Every Ralph Lauren show feels a little like a retrospective — after all, the designer has been tilling the same soil for decades, a nostalgic plot of land that I actually have a warm feeling for, although this season this particular garden was more successfully planted by Anna Sui. In case you missed the point of all the suede fringe and crocheted dresses, Ralph inscribes the numerals “1967” on the back of one of his leather vests. Still, just because it isn’t exactly revolutionary doesn’t mean a lot of it isn’t pretty, though one hopes that the short neo-Victorian jackets with leg-o-mutton sleeves won’t be worn by muttons dressed as lambs around the country club pool at Palm Springs next summer.
Ladies of a certain age will be better served by Isaac Mizrahi, who mounts a big show in a big tent and opens with some nice if unthrilling frocks in this season’s now ubiquitous white (boo) but soon morphs into a mushy flowered print covered with a layer of tulle (yay). A group of dresses distinguished by smocking lifted from little girls' best outfits have the kind of winsome American charm that the designer is famous for, though even a Brooklyn boy like Mizrahi can take a trip to Europe — his black strapless dress has a giant screen-printed bow straight out of the Martin Margiela playbook.
The downtown style icon who calls herself Lady Fag turns to me after the Jeremy Laing show and says, “I need a pair of leather batwing shorts!” If she does, this is the place to get them, along with a number of garments with dangling pieces of fabric that will require a careful wearer — remember what happened to Isadora Duncan when her trailing scarf met a Bugatti?
It’s a thrill to sit next to Lady Fag, who is clad in a pair of sheer Laing leggings — they’re both from Canada — and with a pair of shoes so perilous that she confesses she’s racked up hundreds of dollars in cab fares this week — who could even stand up, let alone make it down the subway stairs, in these things?
My brief conversation with Lady Fag reminds me of all the other fabulous looks I’ve seen this week — in the audience, I mean. To paraphrase Lenny Bruce — in the halls of fashion, the only (real) fashion is in the halls. So here’s to the two flappers who stopped me to chat at the Lincoln Center fountain, and the guy who looks like a Sherpa with the hand-painted jackets and golden trousers and matching cap who is always at the shows but no one knows why. When a woman of my acquaintance, dressed halfway between a geisha and a pasha, crashes a front-row set at Anna Sui, I am at first annoyed — she isn’t even invited and there she sits, beaming, in a better seat than I have! But then I decide that maybe she does deserve that perch after all — it’s the true lovers of fashion, cobbling together their fantastical fantasy looks and then venturing out to face the world, that really keep this business alive.