Robin Givhan: Appreciating Fashion Week’s Eccentrics

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In the passages that one makes through the Lincoln Center plaza during New York’s bloated Fashion Week, one must always take care to dodge the men and women who vie for the attention of the street-style photographers. Regular fashion show attendees have grown accustomed to these colorful birds who teeter atop their perilous heels and the gentlemen peacocks in their patterned suits and side-cocked hats.

Most of these style-obsessed characters are probably not particularly wealthy. These are not expensively groomed socialites with million-dollar wardrobes. They are not demi-celebrities who have been professionally styled to look thoughtfully nonchalant or glamorously informal. And they are not the top-of-the-masthead editors for whom style is a profession and being photographed is part of their social-media strategy.

No, these are everyday folks — amateurs hunting for attention, wanting recognition and hoping for a few shutter clicks of fame.

They count on eccentricity to set them apart. It is their only currency. They declare their presence in an expansive city and to an insular industry by dressing a little odd, a bit outrageously, even — at times — like someone who has stepped in from a different era. And while there are many instances when the strange combinations and references register like the clanging of pots on a metal shelf or the scrape of nails on a chalkboard, there’s something captivating and reassuring about their choices. Their decisions are wholly personal — unattached to any trend, not beholden to an aesthetic tribe and not stuck in one of the many ruts carved out by popular culture.

These folks are not aiming to shock their audience. They don’t want people to flee. They want them to slow down, to pause and to admire. It is comforting that fashion can still make an anonymous man or woman the center of attention, if only for a moment.

It was hard not to think of these audacious souls during the Creatures of the Wind fashion show at the Pace Gallery downtown. The brand, designed by Shane Gabier and Chris Peters, is distinguished by its eccentric sensibility, which at times has mingled the gilded flourishes of a fairy princess with the street-hardened edges of a hobo. The collection can be utterly incomprehensible in its message, yet still eloquent in its emotion. In a short few years, the brand has evolved from a niche curiosity into one whose admirers are multiplying.

The collection for spring 2014 was titled "Hail Hyperborea," which was a reference to Greek mythology’s land of eternal spring. This theme seemed to suggest that the runway would be resplendent with laurel wreaths. Yet the clothes were almost spare — without the mille-feuilles of whispers, pronouncements and riddles that have often come in other Creatures of the Wind presentations.

Even in a more stripped-down form, the clothes retained their quirks. The duo paired a red satin A-line skirt with a black Western-style, screen-printed jacket; a high-waist metallic gold dance skirt that had embroidered red flowers went with a sheer black blouse; gold polyester drawstring pants contrasted against a black cashmere sweater with sheer inserts. The loafers, created by Tabitha Simmons, included sharp toes, zipper embellishments, and sporty cross-foot straps.

The colors, such as caramel and pink, often clashed. The fabrics, from polyester to cashmere, told conflicting stories about luxury and thrift shops. The screen prints of marble and palms shifted from artful finesse to dogs-playing-poker kitsch. Yet it was all put together in a palatable, defiant and fizzy way.

In its willful refusal to deal in trends and follow a straight aesthetic path, Creatures of the Wind manages to commodify the eccentricity of the street. In the hands of Peters and Gabier, eccentricity is no longer merely the quirky, disconnected musings of individuals. It is now embodied by well-cut and smartly styled clothes with a hint of bravura and a dollop of weirdness.

These clothes aren’t cool; they are not meant to create a façade of nonchalance and self-importance. They aren’t rooted in a swagger or a dismissive shrug. They are not cynical in the least.

Instead, these clothes make an effort — to look pretty, to look polished, to look different … to make you look.

It is possible to imagine these clothes worn by the band of onlookers who hover just outside the boundaries of fashion, the folks who come to the plaza and wait. But it's unlikely they could afford them. Still, this is their style.

Should they be flattered? Perhaps. Not because two of the fashion industry's rising talents have turned a spotlight on quirks, oddities, and eccentricities, but because they’ve highlighted the beauty in them.

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