Cocktail Chatter: How to fake your way through Fashion Week.

The language of style.
Feb. 1 2008 6:15 PM

Vanguard Is the New Edgy

Cocktail Chatter: How to fake your way through Fashion Week.

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The designers featured (Phillip Lim, Thakoon Panichgul, Doo.ri, Derek Lam, Proenza Schouler, Rodarte, and Rag and Bone) are unquestionably talented. But this week, you may hear insiders arguing that Vogue has too strong a hand in molding the designers it reports on. The designers Vogue calls "America's hottest talents" have all forged strong relationships with Vogue editors who could easily fill them in on "what Anna wants."

This is nothing new: Great fashion editors have always had strong relationships with designers. In the 1940s, Harper's Bazaar Editor Carmel Snow made Christian Dior a star in the United States, and Vogue Editor Diana Vreeland's memos regarding "what the men in the market" should make are legendary.

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But industry insiders are beginning to complain (off the record) that Vogue's influence has sanitized the collections. "I'm not so interested in American fashion," said a photographer who works for Condé Nast, Vogue's publisher. "What is it? A bunch of cocktail dresses? Everyone is trying to please Anna." An editor told me that New York Fashion Week is so devoid of surprises it's "like reading a bad book" because of the prevalence of a prescribed "CFDA look," which another editor defined thusly: "There are finite aesthetic parameters to it; it's very commercial and conservative. ... It's the Anna question: Is she holding designers back or giving people what they want?"

4. Place bets on whether Bill Blass and Halston will rise from the dead.

This season, two relative unknowns will try to resuscitate two of American fashion's greatest, and most sullied, names. Peter Som, a favorite of New York socialites, will take over Bill Blass, which since the remarkable designer's death in 2002 has trafficked mostly in mother-of-the-bride-wear. And Marco Zanini, formerly the head women's wear designer at Versace, will try to blow some life back into the party that was Halston.

Bill Blass is considered the dean of American couture. In a career that spanned four decades, he dressed some of the world's most stylish women in his soigné, masculine-feminine style. Som's first effort—a preseason capsule collection made to start early selling—was strong. But Som will need to rise above the often-charming clothes he has produced for his own nine-year-old label to match Blass' formidable balance of precision and nonchalance—and to find a new client. Blass' woman was a lady and a broad. If Som can figure out who that woman is today, he could make history.

When Roy Halston Frowick died of AIDS in 1990, he ended one of the great rollercoaster rides in fashion history. A former milliner (said to have made Jacqueline Kennedy's first pillbox hat), Halston opened his business in 1968. His pure, graphic coats and austerely sexy jersey dresses defined what looking good meant in the Studio 54 era. Halston's clients included Babe Paley, Ali McGraw, Liza Minelli, and Angelica Huston, and his cocaine-fueled parties were a favorite of the Warhol crowd.

Zanini was no doubt recruited in part for his work at Versace, which is known for its draped jersey dresses. But to think that's all Halston means is a mistake. Halston's cuts were deceptively simple, and the versatility of his designs meant they could be worn by both everyday women and movie stars. Zanini's challenge will be to rise above the old fast-lane clichés to propose a new look at the good life. And he'll have to make user-friendly clothes to live large in.

Next week, Josh Patner will be sending dispatches from Fashion Week. Got more questions about the whole she-bang? Read our Fashion Week FAQs, which explain whether models eat and why shows are always late. Still not satisfied? Send queries to josh.patner@gmail.com, and he'll answer the best ones.

Josh Patner has written about fashion for Slate, the New York TimesBritish Vogue, Glamour, Elle, and Harper's Bazaar.

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