Bright colors, edgy shapes, shorter skirts, see-through caftans, bra-dresses and spatial prints...
New York Fashion week was, on the whole, as sparkly and strident as its debut party - Fashion's Night Out, and designers did their best to disentangle themselves from a never-ending downbeat fiscal climate.
"Recession is not our enemy!" stylists almost seemed to scream from the catwalk via the zippers, crazy sleeves and bold colors of inventive and daring creations.
Indeed for many in fashion, and often for the youngest, one consequence of the tragic financial meltdown has been that it pushed away the least motivated, the least talented - or the least connected - to keep only the best.
And those who stayed, or arrived on the runways in spite of all, felt pretty good. Drained and death-pale, but good; imbued with a very particular sensation of being part of a survivors' group, the creme de la creme of the winner's circle.
"Maybe, it's purely random that I am here but I don't think so," says Risto Bimbiloski, a wild and highly-gifted designer who just started this season in New York after being the former Monsieur Knitwear for Vuitton. The fashion world is "cleaning itself out, a little bit, of the people who are doing it for the sake of something else (sic)," he says. "It's kind of like a new start, and this is what I like - a new start for the way you're going to deal with fashion. We need to be more down to earth, and more sustainable, to have a reality check."
Put simply: stop the "voracious consumer appetite", to quote Simon Collins, Dean of Fashion at Parson's New School for Design, and start discerning the good things - the lasting pieces. The second biggest industry in New York, with 175,000 employees and 800 companies, wants to reinvent itself and begin to think optimistically again, but, in a new way.
God knows that New York is full of gifted, inspired and ultra ambitious designers who aspire to show their latest creations at Fashion Week's official and unofficial runway shows. But networking and money issues exacerbated by the recession, and its lot of gloomy sales, impeded the realization of many of their dreams.
I thought it would be of interest to see some of those who made the cut -- not necessarily at the sacred Bryant Park "tents", which cost dozens of thousands of dollars per show -- but insde other interesting places such as the very popular - and so free - Mac and Milk studios, in the Meatpacking District.
Risto, my wild Macedonian, is one of them. Exhausted but relaxed, he told me backstage, after his first official New York runway show at the Milk studios, that his magic formula was to be... brave.
And then, with a conspiratorial look, he shared with me his 'big secret': "A fearless style, a fearless mix of what you're not supposed to do, what you hate -- I always go there a little bit(...). What I hate, what I would not like to do, what I would not like to see on somebody. You compare that to your own proper tastes, and there is always something new that comes. And that's where you start to elaborate things and work on a collection."
He wasn't lying. In his latest Spring/Summer collection, Risto had the odd, and fashionably risky idea to use memories of electric skies and volcano lava in his prints and designs, but didn't seem bothered by the general hole-in-my-purse issue and the high edginess of his designs. On the stage, a fight between very fluid textures and ultra body conscious shapes took place before the small crowd. Flashy prints, high-waited shorts, and scores of nipples visible through the light fabrics gave a general impression of controlled risk. "It's... earthy; like newborn creatures and super elegant and silky" at the same time, explained the designer.
Rad Hourani, a Syrian-born self-made designer who grew up in Quebec, also received attention last week with what he describes as his elegant "slick, modern, long, layered, timeless, genderless, seasonless" style. Fearless, mysterious and obscure, his metallic and ultimately black, grey and white designs, in geometric shapes, were voluntarily in the continuation of his last season. Whatever the world and the bad economy, Rad won't change his style. His team is growing, he says, and just like Marc Jacobs, he's launched a second line, Rad by Rad Hourani.
"I started a year and a half ago with black and white and this is what I really believe in, because it is timeless. It is not trendy and it is very direct. I like when things are clear." His signature slashed pants are the latest trend though, and are already imitated everywhere. Not a problem, he says, with much confidence: "This is not something that will be out this season. It is something that you buy and you keep. Yeah. "
Okay, so, to be successful, be audacious, be fearless, be seasonless. But be very patient too, says Jen Kao, a young designer from Parsons School of Design who celebrated her fifth season last week. "My secret is to be really, really patient. Don't try to be somebody who blows up out of nowhere. Be consistent, be practical." Like Rad Hourani, she wants to create pieces that can be worn all year long but her experimental personality is more on the sexy side, with leather, exciting high-heeled shoes, and fluid kimonos. "My aim is to be intellectually sexy in clothing. Not revealing everything, but being clear about it."
Joseph Altuzarra, a boy with exceptional skill who studied art before working for Marc Jacobs and Proenza Schouler, and subsequently became Paris' fashion chouchou at only 26, couldn't agree more with Kao: "The key is doing something that's new but desirable," he says. Born in Paris and educated in the United States, Altuzarra showed his very feminine and slightly 70s second season this fall in New York. Born during the recession, he isn't afraid of going down.
The most important, he says, is to be aware of the price to stay on top of the game:" You have to work very very hard," he says. "That becomes a lot about sacrifice and about not having so much of a life for now. You always have to push yourself. It is sometimes very uncomfortable."
Yes, it is. Certainly. But, at least, Joseph, you are among the few lucky ones, to be up there, and able to feel that pain. That delicious and intoxicating pain.