by Alex R. Travers
Before the Fall 2014 fashion season started in New York, Lincoln Center, the official venue of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, was under fire. “We’re in a creative industry that’s supposed to be reinventing things,” said the designer Cynthia Rowley. “So why do they send a girl walking down a runway over and over? It seriously makes me mad!” Perhaps Rowley’s vitriolic reaction was a tad dramatic. However, in her defense, it can be quite difficult to create a context for a collection in such a homogonous space. And while the tents—now complete with black interiors evocative of Marc Jacobs’ last show for Louis Vuitton—have undergone a slight transformation, not much has changed in terms of how the shows are conducted.
But last night something great happened: I watched Monique Lhuillier make the Theater at Lincoln Center a space all her own. Call me crazy but this was one of the best shows I’ve seen at the official Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week tents this season. Lhuillier’s woman was mystery personified, and the designer’s stage was set to underscore that notion: eerie, cinematic tunes by Alexander Desplat; a pitch-black runway; a shattered column at the foot of the catwalk; and, of course, her clothes. Ah, those clothes—dark, dramatic, and highly provocative but quite difficult to classify. Were her angled hemlines meant to suggest something was askew? Or were her skulls—printed on dresses and boleros—omens of something horrid to come? Lhuillier did reveal the meaning of her high-low hemlines: “A glimpse of a secret within.”
Some secret. You’d have to be as persistent as Sean Connery was in Marnie to get it out of her. He was a hunter. But there were no men on Lhuillier’s runway, so it was the clothes—lurex jacquard strapless gowns, noir lace dresses—that hid her models’ pasts and transformed them into hunters with brooding eyes and grand delusions. They were irresistible, a perfect blend of dark and pretty. Still, there were times when the evening wear skated dangerously towards the edge of parody, i.e. her voluminous silk taffeta high-low gown. Its sheer size and fuchsia embroidery yelled, “I am big. It’s the dresses that got small!”
What did work best were her small, body-con black numbers, like a silk jersey backless gown with jeweled scorpion shoulder detail, or, if you wanted to keep it classic, her crêpe cocktail frock with illusion neckline. Which proved that Lhuillier’s excursion into the macabre didn’t dismiss her conception to keep the pretty-girl aesthetic she’s known for. After all, it’s never wise to bite the fashion hand that feeds you.