There has always been a wide divide between what designers show on the runways and what the average woman actually ends up wearing day to day. Sure, that princess tulle gown or leather outfit might look great on a twentysomething model, but neither will cut it for long days spent in a cubicle or a trip to the supermarket. Even in New York--often dubbed the "commercial" style capital--fashion show creations are hardly screaming buy me at full price and wear me now!
But there is good news--the tide is beginning to turn. During the last few weeks as New York designers presented their fall 2010 collections (London, Milan and Paris are happening in the next few weeks), the buzz word around the Bryant Park tents was wearability. For that, we can thank the economic downturn and a realization by many design houses that their runway shows have enormous direct marketing potential--if they show looks that women can wear right off the catwalk and into their lives. A revolutionary notion, indeed.
Marigay McKee, the fashion and beauty director at Harrods, an upscale department store in London, says this move has been driven by the needs of female consumers, many of whom are not interested in buying trendy items that will only be "in" for one season. She predicts that this fall will be all about staple pieces. "If it really is a throw away purchase [these women] are not as likely to buy." McKee says her buying team was being less frivolous than in previous years and it was nice to see designers creating easy and effortless clothes that fit the bill.
So, what did make it to the runway?
Marc Jacobs set the tone of fashion week with a quiet yet luxurious collection of basic beige and gray coats, low-heeled shoes and below-the-knee skirts calling it "conservative." It was a departure from last season's Japanese-inspired collection of platform shoes with upturned toes, genie pants and kabuki makeup. This time around most of what he presented was positively ageless and could be easily shared between a mother and daughter. The show was live streamed on marcjacobs.com (another departure from the past, when fashion shows were only for the elite who held hard-to-snag invites) and women took to Twitter to share their views, almost all positive. Wrote one Tweeter from Los Angeles: "[This collection] makes me happy and [I] wish I had gazillions to buy buy buy."
Michael Kors' collection of knit dresses, perfectly cut trousers and double-breasted suits had a similar easy-to-wear feel. Kors said of his collection, it is "all about ease ... relaxed glamour ... things that are cozy, comfortable and sexy all at the same time." Meanwhile, Donna Karan's 25th anniversary show was a nod to her famed 1985 Seven Easy Pieces collection and the idea that women want simple clothes that are easy to mix and match. Buy it, and wear it a lot, was Karan's take-home message.
But it isn't just the old guard of the New York fashion scene that's thinking about dressing real women. Prabal Gurung, who hails from Nepal, formerly worked at Bill Blass and has dressed Demi Moore, says, "At the end of the day I have to keep in mind that somebody is going to have to wear this. I'm designing clothes, not costumes." Fall 2010 marked Gurung's third collection for his namesake label. Women who are looking for an updated take on the suit jacket or a well-constructed pair of pants better learn how to pronounce Prabal's name (hint, it rhymes with trouble).
Not only have the fall runways been all about functionality, but they are also likely to appeal to a broader age range of women thanks to the sheer variety of clothes seen on the runways. Kwesi Blair, a luxury consultant at Robert Burke Associates, says, "On the runway we've seen a variety of hems from maxi to mini and everywhere in between. I think this is a sign that the designers are saying my product is not just for one type of woman." This point was not lost on celebrity stylist Lauren Rae Levy, whose clients range in age from late teens up into their 60s, and who couldn't be happier with all of the options on the fall runways. "Designers expanded from their comfort zone and let the consumer know, there is something here for everyone," she says.
To be sure not all designers are getting on the wearablity train. Downtown darling and CFDA/Vogue fashion award winner Alexander Wang presented a collection inspired by Wall Street. But if one of Goldman Sachs' top women showed up at the office in one of his midriff-baring pinstripe blazers, it probably wouldn't be her best career move.
Critics' favorite Joseph Altuzarra showed tough dominatrix looks including a one-piece leather catsuit. Again, maybe office attire at French Vogue, but not for most women and certainly not for most workplaces.
But for the most part it seems to have sunk into the fashion subconscious that real women are looking to the runways for workable fashion advice, not just for fantasy. Linda Fargo, the senior vice president and women's fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman jokingly said, "Not every woman is edgy." It's about time some of fashion's biggest influencers finally got the message.
(Leah Bourne, Forbes.com)