NYFW Spring 09: Taking comfort in fashion. Back To Jersey Basics at BCBG; Yigal Azrouël’s Organic Ease

Spring 2009 Mercedes Benz Fashion Week is well under way, and SASSYBELLA.com is right there in the midst of it, trying to assign meaning to all the creativity, confusion, and chaos. Two days in, we’ve got a handful of shows under our belt and some early impressions on what priorities, inspirations, and styles designers have on their agendas for next spring. Madison Avenue relies on Bryant Park’s week long fashion extravaganza to net enormous profits, and even more importantly, to provide an early industry consensus on what luxury means and where it will head in difficult times.

Spring 2009’s reaction to sour times? Narciso Rodriguez hit the nail on the head only days ago: the new concept of luxury entails ease and security in stressful times. Yesterday, we saw several shows that featured clothing designed for maximum convenience and comfort.

BCBG Max Azria, the first major show of the week, unexpectedly shot left field from their usual mainstream maximalist design ideals and wowed the front row with an exercise in smart, sophisticated minimalism. The upshot was universal apparel that ensured commercial appeal and exceeded artistic expectations. An empowering medley of Santogold’s polymorphic pop songs paved a suitable runway context for the versatile collection, which found its core inspiration in the place where utility meets urbane sexiness. Asymmetrically draped dresses were breezy and casually luxe – they swung with the slinky ease of jersey done correctly. Max & Lubov Azria – often known to place greater emphais on embellishment than strategic design – this time exemplifed each garment’s structural nuances: imaginative draping, studied slouchy fits, and proportion play impressed celebrity fans and critics alike. A cohesive, well-considered tonal palette of muted whites, greys, and blues was intersected by slashes of fiery orange and pink and cobalt. The collision of hot and cold scintillated.

Stand out looks included a dreamy grey silk jumpsuit with a plunging neckline (belted with careless ease at the waist), a wraparound, drawstring-cinched sheath in deepest blue jersey, and a pair of softly draped charcoal carrot-top trousers paired with a shrunken anorak in a subtle slate. Best of all was a creatively layered grey and hot pink cocoon dress — its multi-tiered neckline folded back softly into origami angles — worn with a translucent blue slip underneath to give a multi-dimensional hem length. That look was the highlight of a modern collection whose primary focus was dressing a successful woman for optimum comfort and versatility. It delivered function as fashion, and left a whole lot of us contemplating the perks of that oft-maligned fabric, jersey.

Speaking of jersey, Yigal Azrouël featured tasteful doses of it in a solid, sometimes riveting spring collection that sought inspiration from organic textures, forms, and movements. His vision for the season, like BCBG‘s, addressed ease and the universal pursuit of effortless style. But where Max and Lubov were sporty and urban, Yigal was downright earthy and equatorial. Fabrics mimicked waves through meticulous hand-pleating and creping; when the trick worked it created a stunning display of trompe-l’œil (as on a particular sandy pink Grecian dress modeled by Hanne Gaby Odiele, who incidentally wore the other best look of the collection – a black-on-black layered silk tunic with elaborate pattern-stitching at the neckline).

Azrouel incorporated cotton-lined leather looks into the collection, usually as boleros or shapeless vests. Better were the separates constructed entirely of laser-cut silk pailettes, which also trimmed many an asymmetrical hemline. As we’ve noticed in many collections thus far, grey dominated the color story, with other washed-out natural hues such as “fog” and “dune” concentric to its calming neutrality. Hand-dyed batik prints bled erratically into each other, further establishing the lived-in and eroded feel of Yigal Azrouël’s aesthetic for spring.

These were specifically terrestrial clothes – while the sand, the sky, and the sea seem to be muses of choice for Spring 2009, Azrouël’s return to nature meant an excursion to the desert, where he found an oasis of terracotta and sandstone-washed reasons to dress for comfort.

All images property of Colleen Nika for SASSYBELLA.com, except for frontal shots, which are courtesy of style.com