André Leon Talley's Fashion Week Picks Part II: Crashing Into a Radar of American Elegance

Earlier this week, André Leon Talley rhapsodized to us about Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta. We caught up with him at Vera Wang to get his updated assessment of the week — just click the links to see the looks. And he's still wearing "The New American Dream" Baby Phat coat the Fug Girls loved so much.

What else have you liked this week?
Marchesa, J.Mendel, and Michael Kors all hit a new radar—they crashed into a radar of American elegance.

What pieces in particular?
I think at Michael Kors the most extraordinary piece was a little black suit with short sleeves on Anouck [Lepere]. Very Lee Radziwill Bouvier. I thought the little two-button, double-breasted suit was brilliant. I also thought the beautiful, beautiful, beautiful herringbone, long evening dress on Julia [Stegner] — herringbone and jersey — was fantastic. I also loved the fabulous sable coat on Chanel Iman, belted. The whole sensibility of his show was the best of American breeziness. The American irreverence of chic. And the best thing was his approach to a little evening dress à la Edie Sedgwick, with ostrich plumes combed and brushed at the bottom of a houndstooth sequin dress on Irina [Lazareanu], the Iranian girl. When you go to Michael Kors, no one can make a gray roll-neck sweater look as great with a pair of herringbone pants, and when the girl turns around it’s got a shell scooped out of the back. It’s everything that American fashion should be. Effortless and easy.

What about Marchesa?
Well, Marchesa was so focused! There are all of these young designers, and so many who should be doing presentations and not big spectacular runway shows. They should be showing them in little jewel boxes, the way Marchesa went down to Diane von Furstenberg’s former space and showed twenty beautiful pieces. My favorites were the white pantsuit on the staircase above the pool, and the extraordinary and beautiful white tulle skirt and black bustier that looked like they had cut away a man’s dinner jacket and made it a strapless dress. Very young, very English, very eccentric. And then the aubergine, over-the-shoulder dinner dress, implanted with three huge necklaces of faux-amethyst beads. And I also loved the feather dress — high-waisted, all-white feathers like an ostrich-feather fan turned into an extraordinary dinner dress. That takes a lot of research and a lot of work. They did it with authority and confidence.

Okay, and J.Mendel?
I think that J.Mendel created a very beautiful film-noir mood. I felt very suddenly it’s Hollywood. The girls were like Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential. But it was in such a modern, effortless way. My next big moment will be Vera Wang, because I spent all of last night previewing Vera Wang and seeing her Russian-splendor-meets- Russian- intellectualism for today’s world. It’s beautiful.

So, collectively, what are these designers trying to say?
They’re all saying the same thing about American style. Elegance is individual and elegance is a point of view in terms of who is putting it on, in terms of fashion. The most important thing is that those collections have a strong sense of authority in the statement, in the explanation, in the narrative, in the dialogue about fashion. Be it the research of the fabric in Vera Wang, or when de Clarin Chi recreated a fabric from the fifties that cost $90 per yard, and is bonded silk but makes you feel almost like a puff-down jacket. But it creates a lightness in the cocktail dress. Or it’s Michael Kors knowing that his customer is going to want to have a polished and very affluent look, but is going to be sleek and easy in that American sportswear feel.

What’s the one piece of clothing everyone needs to have next season?
I think the new piece of clothing for anyone’s collection is the fireside sweater! Remember Jimmy Carter in the White House saving energy with a sweater at the fireside? Fireside elegance, cashmere sweaters at night in a room—ballroom, bistro—it can be with a tulle skirt a la Tuleh, or Carolina Herrera, who had the most wonderful sweaters for evening. Or Michael Kors’ sweaters for evening.

What are you looking for when you go to these shows?
Designers who have a very strong point of view. There are almost 200 shows. What you’re looking for is that one special moment that takes the American season into another exciting moment that is not about spectacular one-way fireworks. It’s about good, solid investment clothing.

Which isn’t what Milan and Paris are about …
Oh, well, they do it too. But you cannot compare Milan and Paris! (Laughs.) Paris is the mecca so they’re going to give it to you. But in New York you get it too. You get it at Marc Jacobs. Marc Jacobs did a show that was so polished it escaped people. It went under people's radars — or over. Those were very modern clothes. I’m looking forward to Vera Wang. She has the passion of the grrrreat, grrrrreat, great couturiers back in the day. I can only say that of she and Sophia Kokosalaki here in America. Those two women for me are outstanding in their point of view.

Do you think women design better clothes for women than male designers do?
No, no. I think women have a very distinct point of view in fashion. A point of view that comes from a woman’s world, from motherhood, emotional responses to the world, and a sense of practicality that sometimes men may not have. But great men have it. If you’re a great designer it doesn’t matter what your sex is. You can be androgynous or quatrosexual. — Jada Yuan