Bye-bye Betty Draper. While Fall 2009 Fashion Week season is still in its nascent stage -- London, Milan and Paris shows follow in the upcoming weeks and NYC still has a few more days to go -- it seems last season's ingénue has been quickly replaced by an angstier, feistier, more raucous woman. In short, a girl in search of a good time.
The backdrop for this is prime: after the housing crisis (and all that's followed) visions of domestic bliss -- cheery plaids, tweed cardigans, dapper skirt suits and other styles associated with the prosperous and picturesque Levittown era -- seem bittersweet. And while intimate low-key dinners have been de rigueur for several years for both foodies and socials alike, designers seem to see the appeal of a mind-numbingly big night: when conversation consists of dismal news, evaporating 401Ks and the eerie bargain basement stock market, who wants to talk?
Before red carpet season's kickoff and the start of Fashion Week had even started, forecasts were calling for lots of black and gray to reflect our somber circumstances. And much like actual weather forecasts, they were mostly wrong. Instead, red carpets were flush with color and so far designers, including one of fashion's great bellwethers of style, Marc Jacobs, have turned out a plethora of separates were meant to be worn from sunset to sunrise -- and not the other way around.
Jacobs, the conductor of this nocturnal train of thought, paid homage to the electrified New York of the '80s, when among other things, the after-hours scene was more chaotic than midtown at noon. His mohawked models in Grace Jones-style eye shadow pranced out in club-kid-inspired regalia including Day-Glo coats, metallic blazers with severely peaked shoulders and chain-wrapped boots that borrowed from the gothy-grunge styles that can still be spotted stomping down St. Marks. This bystander couldn't help think that Jacobs' neon splatter-print leggings -- a nod to the late Stephen Sprouse, '80s graffiti artist and designer, Jacobs' friend and collaborator -- would look even better under a black light.
It would be one thing if Jacobs were alone, but a crush of designers seemed to suggest if you're looking for an escape from this harsh reality, a night on the town is the best way to go.
The perennially high-octane Betsey Johnson whipped up multi-color striped knit bodysuits and other Desperately Seeking Susan-esque separates that were just begging for a glow stick. The Herve Leger show closed with a one-shouldered reflective dress that you'd be hard-pressed not to compare to a disco ball. Even the brainy Thakoon -- a designer praised for his discreet, artful aesthetic -- paired his Surrealist-inspired clothes with flashy, heartbeat-quickening mirrored accents.
Meanwhile, two on-the-pulse design duos -- Cushnie and Ochs' Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs and Preen's Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi -- showed tight cut-out dresses as did the usually prim and proper Behnaz Sarafpour. Their back-to-the-futuristic skin-skimming clothes echoed the '80s UK label Bodymap favored by the era's nightlife kings Boy George and Leigh Bowery--perfect for gyrating under a strobe light today.
And finally some of the youngest members of the New York fashion crowd, Ohne Titel duo and Alexander Wang (all of whom were too young to have experienced the '80s in anything more than diapers and overalls) also took the fearless night owl into consideration. They turned East Village punk references including bondage leggings and leather jackets into severely sexy clothes.
In fairness to the harbingers of gloomy grays and browns, it's not that designers forgot we're in a depression -- they just guessed wrong at how the fashion world would deal with the drama. It says something when the fashion icon of the candy-coated early '00s, Sarah Jessica Parker, makes a rare Fashion Week appearance (clad in inky midnight hues) at Wang's smoke-filled rock-concert of a show: the Carrie Bradshaws of the world are getting darker, gustier and are in dire need of something to take the edge off.
Susan Cernek is Senior Fashion Editor of Glamour.com.