At NYFW: Jeffrey Monteiro continues legacy at Bill Blass
This New York Fashion Week witnessed the second collection of Jeffrey Monteiro for Bill Blass, the fifth designer to take over the storied fashion house in just 11 years. The collection was shown the morning of the final day, strategically perhaps the best day for oneâs collection to be seen, since viewers always remember what weâve seen last. Itâs no wonder that fellow big names were on view that day as well, such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Isaac Mizrahi.
Taking over one of the most celebrated names in fashion history is no easy feat. Itâs been done before, however, and with success: by Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel and Alber Elbaz at Balmain, most recently. Not only do these designers know they have a huge responsibility before them and a very famous name to uphold, they must also know they have a huge privilege as well. Without intimate knowledge, but with a certain amount of presumption, it would seem that they relished the opportunity. Getting it just right, though, is for the fashion cognoscenti to decide, never mind for the consumers as well, since theyâre the ones who ultimately buy the clothes.
Monteiro has the esteemed privilege of carrying on the legendary moniker and creations of Bill Blass, one of the biggest names in American fashion, just when fashion in this country was hitting its mid- to latter-20th-century mark. Bill Blassâ designs littered the pages of fashion magazines in the â70s and â80s, during the apotheosis of his career. Born in the Midwest, he moved east and firmly established himself in the New York social scenes as the designer of note to the ladies who lunch. His chic, crisp, all-American aesthetic was quickly scooped up by the likes of Nancy Kissinger and Nan Kempner, and even by first ladies Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Jackie Kennedy.
However, the collection displayed by Monteiro last Thursday showed a very tame approach to the polished creations of yesteryear. Maybe it was the models or the cool photographers who shot them, but Bill Blassâ creations always made you dream of the fabulous life in New York. They screamed sophistication and made a lady feel like a lady, albeit one in chargeâa real 20th-century-kind-of gal. Monteiroâs presentationâshown as a walk-through rather than on a runwayâhad a dozen or so models placed on three rudimentary elevated stages to show off the clothes. The setting looked more suitable for a performance of âWaiting for Godotâ than for a high fashion show, with the girls perched on small painted-black plywood (taped in parts) with wood structures behind, covered in ripped white paper. The clothing was perfectly presentable, but was seriously downgraded amid the letâs-put-on-a-show staging. For such a classy brand, it didnât present the clothes in their best light. This didnât stop hordes of editors, paparazzi, buyers and fans from crowding into The Box at Lincoln Center, one of the new venues used to showcase smaller collections such as Monteiroâs. Although his pieces looked familiar and resonated along Blass lines, they were a bit disparate and lacked a defining element. Itâs hard to tell where Monteiro is going to go next.
Truth be told, the collection was a good start, but looked like just that. Call it unfair to compare a present designer to a past king, but we demand a lot out from those who clothe us. Made up mostly of dressesâand more than one in red, obviously the new color choice for springâthey seemed tame, even for ladies who lunch. These days, that crowd is as likely to be made up of nighttime broadcasters (Alina Cho), scions of luxury goods houses (Coralie Charriol), journalists who are also married to major media journalists (Cristina Cuomo) or designers in their own right (Kara Ross), all of who raise the bar on their style as high as they can without going overboardâi.e., they are all are super-stylish women whose fashion savvy is acute enough that they consistently craft the right look for every situation. Other designers who cater to the same crowd, such as Michael Kors, manage to mix it up without making too much of a scene. Witness his first model down the runway, on the arm of a hunk and dressed in a plunging, belted, V-neck cashmere sweater with shorter-than-short matching shorts, scrunched boots and a massive, gorgeous fur. Clearly this was for the ladies who are lunching in St. Moritz.
The point is that itâs possible to do tame (read: appropriate) fashion that still offers style. Monteiroâs navy suiting, print dresses and LBDs are lovely, but could benefit from more of a âwowâ factor. Letâs keep our eye on this very talented designer to see what crops up for Fall 2011.