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The School of Tulle

In Behnaz Sarafpour’s fall collection, where the ballet gown meets the forties cocktail dress, slinky and sexy are out, pretty and polished are in.

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“I am so tired of distressed,” Behnaz Sarafpour proclaims one humid morning, her white blouse miraculously crisp against the dinge of the meatpacking district, where she takes her morning cappuccino. The 33-year-old designer, who left her position this summer as the creative genius behind Barneys New York’s private label to concentrate on her own line, is a living, breathing embodiment of one of the fall’s most important fashion messages. It’s all about polish.

The pendulum has swung. If, like all good New Yorkers, you are anticipating an occasion-filled fall, remember that dressing—evening dressing in particular—has adopted a firmly pristine, anti-grunge ethos. It’s about taking the time, when the sun goes down, to really get it right. “What makes going out so much fun,” says Sarafpour, an Iranian-born, European-bred Parsons graduate who cut her teeth designing for Isaac Mizrahi, “is dressing for it.”

The days of a lean pair of jeans emboldened by a spangly pair of stilettos are clearly over. As is the red-carpet obviousness of all things cut low on top and slit high on the thigh. “I was so tired of slinky, sleek, and obviously sexy,” she says. “I thought we needed something pretty, in a classical way.”

Paris concurred—witness Dior’s kimono-style opera cloaks and Lanvin’s silk-charmeuse layers—as did Milan, in the shape of Prada’s pleated forties-style cocktail dresses and Versace’s silk-chiffon dresses laced up with silk ribbon. But in New York, it was Sarafpour who best expressed the spirit of pulling oneself properly together with her Degas-full tulle skirts, slim brocade shifts, and A-line dresses helped along with stiff crinolines. Perhaps it was because the city was craving it—party-at-the-Met eveningwear was all over the collections, from Narciso Rodriguez’s lean goddess columns to Oscar de la Renta’s divine little black, red, and gold cocktail dresses.

“It’s very important now to be appropriate,” Sarafpour says. “Age-appropriate, and appropriate for the occasion. Don’t you hate it at the ballet or the opera when you see men without coats?” She has an informed opinion on this subject, having studied ballet as a girl and while she worked on the costume designs for the City Ballet during her time with Isaac Mizrahi. Her collection certainly invokes the ballet, the elegance of its Swan Lake tutus, yes, but also the spirit of the ballerinas who, when work is over, like the dance floor just as much as the stage.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be long or short,” she says, “but whatever it is, it can’t be about girdles and a Wonderbra. You can use fashion to play with your look and your shape, but at a certain point you have to just let it go. Your body is what it is. There is something that works for it.”

Age, Sarafpour says, “is an issue and it also isn’t an issue. It has everything to do with taste. When I’m dressing a young woman, it’s great for her to be elegant, to be open to things that are more refined. For older women, unless you’re going for shock value, it’s great to be very simple.”

Which is not to say dull. Tulle can have punk-at-the-prom appeal with the right neon pumps (benefit at Capitale!), just as easily as a lean shift with the right gloves can be totally Radziwill (a scandalous affair at the Carlyle?).

Toss out mannish tuxedos, too. “I’m going for dressing in a womanly way,” says Sarafpour. “Right now, I’m anti-androgyny. This fall, it’s pretty and it’s feminine all the way.”

She finishes her cappuccino, reaches for her monogrammed Goyard tote, and bustles back to her studio. Nominated twice for the CFDA’s award for young fashion talent, she’s got expectations to meet. She points at her 10 a.m. jeans. “I’m going out tonight,” she says, “and the first thing I’m going to do is change into a white tulle skirt.”


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