Strictly Sauvage

Every season, the miasma of conflicting P.O.V.’s that is Fashion Week cries out to be rummaged through and ransacked for identifiable trends. To what end? So that you, the man or woman on the street, can ignore them completely, and you, the fashion follower, can also ignore them, because you don’t want to look like a victim. The hamster’s wheel of style is spinning so fast that trends are obsolete as soon as people like me have identified them. So what’s the point of it all? No probing questions, please.

The system is really quite simple. Trends come, supposedly, from the street (wherever the hell that is), to the European shows, thence to New York. And thence to me. I then formulate a dubious hypothesis, shove it in a bag with my invites and off I go.

On behalf of my male readers, I scrutinized the look-books (‘scuse the jargon) and videos of the January European fall men’s shows to ascertain whether there was an earth-shattering look which might reasonably be expected to perk up the New York Men’s Collections (Feb. 8 to 10). Sometimes there isn’t one. This time there was, and it’s fantastic and I love it and I’m calling it s-a-u-v-a-g-e !

Yes, it sounds like the name of a suburban hair salon–that’s exactly the point. Sauvage is a flamboyant, sometimes military-themed, pseudo-butch bravado, and it’s poised to vanquish the scrawny, morose, arty, heroin-ishly cool minimalism of the post-grunge era. Almost every Euro fall offering reeked of this new and costumey sauvagerie : Roberto Cavalli (Jim Morrison meets Fabio), Versace (Fabio meets José Eber) and Hedi Slimane for Christian Dior (Nosferatu meets Jerry Lewis). Tom Ford (for Yves Saint-Laurent) showed hordes of grim chauffeur-type guys in somber nipped-in suits and driving gloves. As they paced up and down the runway, they looked as if they had come into the show to fetch, and possibly slap, recalcitrant front-row clients.

Watch it! Sauvage can be violent.

But a frisson of danger would provide a welcome change of pace for the New York Men’s Collections. (F.Y.I.: The men’s shows last only three days, immediately after which Fashion Week segues right into six days of women’s shows.) Anxiously hoping that the same crotchy, militaristic braggadocio would replace the wraith-like cool of past seasons, I crossed my fingers and subwayed (very sauvage !) up to Bryant Park.

Gene Meyer’s collection, shown on Feb. 9, wasn’t very butch at all: On Gene’s asexual skinny boys, those white stretch viscose turtlenecks looked more Connecticut housewife than Rat Pack. Mr. Meyer, who is famous for those graphic Johnnie Cochran ties, did have a nod to flamboyance: His groovy slice shirts, composed of three different colors of cotton, brought back happy memories of David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane makeup.

John Varvatos’ fall line had a certain sauvage swagger, albeit of a more rustic D.H. Lawrence-y kind. With his luxurious clothes, well-designed and unbelievably comprehensive, Mr. Varvatos may not be charting new territory (Giorgio Armani and Romeo Gigli have been there before him), but he nonetheless produced the most viable men’s collection of Fashion Week. A mocha mélange of alpaca, tweed, cashmere and shearling, the non-ironic Varvatos look is, shockingly, one of the few collections designed with a customer in mind (as opposed to a non-existent muse). The Varvatos bloke is a successful (it’s expensive) hetero or straight-acting homosexual with a creative role in a casually attired working environment. If this is you, buy everything. Everyone else should just buy a shearling, or (my fave) his nubuck motor-cross jacket.

John Bartlett’s unbelievably arty Joseph Beuys-inspired installation at a studio on West 15th Street was high on creativity and low on visibility. I’m sure the clothes are fab (hunky military-inspired clothing is part of the Bartlett canon), and I did catch a fleeting glance of an intriguing felt corset and a distressed brown leather storm-trooper coat which looked fantastic; but the rest of the merch was sacrificed to art. Thirty-two army cots, arranged in rows, filled a darkened room; upon each cot lay, corpse-like, a male model. A dim light bulb dangled over each crotch, but not in a cheeky way. A haunting, looped respiration soundtrack filled the air–with each rasping inhale, the lights came up for a split second; exhale, and the lights went down. It was one part peep show and two parts Heaven’s Gate.

Ozwald Boateng, the tall, black, English dude with the bespoke tailoring skills, makes the same three-button, side-vented dandy suit over and over again in a seemingly unlimited color palette, and it’s right up my boulevard. Spiffy, spivvy and natty, Mr. Boateng’s oeuvre is, however, more Savile Row than sauvage . Front-row fun seeker Stephen Baldwin, on the other hand, was more Ozzy Osbourne than Ozzie Boateng at the Feb. 10 show. But his amusingly victimy battered-leather ensemble–complete with scrunchy brown leather cowboy hat–left me wondering if my precious sauvage trend might be déjà played out. I was on the verge of jettisoning my daffy hypothesis when, unexpectedly, Sean (Puffy) Combs blew my brains out! Metaphorically, of course!

Mr. Combs owns the label Sean John, and his annoyingly hard-to-get-into Bryant Park extravaganza that night was the most electrifying, ne plus ultra , pièce da bomb de résistance de savoir-faire du monde of the entire history of fashion. What made it so B-E-Y-O-N-D?

1. His lawyers (Earth to you: Puffy is on trial for gun possession and bribery), Johnnie Cochran and Benjamin Brafman, had front-row seats. Relaxed and clearly loving the action, they were happy to answer my inane pre-show questions about their own sartorial preferences. “I’m wearing Ralph Lauren, Paul Stuart and Talbots,” said the exquisitely dapper Mr. Brafman, whose erect tie knot was underscored by a gold collar pin. He currently owns no Sean John, but Mr. Cochran does. “I’ve got a few T-shirts at home. But tonight I’m wearing DuBose,” said Mr. Cochran, elegantly circumscribing the lapel of his drapey, petrol-colored, double-breasted suit with his thumb. “DuBose is a great custom tailor in Dallas, and my tie is Pancaldi B.”

2. The profane, badass, narcissistic opening soliloquy, delivered by Puffy lui-même , about why he designs clothes and what he thinks about when he looks in the mirror and sees himself “looking motherfuckin’ good,” etc., etc., with his pants draping over his combat boots “just right.” It brought the house down.

3. The music: While we waited for the show to begin, Puff warmed us up with a fantastic trip down Soul Train memory lane: Cheryl Lynn, Rick James and “Nasty Girl” by Vanity 6 (remember Prince’s protégée’s girl group?), with its oddly apropos lyrics, e.g., “Tonight you’re living in a fantasy / Your own little nasty world.”

4. The parade of Puffy acolytes and music-industry luminaries in the highest hip-hop luxe imaginable. We’re talking tangerine fur chubbies, and wait till you see what the women were wearing!

5. The apocalyptically and sauvagely incomprehensible slide-and-video montage that accompanied the show. This brain-washing overload of visual mayhem collaged the civil-rights movement with bikini-clad booty, nuclear explosions, stock footage of icebergs and safari panoramas, J. Lo’s latest video, sperm penetrating ova, and pictures of Che Guevara, Jimmy Carter and others.

6. The show dedication: to Jennifer Lopez–”thanks for showing me life”–and Gianni Versace–”thanks for inspiring us all.”

7. The self-vindicating Maya Angelou poem flashed on the back wall at the end of the show: “You may write me down in history with your bitter twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt, but still like dust I’ll rise.”

8. The Hilton sisters, Paris and Nicky, twin-like in matching coral leather trenches and skimpy dresses, rapaciously ogling the runway studs.

9. The snarly, heroic, bare-chested (the word “Revolution” was scrawled across many chests), tattooed runway studs being ogled by the Hilton gals.

10. The clothes. The haute sauvagerie of the hip-hop-meets-Siegfried-and-Roy runway ensembles both beggars and buggers description. Puffy took the basic hip-hop format and Versace-ized, Fendi-ized and Bob Mackie-ized it into an orgy of fur-dragging, rhinestone-encrusted machismo and richesse. Lynx tails, Persian lambs, coyote tails, Mongolian lamb–even though Puffy’s camp had issued statements right before the show assuring PETA that fur was no longer part of the Sean John look. But no gabardine or corduroy for Puffy: Baggy jeans were rendered in lizard, ostrich and–my personal favorite–sheared mink cutoffs with a rhinestone-buckled belt. Sauvage !!!

A wave of melancholy chilled my intestines as I exited Puffy’s show. No, it wasn’t the broiled tempeh I’d eaten earlier. It was the ludicrous Fashion Week schedule, with its pointless proliferation of shows–the men’s shows had just ended, the women’s shows hadn’t even begun. Every woman on earth now seems compelled to express herself through the medium of a runway show, and the likelihood, in the upcoming week, of a Puffy experience or even a damn good laugh was slim. I’m not bitter, girls, I’m just facing facts.

Neither the Bruce show nor the Liz Collins show–both on Feb. 11–provided any chuckles; but there was, in both cases, an artsy, craftsy, wearable-art trend happening. The Bruce girls pleated and sliced the hell out of convent-school rust-and-gray wool jerseys with couture-y craftsiness, producing some gorgeous, updated Prime of Miss Jean Brodie frocks. Liz Collins knitted, knotted and cobbled strips of leather, fur and suede scraps with an ardor (verging on the sauvage ) that recalled (with mixed emotions) the great lesbian fiber-art collectives of the 1970’s. Liz’s best frock: her nude elastic cashmere and wool hole dress.

Diane Von Furstenberg-Diller (probably the antithesis of a woo-woo fiber-artist) caused a sensation that evening with her black jersey dresses–and by placing Candy and Tori Spelling in the front row of her show. A force field of electric curiosity surrounded this mother-daughter combo. I broke through it to ask the beautiful and bijoux -encrusted Mrs. Spelling a question that had been gnawing at me for years: Did she still have that legendary gift-wrapping room in her Beverly Hills home? Her enthusiastic affirmative response prompted me to admit to her that I had once, based on this tidbit of Spelling lore, designed a window display in homage to her entitled “Candy Wrapper.” Since neither she nor Tori seemed very amused by my little histoire , I returned to my seat, resigned to a humor-free Fashion Week–little suspecting what was in store for me at Miguel Adrover.

Mr. Adrover’s grim and pretentious invite–a coffee-stained paper napkin, enscribed with the word “MEETEAST” and shoved in a nondescript, Scotch-taped office envelope–gave no hint of the hilarity to come. A wailing muezzin jump-started his show at the Essex Street Market at 9 p.m. that night, and out came an ominous bunch of somber natural-linen djellabas. Then, slowly but surely, the frenzy of the souk invaded the runway as Mr. Adrover sent out an endless stream of dour characters–twins, potentates, librarians, policewomen, high priestesses and concubines.

But Mr. Adrover did not do Sche-herezade; he chose instead the dusty Cairo of aujourd’hui with its mish-mosh of East and West. This gave him free rein to create the most incredible range of clothing–men’s tailored jackets, stained and torn raiments, high-necked ruffled Pollyanna dresses, uniforms, boring blousons and majestic robes made out of muddied sateen or packing blankets. This spectacular show, with its Pasolini-esque celebration of filth and grandeur, had me completely in its thrall. Then it all came to a screeching halt, and the spirit of Jacques Tati invaded the casbah.

First, a sturdy lady with a draped head led a large, reluctant black sheep or goat (I wasn’t sure) out onto the runway. The animal took one look at the crowd and threw its gears into reverse with all its might (it was a big sheep or goat). The veiled lady became very agitated and tried to haul the stubborn beast down the runway alongside her. The animal panicked and pitched itself, legs uppermost, off the back of the runway, to the gasps of the adjacent fashion flock. Seconds later its head reappeared, and it eyed the audience with indifference. The lady continued to pull.

It was haute Tati, and it got even more so when Stephen Ruzow, the chairman and chief executive of Pegasus Apparel (Mr. Adrover’s parent company), leapt onto the runway and attempted to wrangle the beast himself! “We booked you for this show, and you’re gonna model or else!” his frenzied determination seemed to say. Eventually, the sheep (or goat) slid under the runway and hopefully regained its equilibrium. P.S.: This collection–with its significant quota of voluminous djellabas–is incredible news for high-fashion gals who enjoy their food.

Carolina Herrera, on the other hand, designs for disciplined gals with personal trainers or eating disorders. Let’s face facts: that fabulous mandarin cashmere coat would be a total horreur in anything above a size eight. Ditto my other faves of Feb. 12: Chaiken’s fuchsia wool coat and Katayone Adeli’s black plissé evening top. The snotty-skinny trend (think Nicky and Paris Hilton) has brought designers like these three into the same bulimic ballpark–and they’re all doing a fantastic job.

Marc Jacobs proved that you don’t necessarily need to have criminal charges or suicidal livestock to bring the fashion flock to its knees–all you need is a tight concept. Marc’s fall concept? I think you could call it “chambermaids on crack.” It was very Jean Genet ( The Maids ), very Jeanne Moreau ( Mademoiselle ) and very 1920’s Chanel.

Gorgeous little boiled twill suits with oversized buttons; black georgette, organdy and satin dresses; Peter Pan collars-a-go-go; discreet lace underwear-type detailing–it was missy and punky, and the crowd that night went bonkers for it. Which just goes to show, everyone loves a pissed-off, crazy French servant.

Next week: more random gems from the Fashion Week pantheon.

Strictly Sauvage