Bottega Veneta Attempts to Breathe New Life Into New York Fashion Week

Bottega Veneta
Photo: JP Yim/Getty Images

Two days in, and it’s hard to escape the feeling that Fashion Week is feeling sadly anachronistic. Even when the collections are good, any chance to appreciate the shows is being overwhelmed by cruddy logistics and a sense among a lot of participants (maturing designers, anxious magazine editors, bored publicists, and greed-driven, safety-negligent event producers) that if the ship is going down, why bother rowing?

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Supposedly, things will change soon as some designers are pushing for a reinvention of Fashion Week, led by cooler designers like Alexander Wang, Proenza Schouler, and Rodarte who are exploring shows at different times of the year. But a bigger question for fashion companies to address is what purpose they serve.

Tomas Maier, the longtime creative director of Bottega Veneta, is at least one designer who is giving the matter serious thought, and making a push to assert the power of his design this season (no small challenge given that his best work has always been gloriously subtle). To celebrate a new flagship on the Upper East Side, Maier brought his collection from Milan to New York for a show held on Friday night in the old American Stock Exchange building. In the dark, cavernous hall, Maier, who has wonderful taste in interiors and often relates his fashion design to architecture, built a living room filled with Gio Ponti chairs, a working fireplace, and a John Chamberlain sculpture. The models walked through the room before taking their places in a party tableau. Some wore shimmering satin pajamas in jewel tones, topped with men’s coats. Others wore smartly tailored pantsuits with short sporty jackets, in bright yellow or tweed, or poetic gowns of velvet in deliciously rich colors.

A problem, and an old-fashioned one at that, was that the audience, for the most part, was kept at a distant remove. After being crushed and funneled into the darkened space and seated on benches that surrounded the living room, a lot of people had lost their patience. Wouldn’t it have been nicer to invite them directly into Maier’s living room to experience that environment more fully? Of course, Maier did exactly that at the end of the show, and many editors remained to mingle, but many others headed straight for the exits.

More than likely, the future of Fashion Week will go in two extreme directions, with designers being pushed either toward more lavish interactive productions (engineered for maximum social media impact), or more intimate presentations that invite professional contemplation of the clothes (but not necessarily any runway glory). Most are conflicted as to where they belong.Narciso Rodriguez and Zac Posen are two designers who have moved beyond the hype of the runways without damaging their credibility among the fashion elite. In fact, they are getting more respect. Rodriguez, celebrating his 20 years in business, had a very small show in his studio the other morning, and the designs looked as fresh as ever, the shoulder seams on a bright orange sleeveless dress jutting forward into the future. Posen’s theatrical silk creations are more dramatic, designed for maximum visual impact when the wearer strikes a couture pose (but not so much for walking on a runway). He enlisted Katie Holmes to model the collection for photographs, but in his showroom, the enormous black and red silk gowns held their own while draped on the hangers.

Tory Burch, on the other hand, has found new energy by framing her work within a visually stunning environment. For fall, she created a garden of pink carnations beneath the tiled white arches of the Bridge Market, a sprawling gallery beneath the Queensboro Bridge.

A live orchestra completed the picture. And the clothes held up, from a diaphanous white ruffle trimmed dress to pops of vibrant floral prints to sporty coats and a dark serape poncho worn over shiny button-trimmed jeans.

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