These are indeed lean times. There’s not even a bottle of perfume on the chairs at Carolina Herrera, and other shows that used to shower attendees with Kiehl's lotions and candy have all but halted that dubious practice entirely. But if Herrera, who was born in 1932 to great wealth in Venezuela, stints on the cologne, she is generous to her particular audience, presenting the kind of clothes that suit women of her station and generation, including Babe Paley–worthy dresses rendered most memorably in a pattern of birds, which is pretty rather than (as is the case with so many other designers who have manipulated, pixelated, and otherwise deconstructed prints this season) overwhelmingly witty.
There aren’t any swag bags at Donna Karan either, but that’s okay! Because here is Donna herself, in a studded khaki tank-top and wooden ethnic jewelry as big as your hand, flapping about and posing for photographs before the show even starts. A gaggle of models stand at the head of the runway, clad in what Karan calls her Casual Luxe collection, by which she means fishing vests and other silky separates that are definitely casual, and in a few cases, maybe borderline luxe. The C.L. girls are followed by a proper catwalk show, which relies heavily on mud-printed frocks and separates, the aesthetic fruits of the designer’s recent forays to Haiti.
Whatever you think of Betsey Johnson, she at least supplies a pink parcel stuffed with a puffy, red, heart key-rings and whimsical socks. As ever, this collection wallows in a cheerful, disarmingly innocent vulgarity, the sartorial equivalent of a slap and tickle — who doesn't like an orchid-print bubble frock with a leopard bra-top? (Okay, don’t answer that.) In a cool innovation, Johnson herself drew “seams” incorporating the models’ names up the backs of their legs. “Women used to do this during the war, when you couldn’t get stockings!” the designer says backstage, an era that Johnson, who was born in 1942, can almost remember.
A bit of cheerful vulgarity would be most welcome at Marc for Marc Jacobs, where a series of perfectly serviceable if less than earth-shaking ideas — clean little jackets, Bermuda shorts, etc. — are in evidence. That said, there are two excellent suggestions here, the first being that you wear navy as an antidote to all the citrus, acid, and neon hues being pushed down your throat this season, and the second, that if you must inject a shot of blinding orange or green into your spring wardrobe, you confine this aberration to a Marc by Marc handbag.
Not only are there no glaring hues at Thom Browne, there is hardly any color at all — most everything is in shades of gray and white, as if waiting to be shot for a vintage movie. The presentation, in the form of an imaginary female-only fete, takes place in a re-created twenties salon on the second floor of the New York Public Library, rendered to perfection with settees, crystal decanters, and a Victrola. The invitees (not you — the audience is standing behind a rope watching the festivities unfold) wear elongated jackets, long lovely skirts, pearls that reach almost to the floor, and handbags that descend from their shoulders practically to their ankles. In a season of endlessly homogenized department-store clothes, where personal vision appears compromised at every turn, this is a stunning evocation of one designer’s obsession with nostalgic beauty. I am riveted.