You either warm to the notion of a gorgeous young woman in a dress constructed of golden leather plates like a gladiator costume, or you think it is faintly ridiculous. I am, believe it or not, in the former category, but opinion was divided as we made our way out of the Rodarte show, an event that began with Jim Morrison intoning the dirge-like "The End." Neon tubes illuminated crates on the floor, and the collection, with its cut-out shoulders and tiered wraps in a palette of blues and muddy greens and browns, manages to make the prospect of the apocalypse seem cool, which is more than you can say for the surfeit of bright white ersatz Helmut Langian numbers causing the audience to go snow-blind with boredom at so many shows this week.
There was a guy with a banana basket on his head at the Narciso Rodriguez show, a reminder of the kinds of getups people used to wear to fashion shows like Todd Oldham’s in the nineties, when you’d pray you weren’t seated behind Lady Bunny or Brandywine, since you couldn’t see a thing over their high hairdos. If Rodriguez’s runway didn't make you want to strap on a pineapple, it still had a lot to offer — lingerie nudes, bias cuts, and a lovely play of translucent and opaque.
Things were equally placid the next day at Phillip Lim, who showed in the vast drill hall of the Park Avenue Armory, where soldiers marched 100 years ago. Lim, too, favors the season’s ubiquitous pale tones but he keeps a lot of his lengths short, which I suspect may please the millions of women who will not be coaxed into floor-scrapers, no matter how insistent designers are next spring. Lim also suggested a curious but not unpleasant bright blue, made up in one case as a pair of leather shorts distinguished by oversized eyelet holes.
Anna Sui and Marc Jacobs have been friends for years, and if one has ascended to the heights of Louis Vuitton, the other is no slouch at building a business either. Jacobs may be in love with the 1970s, with Studio 54, with Antonio Lopez and Marisa Berenson, but Sui prefers to reach back a little further — to the halcyon days of the late 1960s. This show, one of her best, features a backdrop of a painting that looks like Christina’s World sans Christina, and you can just imagine floaty-haired women in that little wooden house in the distance, wearing Sui’s crocheted peasant blouses, tossing the I Ching and perusing the Whole Earth catalog.
The last group Sui sends out, a gaggle of Georgette 1920s dresses, may seem incongruous, until you realize that in the 1960s beaded flapper frocks like this were only 40 years old and could be found in thrift shops for a song. It was the first time in history that middle-class girls wholeheartedly embraced second-hand clothes, and Sui styles her homages with Frye-like boots and Indian feathers, the way a young woman might have done back then. Even the soundtrack is oddly relevant — when Crosby, Stills & Nash sing, “Speak out, you’ve got to speak out against the madness,” you can’t help but recall with horror the results of the midterm elections last Tuesday.