Frock You Very Much

What to do with the extra fabric? Why not gather a horde of striving designers and throw yourself another Fashion Week? While Fashion Week always aspires to school us in the lessons of excess, the first days of the spring ’07 collections seemed a master class in the management of an abundance of textiles.

Finola Hughes, queen of the Style Network’s Fashion Week coverage, proclaimed that she’s keeping up with the ways in which top American designers “keep with the silhouette of the bubble.” There you have it from the messengers—volume is still the watchword.

On Saturday at Alice Roi in Bryant Park, the designer made sure there was enough margin to roll up at the sleeve, à la T-shirts in the 80’s. Also enough to gather, bunch, pleat and tuck into waistbands. Quite a few of Alice Roi’s garments extended beyond the shoulder; some even slipped off, in a wider, looser, slouchier look, punctuated by a tight leg or small shorts. Think 80’s, even if we’ve already plumbed those shallows.

Ms. Roi always makes her personal life present. Audiences in 2005 witnessed her then fiancé propose marriage by having models parade placards popping the question; last season, she celebrated her 30th birthday with the crowds. Growing up before the fashion world has earned her a foothold. “This is the first full show I’ve been to so far this week,” said an attendee.

Well, it was early. And not that Bryant Park has been lacking for hoopla, or confusion. To get a cup of coffee, one had to dodge Omahyra, the idiosyncratic, butch Dominican model, returned from a few seasons off, darting like quicksilver around the beverage counter in aerodynamically skinny jeans and layered tanks. “These are the fashion shows?” a woman asked, surveying the scene. “I’d rather be shopping.”

Meanwhile, the wave of new young designers keep coming on still-young Ms. Roi’s heels, and it’s increasingly difficult to keep them all straight. There seems to be an idea that there is a crisis in identifying the future of fashion. So why are there so many young designers? CFDA/ Vogue, Gen ART, Project Runway and even UPS are all working to give kids their big break. Even with a boost, their staying power is uncertain.

Late Sunday morning, the UPS-sponsored Hub hosted Brian Reyes, 25, whose label is all of three seasons old. He also liked a little billow in his charming clothes. They were sometimes cinched by wide, scrumptious sashes. Did one detect a mote more color—and that is color of the ethnic variety—at this show than some others we could name but won’t? Diana Ross’ daughter, the actress Tracee Ellis Ross, was taking in the view in a green trench-coat dress in the silhouette of the moment: voluminous, short, belt-cinch optional.

Sun Ho—boutique retailer, relationship counselor, creative director of Singapore’s largest church (the titanium-clad City Harvest) and also Singapore’s top-selling female recording artist in 2003 and 2004 (and current dueter with Wyclef Jean), as well as a new mother—seemed persuaded as well.

“I wear more edgy stuff—I’m not really into dresses, but I could see myself wearing this,” Ms. Ho said. Lucky for Mr. Reyes, who pictured his collection for a woman on a voyage somewhere in Asia. “Really?” said Ms. Ho. “I didn’t even know that was the theme.” She recovered fast. “It was very Asian. The silks, the embroidery …. ”

Please don’t ask, please don’t ask—but then, of course, someone did. “Is that Puffy over there?” Wince. No.

For all those who think having the right outfit will get you into fashion shows, there is now proof! A few hours later, in the same location—and just before the U.P.S.-sponsored Sari Gueron show—four young men from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, Long Island, waited for standing room in their crisp quasi-military whites—the Merchant Marine being civilian except in times of war.

Kevin Kinsella, Chad Ray, Ryan Hadley and John Buehler all reported their ages as 18, their titles as “plebes.” And their reason for being at the show? “We just saw the tents and decided to come in.” Not invited? “No, but they just let us in. I guess when you’re in uniform …. ” Some of the plebes were looking for giveaways. Were those free shoes in the corner, they asked, and remained undeterred by the news that said shoes featured gold braid. What were the boys’ other interests, after gold footwear? “Hot models,” said one. “I’m a Versace fan,” said another.

A far cry from glamazon, what they got instead at the Sari Gueron show were variants of nightgowns and prairie dresses paired with flat sandals. Sorry, boys. Hopefully, they got some shoes.

Diane von Furstenberg concluded her “emerging designer” days long ago, but she may have beat the kids on their own trend. An hour later, in the main tent, she featured garments whose shape derived from something other than the shape of the human body. Fabric was bloused, poufed, trapezed or fashioned into pockets that long-limbed girls with a jaunty hip thrust or shoulder jut could use to mark an insouciant silhouette. More cloth than you need to wrap around your disco-slim waist? Well then, the show seemed to say, let it swing.

Mob mentality was on full display in the tent, with photographers and hangers-on swarming someone, anyone, simply because others were—and then trying to backfill the facts later.

After taking her picture, a photographer turned and asked, “Who is Molly Sims?”

Mega-model? Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? MTV’s House of Style?

“Huh,” he said. “That’s not who I thought she was.”

The flock-now, question-later attitude—without which the nova that is fashion would collapse into a vacuum—was enough to leave Carmen Electra (not known for acute sensitivity to social shame) nonplussed. Regarding her turn as a member of the paparazzi—she reported for Style Network during Fashion Week in previous seasons—she said, “I felt uncomfortable going up to people and asking them for an interview, but it’s your job for that week.

“And it’s an honor,” she said quickly.

Oh, it is. But can we really bear to witness the machinery of style grinding away? In their desperation to glide frictionless on the leading arc of cool, the aspiring stylistas can’t help looking quite the opposite of what they intend, scrambling in a frantic pack, furiously signaling their belonging to one tribe or another. Effortless never seemed so strenuous.