Grace versus Gross: Altuzarra and Alexander Wang
IN THE BATTLE between bad girls and good girls, the latter have seldom won - at least in the fashion world. Sex, rock and rebellion have been staples for half a century. Smart young women with floaty dresses and strict but sensual jackets don't usually cut it.
But, in an exceptional collection Joseph Altuzarra played sophisticate to Alexander Wang's wild child - and won. His intense decoration that included tiny florals patterning jackets or boots, was rich in references, yet came over as an elegant exuberance.
Backstage, receiving tributes from front-row guest Kate Bosworth, Altuzarra had an explanation for the white-painted trellis as a single statement on his runway.
"It was about being very curious and open to different inspirations," the designer said. "The winter garden was so poetic, but it was also so structural."
And those words were the essence of a fine Altuzarra collection, where flower-patterned parkas matched the boots and paisley prints on flowing dresses suggested the India of the Raj. The different inspirations were, like the shapely clothes, brought tidily together.
The show notes referred to Jim Jarmusch's film Only Lovers Left Alive and the designer said that he "wanted to be free to follow my curiosity about the world we live in, and weave a tapestry of references and stories into this collection". Then he added a crucial sentence: "I also wanted to speak to the women I know and the reality of their lives".
That final line incorporated the strength of the collection and its exceptional grace. I have seen so many inspirations of the India of the Raj in my long fashion career, but this was not so much a cultural screengrab as an interpretation.
That hot pink that Diana Vreeland famously described as "the navy blue of India", appeared as a slim skirt worn with a jacket dense in floral decoration, but neatly fitted. Another jacket might be worn over slim trousers with a faint shadow of the cut of jodhpurs. Fringe framed a top, which was opened up with lattice sleeves. Dresses were fitted, but long and soft below the waist.
The folkloric aspects went beyond India, stretching along a silk route from Venice, through Morocco to Turkey.
In producing such sumptuous richness so perfectly under control, this Altuzarra show created a FINE fashion moment.
"Pop culture - it's what I feel, it's what I do - it's the Wang counties!" said Alexander Wang, who held his show under the soaring dome of a regular New York place of worship: St Bartholomew's Episcopal Church on Park Avenue.
The designer's naughty-boy attitude consisted of printing words like "STRICT" or "TENDER" on to the thighs of sheer, sticking tops and sending out leaf patterns that some of the sniggering audience claimed as weed.
A his-and-hers oversized sweater with a pattern of a pole dancer was not so much daring as cheery. It was easy to get the message: Wang was determined to put his Balenciaga couture days behind him - and perhaps find another inspiration. I wondered if there was a little nod in the raw-edged clothes to Vetements, the label whose anti-fashion stance is sweeping European style and whose leader - Demna Gvasalia - has taken over Wang's Creative Director role at Balenciaga.
Whatever the complexity or otherwise behind Wang's show, its defiant adolescent attitude did not seem to take fashion forward. There were some strong riffs: tweed jackets, geometrically patterned ankle-length dresses, sharp 1960s-style mini-skirt looks and powerful accessories, and especially leather boots with heavy metal.
Wang also incorporated men's clothes that worked well and were on message as a reflection - not a rejection - of current society. Not entirely rebellious then.