This past New York Fashion Week was the most trusted name in snooze. I skipped most of the shows I was invited to, opting to sit in a very warm restaurant next to my apartment and read detective novels while everyone at Lincoln Center and Milk Studios got mad about street style photography.
It’s been a long while since the “fashion show outside the tents” said much that was interesting about the way women get dressed (though it certainly tells you a lot about how women get dressed for fashion shows). But if one is hoping to be truly delighted, he or she is far better served by studying the attendees of art parties, women who work in Chelsea or Lower East Side galleries, and Impressionist catalogers at Christie’s or Sotheby’s—you know, art chicks—who frequent the art fairs and associated events that fill the spring season.
Examining a woman outside a fashion show is an exercise in recognizing brands and designers. Examining the art chicks is an exercise in figuring out how aesthetically sophisticated women put clothing together.
Take the recent Armory Week. At the MoMA’s swoony-cool opening fete earlier this month, there was nary a guest in the J.W. Anderson frock, Celine bag, and Nicholas Kirkwood heels that comprise the street style uniform. Instead, there was a young woman with long, streaky blonde hair all pushed to the side like a Hokusai wave (babe hair, let’s call it), wearing a black and cream sweatshirt that was so droopy it almost oozed. She wore it with cream floral jacquard pants that hit abruptly an inch above the ankle, and little black sneakers. Another woman was in a nubby, coffee soot-colored jumpsuit (long-sleeved, straight-legged); the fabric was wrapped in a wide band at the natural waist, like a kimono circumscribed on a pencil silhouette, and she had on very sharp, very simple black heels.
Even Solange was wearing an arty black sweater with a cloudy white puff and silk white skirt with pastel scribbles by Vika Gazinskaya, a street style star and designer whose clothing is thankfully beginning to permeate the American fashion consciousness. Solange looked like a tennis pro from The Jetsons.
Meanwhile, a visit to the Armory had me wondering why the street style photographers who lament the Menkes-deemed circus hadn’t camped out here. (Bill Cunningham spent his Wednesday there—but, of course.) There was an army of women in printed sheaths and sculptural jackets with I’m-a-big-girl glasses resting almost on the tip of the nose. There was an Elvisette in a suit of Malevich-white cigarette pants and a sleeveless top whose peplum blossomed out almost comically, with white Manolo Blahniks—the pair you buy to come out or get married in.
Another wore a sleeveless taupe smock under a pseudo-collar of knitted stained glass-colored fabric that exploded into loose, elbow-length threads at the shoulders. She had witty Selima Optique-style glasses nesting in a mane of mermaid hair. The understated crowd was just as cool: a uniform of jeans, Kirkwood’s Picasso loafers, a grey knit, and a fur coat with wide, teddy bear tuxedo lapels.
What’s interesting is not whom they’re wearing, of course, but how they’re wearing it. It looked like the girl in the jacquard pants had used scissors to jaggedly hem them herself. The woman in the jumpsuit just let her shoes be shoes, not “little sculptures,” which is what constitutes thoughtful commentary for people who think liking clothing means you have to talk about your clothing all the time. The taupe smock woman had made a very folksy accessory look cosmopolitan.
Of course, we’d be kidding ourselves if we said these women, unlike their peacocking fashion industry second-cousins, were getting dressed just for themselves. It’s impossible to get dressed “for yourself,” unless you’re locked alone in a big closet (or an art gallery). Nor are they getting dressed for “other women,” as fashion-heads often claim in self-defense. For these women, the act of getting dressed is not a means to get dressed again later, which is the point of dressing for fashion week. They’re looking the part of the aesthete, so they can move along and convince you to buy a $35,000 painting.
For the ultimate in street style artspiration (ew I can’t believe I said that, but whatever, the whole world is terrible anyways), visit Babes at the Museum, which I can’t recommend enough. It’s filled with women who are pretty and smart–take that, cheerleader coach moms!”