Fashion Week Goes Dirty, Soft

Fashion is losing its erection.

Or, to cast it in feminine terms: After a decade of mushrooming hype and pointlessly proliferating shows, during which La Mode actually became-albeit unironically-the shrill and shrieky media-crazed pastiche so accurately depicted in Absolutely Fabulous , she has waddled back down to earth.

The A-list celebs are not front-rowing much any more, the seen-it-all editors can barely disguise their ennui and, most significantly, no new modish messiahs (with the exception of the two Juicy Couture ladies, the crushingly successful creators of upscale track suits) have emerged to supplant the Giorgios and Ralphs and Toms and Donnas and change the way you dress. Fashion, like the culture of which it is the mirror, is a confusing morass of goofy, conflicted ideas and excess stuff.

But fashion designers-much like Madonna-are not going to just sit there passively while our burnt-out gaze drifts to some other aspect of popular culture. They are going to give us a big sloppy tongue sandwich, on the mouth or elsewhere, whether we want it or not. Welcome to Spring Fashion Week 2003, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz and a bunch of other companies who won’t let you forget it!

“Porno-it’s my new career,” guffawed Mimi Rogers, the former Mrs. Tom Cruise, while pulling on her jeans during an impromptu backstage interview after the Pierrot fashion show on Saturday, Sept. 13-just one of a ridiculous 300 presentations this season. According to Pierrot designer Pierre Carrilero-he specializes in nifty hand-knits-La Rogers had been a real trouper, even covering her own travel expenses from Los Angeles to be part of the sleazy, desperate montage that this year’s Fashion Week is rapidly shaping up to be.

Staged improbably on the Maury Povich set in a midtown TV studio, the Pierrot show was less a traditional runway show than a tableau vivant /high-school play. A bossy porno director, played by Monsieur Carrilero himself, gave instruction to a motley assortment of models and studs, each wearing a cute, culty Pierrot sweater and/or adorable hand-crocheted hot pants as they role-played around a cheesy set. The lovely Mimi depicted a soft-core, bisexual den mother straight out of a misty 1970′s baby’s-breath David Hamilton photo spread (remember Bilitis ?). One young lady, dressed à la Suzanne Somers as Chrissie Snow in homage to the late John Ritter-who had the misfortune to die the day Fashion Week started-jiggled excitedly on a depressing hospital bed.

The curvaceous Ms. Rogers, who brought the show to a climax by bumping and grinding with a large African-American man, brought a whiff of class to an otherwise tawdry spectacle.

As sleazy as it was, the Pierrot show was a Bible class compared to the Jeremy Scott “Sexybition” the night before at the Deitch Projects gallery on Wooster Street. This flagrant homage to stripper culture was like an agonizingly drawn-out version of Madonna’s desperate romp with Britney and Christina on the MTV Video Awards earlier this month. Not surprisingly, many of the models/tarts who seethed and shimmied with erotic arousal in their respective themed dioramas (“Teacher’s Pet,” “Sleazeastical,” etc.) found it hard to maintain their torrid orgasmic demeanor and soon lapsed into boredom/discomfort. The one exception: Lisa Marie. Cast as a medieval-dungeon sex slave, the former almost-Mrs. Tim Burton clearly has no problem finding her motivation: In fact, she was hurling herself around with such eroticized abandon as to cause genuine concern among some spectators.

But my favorite was Little Bo Peep, a lovely, crook-wielding wench in a white broderie anglais onesie who shared her little performance space, à la Miguel Adrover in the fall of 2001, with a tubby live sheep. This well-fed beast was pooing raisin-sized pellets faster than a jackpotting Vegas slot machine. By the time I left the gallery, Little Bo Peep had become Little Bo Poop. Poop, schmoop! Fashion may well have peaked in the public consciousness, but it is prepared to do what it takes to at least hold our attention.

The clothes? Other than Bo Poop’s outfit, and a pair of shorts with a satin trapunto vagina cobbled to the crotch, the Scott designs were completely upstaged by the shagadelic shenanigans.

The hetero porno antics which dominated the first few days of Fashion Week were a mystery to us attendees. What an improbable way to attempt to seduce the faggy, femme fashion audience! We poofters and fashion chicks, when confronted with all this Bada Bing muff culture, can only stare at each other like terrified gerbils trapped in the headlights. And regardless of your sexual orientation, isn’t the whole porno-chic thing just a tad déjà vu ? A sigh of recognition rippled through the Pierrot audience when the set backdrop was revealed to be the same rec-room wood paneling utilized by Calvin Klein for his infamous 1995 kiddy-porn ad campaign. If this trend continues, fashion may well become the chosen career of hot-blooded straight boys: “I’m gonna have to saw my pants off when I get home!” remarked one mesmerized, bonered, bona fide hetero at Jeremy Scott.

Some designers managed to combine sex with hip, groovy clothing design without going totally over the top: At Mao, one of the “alternative spaces” adjacent to the tents at Seventh on Sixth, Gary Graham’s turn-of-the-century brothel collection-another David Hamilton moment-seemed to say, “If the Waltons grew up and went to work at the local house of pleasure, this is how they would dress.” At her West 12th Street abode, Diane von Furstenberg did what I can only describe as “courtside kink” with perforated leather tennis skirts.

Nevertheless, there were some tiny pockets of perversion-free wholesomeness, and a startling revelation or two. A Shirley Temple look-alike opened the Imitation of Christ show at Splashlight Studios. (China Chow, Natasha Lyonne, Rufus Wainwright and Imitation creative director Chloë Sevigny went through the motions of being front-row celebs, while photographers went through the motions of documenting their presence.) This brave little hoofer, whose sturdy legs and electrifying body language reminded me of my own in younger days, threw herself into an endless tap routine with a chucky verve which warmed the hearts of the audience, despite the fact that her perky bum was hanging out of the rear of her little costume, suggesting a kiddy-porn theme. The tapping was eventually followed by a Vargas-girl collection of baby dolls and mini frocks, and then- quelle horreur !-something far more shocking and transgressive than anything Jeremy Scott could dream up: posh people! Suddenly, out came a parade of white, well-heeled Republican couples: blondes in evening gowns accompanied by men in tuxedos, promenading with all the upscale savoir faire of a 1980′s Fortunoff catalog. A shiver went through the crowd: Ms. Tara Subkoff, the actress/designer behind I.O.C., was really trying to fuck with our heads. She was doing the unthinkable: She was lauding WASP-y rich people instead of prostitutes and pimps!

In her own demented way, and in one fell swoop, Ms. Subkoff had shone a critical light on the current fixation with pole-dancers and parking-lot hos and highlighted the silliness of the broad pop-culture obsession with “getting down and dirty” and “keeping it real.” Question: How can you stay cool and groovy and bohemian and still embrace the all-pervading contemporary bling-bling materialism without losing your hip cred? Answer: You can dress like a skank, e.g. the Hilton sisters. Slutty dressing, and behavior, has become the ultimate protective panty shield against accusations of bourgeois conformity or general dreariness. Is country-club glamour the next frontier?

Talking of dreariness, the anti-drear Betsey Johnson turned in one of the sleaziest but most exuberant shows of her career at the Gertrude Pavilion in Bryant Park. The theme? “Guys Love B.J.” Whee!

This season’s porno platform is familiar territory to the pin-up-lovin’ Betsey: Her baby dolls, bloomers and French-maid uniforms were executed with the sure hand of a gal who has dabbled in cheese before. There was no attempt to be arty or angst-ridden. B.J.’s girls weren’t pissed-off crack whores; they were lip-glossed Fredericks of Hollywood hotties who had things like “Best in Town” and (my personal fave) “Fluffer” written on their provocative ensembles.

And what of Marc Jacobs, whose show for the past few years has served as the week’s proverbial climax?

Even though the designer looked as if he’d just engaged in a heavy bout of sadomasochistic experimental sex (post-show, he was sweaty, disheveled and wearing a neck brace), he had not. Mr. Jacobs, having ditched his 60′s futurist pastiche from last season, had worked like a dog to turn out a brilliant collection of unpornographic, unironic romanticism: flirty tea dresses, Virginia Woolf coats in denim tweed and gorgeous panne velvet flapper frocks.

Speaking of S&M, the Jacobs show, scheduled for 9 p.m. on Monday night at the 25th Street Armory, didn’t start until 10:20 p.m. The profusely sweating audience passed the time by watching C- and D-list celebs getting flash-bulbed to death. Gina Gershon? Well, she was fabulous in Showgirls , a movie that has probably played a significant role in perpetuating the fashion-porn connection. But Ingrid Casares? My lesbian social-worker sister back in Blighty has more wattage than she does. So there .

Re Marc’s neck brace: a keeping-it-real accessory? Rough trade? A barroom brawl? A kooky style statement? “A pinched nerve,” said a spokesman.

How apt!