweater with have-to-have relevance for a new season. Valentino's Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli pulled that off beautifully by reimagining dowry lace as cotton canvas in some of their spring 2012 looks.

But as my grandmother, whose silk dressing gown I still wear, used to say, "Don't gild the lily" -- a caution I recalled upon noting the parallels between spring 2012 runway trends and what's on sale at the Flea now. The good news: vintage lovers wondering what to wear in the upcoming warmer months have a ton of choice: Shop the designer collections that reference the past or go for the real thing that inspired them. May the best dress win!

Nicole Farhi
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Nicole Farhi's florals (left) and Camel Girl's Saks Fifth Avenue custom '70s dress make a perennial splash