Fashion Week’s Brave Face

At Diane von Furstenberg’s afternoon show on Sunday, Feb. 15, the front-row guests simply would not settle down—but perhaps everyone was simply thrilled they didn’t have to put their sad faces on in sympathy for the economy. “We need this!” said Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn, glancing around the tent at Bryant Park. “We need people feeling ‘up’ this week! People were speculating that it was going to be, oh, you know, down and recalibrated to be like the economy. But that makes it sound as if we’re all supposed to don this monastic attire and lead a nun’s existence, and, like, why? This is fashion.”

And Fashion Week, necessarily about seeing and being seen, was still delivering. At Ms. von Furstenberg’s show, Diane Sawyer and Charlie Rose, both dressed in two-piece black-and-white suits, seemed amused by the commotion. Two seats away, Diana Ross’ big hair was being lit up by the dozen or so camera flashes. Ms. Furstenberg’s husband, IAC chairman Barry Diller, strolled in and gave Ms. Ross a hug and Ms. Sawyer a kiss on the forehead, and waved at model Natalia Vodianova’s two flaxen-haired children seated directly across from him. Meanwhile, French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld, stylist Rachel Zoe, actress Julia Stiles and model Heidi Klum were still filtering in and doing rounds of mandatory hellos. It was just like old times!

It’s likely that everyone was breathing a collective sigh of relief; after all, the prognosis had been grim in the days and months leading up to this edition of Fashion Week. The fashion dailies and blogs assured us that the shows would be subdued. Celebrities wouldn’t come. The clothing would be basic, safe, boring. (And McDonald’s coffee would be served in the tents! What a comedown!)

Instead, as Ms. von Furstenberg’s was, many of the designs sent down the runway were imaginative, colorful, precise and inspired. It’s true that the celebrity factor was downscaled. But the ones who came were, for a change, actual fans of the designers they came to support—not C-listers on the prowl for free press (or shwag—the number of gifting suites and gift bags stuffed with hair products and nail files was noticeably down). Not to mention that those McDonald’s lattes and cappuccinos that the Transom spotted Vogue’s Hamish Bowles standing in line for on Monday morning were surprisingly tasty!

On Thursday, Feb. 12, the day before the tents at Bryant Park officially opened, Bergdorf Goodman fashion director Linda Fargo was already feeling giddy as she skimmed her color-coded, plastic-sleeve-encased fashion week schedule. 

“Already today, we’ve snagged—well, I’m not going to tell you who or what—but we’ve already snagged someone very, very young, someone we’re very excited about,” she told the Transom at a private dinner thrown by Fashion Week Daily at La Goulue.

The youth were back! The young designers, whom everyone had predicted would be the first to flop, have exceeded expectations; they ignored advice to go “simple” and instead went with their gut—the economy be damned.

Jason Wu, the 26-year-old designer whose profile exploded after Michelle Obama wore his one-shouldered white dress to the inaugural balls, was one of the first to impress with his floor-sweeping midnight blue and ivory chiffon gowns on Friday, Feb. 13. (Rumor had it that Anna Wintour displayed a slight yet distinct smile in the front row.) The Egyptian-inspired jewelry was designed by CFDA accessory design winner Philip Crangi.

“It’s got this feeling of exuberance and glamour, but with a dark edge to it,” said Mr. Crangi of the heavy sun-ray necklaces. “And in scale, we wanted to make things bigger.”

After the first round of shows that day, Roberto Cavalli hosted a party at his Madison Avenue store for the release of Fighters and Flowers, a fashion photography book that he collaborated on with Vanity Fair fashion and style director Michael Roberts.

“Fashion is fashion,” Mr. Roberts told the Transom. “If there’s a slight tremor of a recession, it’s secondary because what’s most important to fashion people is the fashion world.”

Nearby, Vogue creative director Grace Coddington, who had just arrived from the Rag & Bone show, was talking about cats with Mr. Cavalli—they both own several.

Fashion Week’s Brave Face