Regular readers may recall that I spent last week in New York; today, a report.
If you are young (or not, but welded to a personal trainer) the look of the summer is the waist or hip-length corset top. This is worn with high-waisted trousers or a soft, full skirt, not too short. The effect is out of time, slightly Victorian, and charming.
Also of another time is the exhibition we viewed at the Metropolitan, "Charles James: Beyond Fashion". Le Duc had never heard of James; he's not one of the best-known names of the era, like Beene or Norell, but to me, the most remarkable.
James' gowns and dresses are feats of architecture; a James pattern looks like a tipsy silkworm slithered across a bolt of charmeuse, then spun a breathtaking, deceptively refined gown. As James said, "Let the grain do the work."
CADCAM models of the pattern layout and an animated sequence of the piece's assembly delivered the full effect of his astonishing skill, something you would never see just by looking at the gowned mannequin.
"Who designs such clothes now?" Le Duc asked. The James technique seems to have died with him despite his archived collection and notes. His black wool "Taxi" day dress, made in 1932, would look ineffably elegant today.
I glanced at the other women present, in flowy Eileen Fisher (why is this brand worn too large, so often?) and jeans-with-jackets, not a sophisticated turnout among us. True, James designed for long-waisted swans lunching at "21", but today, even the carriage-trade designers who serve middle-aged clients tend toward rectangular shapes.
I could hear the couturier, a world-class snob, rolling in his grave. He said, in an Interview piece shortly before his death:
"All I can say about such (middle class) women is that they never did have any influence
on fashion, responded to it, or set the pace; so it really isn't any
different today than in my youth. Such women never really influenced any
trend other than by being responsible for new trends; having made old
ones seems trite and vulgar."
The exhibit set the tone for the trip: retro pleasures, the '50s and '60s nostalgia that NYC markets suavely: barmen in white jackets, huge silver bowls of roses, a view of the Chrysler Building's diadem from our suite, displays of delicate short kid gloves in spring pastels at LaCrasia (worn exactly when?)
Whether in boutiques or department stores, I thought of value, trying to understand the rationale for $390 for this rayon tank top.
One of the James pieces was bought at Lord&Taylor in '47 for $1200; about $12,500 today. That store, as well as Saks, were offering 40% off for even the loftiest labels, with free shipping. I bought a pair of store-brand linen trousers, and wondered, When the spring-summer line is reduced that much before June 1, what are the clothes are really worth?
Who were the best-dressed women during my week there?
Japanese tourists (or perhaps locals who speak Japanese?), in soft cotton blouses (not shirts), box-pleated skirts to the knee or narrow ankle trousers, and impeccable leather sandals.
One 80ish woman lunching in what looked like an '80s Chanel suit, plush bouclé in a complex mix of blues; a young professional entering the Condé Nast Building, her black sleeveless dress kissed with just enough sheerness to herald the season.
I also thought about service after fleeing several shoe stores (or departments) after clutching a display shoe and waiting nearly 30 minutes for even a greeting. Why don't shoe stores adopt the customer-accessible pick-yourself system that deep discounters use, or re-engineer the process? I saw at least five other customers bail during each futile visit.
Once home, I could order the shoes with one tap of my mouse, from another vendor.