Fashion Week in Review: Carlos Miele, Jill Stuart, Tracy Reese, Erin Fetherston

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From the Jill Stuart show. Photo by Graham Rayman.

What makes the fashion industry such an elitist, exclusory world? Vogue's Anna Wintour attempted to explain it in the moderately sympathetic new documentary The September Issue; she insisted, with clipped British finality, that the unstylish mortals find the idea of glamour intimidating and the high price tags of designer originals vapid.

Miz Wintour has a point -- and she's paid well for enforcing it -- but she's only half right. Turns out, some people just don't want to wear stupid shit on their heads and call it art.

Really great fashion is about accessibility. It's an adaptable asset that can be modified to reflect both the wearer and the designer, something that can be arresting or demure at the behest of the consumer. That's why the highest compliment the judges pay on Project Runway is, "I would wear that," and not "Your brilliant use of tie-dye and bedazzled animal hides had made me existentially reconsider every aspect of my being."

It's all about the Benjamins, even at Bryant Park -- especially at Bryant Park -- which is why the closing garment of any runway show is the most interesting; it is the designer's most ambitious foot forward, the one piece that he/she hopes will encapsulate their vision.

Monday morning, in the Bryant Park Promenade Tent, Carlos Miele had markedly better success closing his show than last season, in that he was not again booed into submission by the photography pit...

Last February, the poor Brazilian optimist sent a dreadlocked electric guitarist down his runway next to the stoic models, and the axman's presence enraged the photographers. "Move!" they screamed. "You're ruining our shot!" The hapless musician had no choice but to retreat sullenly to the background as the shutterbugs earned their meal tickets, still growling all the while. (Fashion photogs have very strict requirements to meet for editorial shots -- models must have equal weight distribution, eyes open, etc.; the KBG had fewer restrictions.)

So everyone was more cordial this time, as Miele only unleashed leggy models in sherbet-hued tiered skirts, glamorous rhinestone-studded python minidresses, and, in a nod to last season, blue and gold variegated columns with rope belts. It was a strong improvement from the facile season prior, except for the closing, crucial piece: a Jekyll/Hyde dress split vertically into half black satin, half wildly multicolored stripes, all moderately disconcerting.

Jill Stuart proved, from start to finish, how often women dress for other women; in perfect epitome of this, her front row this afternoon was rife with socialites, from ringlet queen bee Tinsley Mortimer to Real Housewives of NYC alum Kelly Bensimon -- the latter of whom possesses, no kidding, the most insanely buff arms this side of Van Damme. Staged in the opulent New York Public Library, in the shadows of benefactors Samuel J. Tilden and Andrew Carnegie (who, as we all know, loved a miniskirt), Stuart's predominantly blonde catwalkers displayed cutout geometrical black bodices, dramatically puffed brocade sleeves, fuschia tiger-striped club dresses, and all sorts of immaculately crafted hyperboles to inspire envy in fashionista girlfriends and abject confusion in straight men. (This is a trite generalization, sure, but few runway exhibitions have ever proven it more.) She closed with an interestingly metallic pink, ruched minidress, for those ladies who have the coin to play Sunset Strip Barbie.

After Stuart, it was a short jaunt back to the Bryant tents for Tracy Reese. The floral-happy Detroit designer (and one of the fashion industry's most successful African American label heads) dimmed the lights and overstuffed the rafters for a more youthful, clublike atmosphere than is de rigeur at Bryant; front-row occupants Nigel Barker and Miss Jay of America's Next Top Model didn't seem particularly amused by this, but tabloid figure Kim Kardashian was beaming. It was a cute collection from Reese, full of ready-to-wear periwinkle camisoles and black polka-dotted appliqué slips (Bloomingdale's should order those in bulk), but also confusing in its lack of continuity; it's an unspoken norm in Fashion Week exhibitions that the designers' collections flow gradually from one idea to the next; i.e. if the show opens with daytime suits it progresses gradually, in a series of steps, to the opposite extreme of glittery night wear.

Reese sent out all colors, all social occasions, in confusing discordance; a dramatic blue gown preceded a casual floral shirtdress, a sultry silver miniskirt one step removed from a demure coral sweater. Reese has noted this collection as influenced by Les Nabis painter Pierre Bonnard, but even this insight did not make the 36 outfits cohesive.

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From the Erin Fetherston show. Photos by Diana Pastrana.

Happily, this was not a problem for Erin Fetherston. On Sunday at Milk Studios, her show was logically sequenced and varied, from an opening blouse of nude-hued pleats to a dramatic closing gown of black satin and two scoops of rhinestones. The California designer, who takes frequent inspiration from whimsical Parisian style (quel rat!), went to work this season, in more ways than one; her former collections of airy, ballerina-like dresses and little-girl pleats were replaced by all-grow'd-up eyelet lace blazers, languid cherry blossom chiffon dresses, and dramatically sequined orange shorts. The effect was fluid, from an initial push on posh businesswear to the satin ballgown closer; hers was the rare show of not one color swatch or situational emphasis, but an interesting palette of many ideas not entirely exhausted. It was the epitome of real upstart fashion: exciting, charismatic, and yet wearable -- yes, even the shorts. And you know you want to wear sequined shorts; you're reading the Voice.

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