Femininity on the Runway at Oscar de la Renta and Marchesa

As many designers explore gender roles with androgynous looks, Oscar de la Renta and Marchesa produce consistent collections that seem to ask, what's so wrong with looking feminine?

Jason DeCrow/AP

Throughout fashion week, there’s been a lot of talk about exploring and blurring gender roles. Hood by Air designer Shayne Oliver produced his usual unisex collection, showing shirtless “models” with bright wigs vogue-ing across the runway, and outrageous clothing and hairstyles that were clearly meant as social and gender commentary. Jeremy Scott’s collection, themed “Football Lingerie,” showed flamboyant, sports-themed garments that were appropriately timed to the current conversation about sexuality in athletics. And an array of designers—from Marc by Marc Jacobs to Duckie Brown—featured menswear-inspired pieces, including boyish outwear and tailored power suits, that emphasized a growing trend in androgynous dressing. While those designers should be applauded for utilizing the runway as a platform to present progressive social ideas, it’s hard not to wonder, what happened to simply showing gorgeous clothes? Really, what’s so wrong with being…feminine?

Oscar de la Renta has always been reliable. He designs painstakingly gorgeous gowns, flirty frocks, and tailored tweed separates for the woman who likes to look, and feel, beautiful. For his Fall/Winter 2014 collection, the 81-year-old designer—along with his nine design assistants as listed in the show’s program—presented a series of clothes that once again failed to disappoint, or stray away from its steady and dependable aesthetic. The silhouettes and color scheme were quintessentially Oscar: pencil skirts, structured blazers, and day-dresses meant for the lady who likes to lunch. An oversized blue cashmere turtleneck was paired with a black flared skirt with royal flowers and gold petals; a white alpaca sweater meshed with a tight leather skirt; and a laser-cut, gold-studded leather jacket was paired with a skirt of the same pattern. For his grand gown finale, Oscar pulled out all the usual tricks: a ruffled, black-and-white polka dot dress with a billowing skirt; two a-line, feather and beaded gowns (one in silver, one in gold); and a strapless, red rose-printed black dress with an attached bustier and a maroon fur collar.

One departure to note, however, was Oscar’s nod to a more youthful set, particularly through the models hair and make-up. When Karlie Kloss opened the show with a short, choppy black ‘do, it was reminiscent of the pink and turquoise hair streaks from the designer’s Spring/Summer 2013 collection. The cuts were fun and more edgy than the brand’s typical customer. Oscar is honest. He’s devoted to his loyal fans—albeit the older, Upper East Side one—who season after season return for the couture-like details and craftsmanship that go into each and every piece he designs. Oscar creates for the woman who likes to look and feel feminine and beautiful. And he does it so well.

Like Oscar, Marchesa designers Keren Craig and Georgina Chapman consistently maintain their classic, feminine evening wear aesthetic. Inspired by “visions of billowing bonfires sweeping through the Scottish Highlands,” the brand’s Fall/Winter 2014 collection showed flowing gowns in vibrant burnt orange, gold, and copper, a silky teal kilt-like dress adorned with mohair, and a bright red ostrich-feather skirt. Held, as always, in the intimate Celeste Barton Forum at The New York Public Library, Marchesa’s elegant space is reflective of the line’s aesthetic. Known best for its red carpet gowns, the designers showed, once again, Oscar-worthy dresses with a Victorian flair that featured opulent lace, decadent embroidery, and luxurious fabrics that were quintessentially Marchesa. It wasn’t anything different from their usual romantic collection. But then again, it didn’t need to be.

Are these designers considered boring for maintaining the same aesthetic season after season? Or, are they progressive in their own right by addressing the fact that, despite ever-changing social and gender roles, women will always need a really great dress?