“Definitely Michael Alig–inspired,” says the young woman behind me at the Bess show, citing approvingly the club kid/murderer currently doing twenty years upstate. But in fact, this small event on the first day of the spring 2012 New York collections, in the Bess store on Lafayette Street — the former home of Keith Haring's Pop Shop — far transcends that dumb killer’s dubious charms. The models include lollypop-sucking Lolitas in skirts whose hems are obscured by Beanie Babies, and bare-chested guys in clown collars, walking a makeshift runway covered with superhero bedspreads. It’s a delightfully benevolent vision of transgressive dressing — an exuberant burst of laughter in the dark, a cry of subversive joy in a city that hasn’t been the same since 2001 and a fashion industry that has never fully recovered from 2008.
In times like these, you can either travel your own revolutionary road, like Bess, because there are hardly any normal jobs for you, even if you decide you want one — or, if you are actually employed, you can perhaps afford to buy something from a guy like Jason Wu, who this season suggests bejeweled collars, shorts (apparently not going away anytime soon), and soft skirts that are longer in the back than the front, an idea — not necessarily a bad one — that will emerge on other runways as the week progresses. (How does this happen? Do they all secretly call each other up?)
Or perhaps you are a member of the rare and happy breed who doesn’t need a job at all. If you are planning to spend the rest of your days sipping mojitos under an umbrella (and never mind glancing at the plummeting Dow on the TV in the hotel bar), then, according to The Row — whose austere Zen-like presentation is so hushed it seem like my pen is making too much noise — you should wrap your impeccably toned heinie in a pair of gloriously flopping charmeuse ivory trousers topped with a paillette-covered tunic, and — why not buy one more thing? — add a matching paillette-covered handbag that one can only hope costs less than the Olsens’ fall 2011 purses, which hover in the $5,000 range.
A far different vision of what to do in your off hours informs the merchandise at Alexander Wang, who fools around with mesh fabric (alas, a lot of designers have embraced this material, which to me never quite escapes the aroma of Paragon). Wang introduces windbreaker dresses with zippers and pockets and insists that the trousers you want for spring are narrow and stop abruptly at the knee (decades ago, these were known quaintly as clam-diggers). In truth, the designer seems more interested at the moment in accessories, and who can blame him: His handbags have been wildly successful, which is probably why each model carries a different satchel, culminating in a sad sylph practically collapsing under the weight of a humongous cranberry-colored backpack.
At Band of Outsiders, held in a passage between two brick buildings directly under the High Line, the models, in their smart chic dresses, look like French girls — a similarity furthered by the black boaters some of them are wearing, replicas of the hats Coco Chanel began to decorate almost exactly 100 years ago, at the very beginning of her career. (She was so innocent she bought the chapeaux at Galleries Lafayette rather than from a wholesaler.) At the end of the show, shiny confetti descends from the High Line and floats down over the runway, an unwitting reminder of the heartbreaking swirls of paper that blanketed the city during another Fashion Week, ten years ago.