The mood is darker, more somber this holiday season. You see it at various events – people ‘dialing it back’ a bit; holding back on the gold and glitter; dressing in black to varying levels of formality or elegance and letting go of the holiday accessorizing, the slashes of red or green, fringe, embroidery and scarves. A black-and-white-and-blue X-mas to you. Fashion is inevitably influenced by political and economic currents. It’s also influenced by random news events – particularly those with larger ramifications. No one cares about the fiscal cliff. The rich have already prepared for the contingency and the rest of us are ready to drift down that canyon with the hope that the President will be empowered to force the GOP hand by the end of January (when the really serious sales start – kidding … a little). That the world is in big trouble is nothing new; but the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre of first-grade children hit us where we’re most vulnerable. (When the NRA is on the defensive – at its most paranoid and delusional to date – you know something has changed.)
Looking at Bill Cunningham’s “On the Street” layout in the Sunday New York Times a couple of weeks back – the photos were of the fabulous store windows on Fifth and Madison Avenues – I couldn’t help choking up a bit. It’s one of the earliest and most enduring delights for children in New York City and almost all the Tri-State suburbs. I’d walked in those shoes – the shoes of a first-grade kid looking forward to the week-end in Manhattan and all the delights of the season. It’s an entrée to the city and the world as a place of potential enchantment. All that wonder, that promise, all those dreams cruelly snuffed out in a matter of hours. Massacre of the Innocents indeed. And all of us implicated – as a society, culture, as a civilization. It is indeed the season of Les Misérables. Feel that? That’s fashion shaken at its foundation.
While we’re all looking back at the last year – the hits, the misses, the ‘moments’ – let me share a few of my own. First, personal misses: I realize I sat out most of the Spring ready-to-wear runway shows as far as this space is concerned. I will try to refer back and fill in a bit as the next year (already in a pre-Fall season mode – at least that’s what Franca Sozzani says) unfolds. In the meantime I’m collecting a lot of impressions of fashions in the medical professions and institutions (it’s all about the accessories, hair, nails, maquillage), and pitching a scripted alternative to the apparently worn-out Project Runway (don’t take my word). It’ll be a not-so-comic mash-up of ER, a somewhat funkier, grungier, streetwise Project Runway, and Paris Is Burning. I’m also hoping hospital bracelets won’t be my default arm candy of 2013. But maybe we can persuade Van Cleef & Arpels to customize.
My favorite look of the past year was, I believe, a New York Times photo (either from the front page or the first page of the business section) of Hillary Clinton – by no means a flattering shot. (I believe the occasion was a diplomatic or trade negotiation in China.) As I recall, she’s very tastefully accessorized and wearing what looks like a fairly expensive knit suit or jacket. Her hair is a longish version of her usual side-parted pageboy – clearly a bit grown-out, and so what. She’s not looking at the camera. All her attention is clearly directed to her interlocutor – listening intently, thoughtfully, missing nothing. Make-up minimal to zero. There are probably a thousand photos like it: nice suit maybe – nothing Karl Lagerfeld had anything to do with, jewelry that barely registers, maybe a pair of sunglasses. Not like she doesn’t know how to rock a Donna Karan burn-out velvet gown – but those were different times. She’s just doing her job – trying to save our asses in this insane world. What could be more comme il faut?
Okay – maybe not my favorite look. Let’s just say, my favorite attitude – in the moment, engaged, on the case. Serena Williams has it, too. A few actresses seem to cross this terrain on and off the red carpet: Marion Cotillard, Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren, Tilda Swinton. Maybe one of them could play them in the (inevitable!) bio-pics. (On second thought, I’m leaving something out.) And something else I didn’t mention – which might sound very counter- or even anti-chic (but then counter- or even anti-chic might be something to seek out): pragmatism. What I mean by that is that it either works or it doesn’t. Meaning it works for the wearer (or the bearer) – absorbed seamlessly and elegantly (and practically) into the style, the moment.
We could take this a lot of places, but right now it must feel like I’ve already taken you on a long ride and I’m sure you’re car-sick what with the way I drive. Yes, I have a bit more – men’s fashion evolution, Rick Owens, L.A. fashion evolution, Chloé, Narciso Rodriguez, Marc Jacobs, Raf Simons, Chado/Ralph Rucci, Stevie Nicks – yes, Stevie Nicks; so much more. But it can wait.