How Banana Republic Made Fashion Week Warm and Fuzzy

At NYFW, Banana Republic served up chatter, no seating, and food. Food! Plus, how celebrities defied the freezing weather at Christian Siriano, Altuzarra, and Monique Lhuilllier.

David X Prutting/ Republic

Tim Teeman at Banana Republic

There were macaroons in many colors and dainty, morsel-sized lemon squares. There was coffee, and those odd little cartons of water. People were smiling and chatting, the models were smiling and chatting. They talked to each other and the crowd.

As the bitter wind blasted villainously up, down, and around 14th Street Saturday afternoon, Banana Republic provided a cockle-warming refuge of Fashion Week perversity.

What about the usual models' stony looks? The sitting on benches and observing? The rigid social stratification? We were in New York Fashion Week'sTwilight Zone.

This was Banana Republic's Fashion Week event, but the friendliness, the fact that people were eating publicly, indicated that the mainstream designer wanted to make the most of its outsider status among the high fashion houses showing their wares at NYFW.

Loosened up and fun it was for sure--and by the look and feel of this very informal show you'd never have guessed that Banana Republic was having a rough time.

Earlier this week it was revealed that the store--where you kind of go in a hurry to when you urgently need a shirt and jacket for a job interview, but the size isn't quite right but it will have to do--had suffered a 17 per cent drop in sales in January, compared to the year prior.

On Saturday, attendees to the store's Fashion Week came in shivering off the street and were met by something very different to the gaze-upon glamor of the traditional runway.

Usually, you sit in serried ranks, gazing upon celebrities and hoopla, and the show begins 20-30 minutes late, and is over pretty smartish, and off you trot outside to watch oh-that's-her-off-the-TV get papped.

In a Meatpacking District gallery space, the Banana Republic models stood in two casual lines on a raised stage, on two sides of a white wall, and wearing a selection of clothes, a few items of which were immediately available to buy.

There's no waiting for the autumn for Banana Republic to sell these threads. Like other designers seeking to change the established order this season by forsaking the traditional runway and wait to buy what it shows, Banana Republic hopes that this new way of display and sales turns that minus 17 per cent into a happier figure.

The clothes on the cheery models were, almost uniformly, hits. Of course, on genetically blessed wearers like these young men and women, the clothes could only look good.

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But still, each ensemble seemed as if it could transition to Banana Republic customers. The clothes certainly produced coos from an exceptionally attractive and cool group of fashion show attendees. Cameras on phones were trained on visitors as much as models.

For women, there were light caramel-colored, short, belted trench coats, a beautifully patterned long black dress, loose and dotted with a lilac petal pattern, longer fitted trench coats, a brown leather jacket, and a gorgeous mustard blazer. Women's trousers were predominantly tapered and not full-length: pedal-pushers at their simplest and sweetest. There were fitted sweaters in burgundy and Breton-striped (a pattern shared with men), and warm-looking cardigans draped over short, ruffled dresses.

There were not overt flashes of extravagance or daring--bar a furry-looking wrap over one belted coat. Instead, a short woolen jacket, with 1950s design echoes, a luxurious-looking cape, and navy pleated skirt cut beneath the knee stole the show more quietly.

Or choose a loose-fitting white chemise with dainty black pattern, a simple jersey topped with navy jacket, and then to finish off, a red skirt, blue sweater and green cardigan worn happily-sloppy together; and a sharp, muddy-orange trouser suit.

The Banana Republic man's look is cutely conventional. There were trench coats and slim suits in grays, blues, and sometimes all-black. Leather and flying jackets looked both smooth and fitted, and the men's Breton-striped tops added some whimsy.

The only men's looks to lightly break with a familiar pattern were an olive-green blouson, and a black, fitted winter-coat with a neat vertical row of buttons, topped with a bright yellow beanie.

As for the crowd's far showier fabulousness, notable were the woman in the black mohair coat with rainbow design; the man in the brown and cream coat-cape with feathered hat; the man in all black with blasts of shiny black patent leather; the under-the-arm suede purses; the men's pointy suede shoes; the woman whose long black jacket came decorated with planets and stars.

"Treats anybody? Treats?" one waiter trilled as we visitors sauntered, and dish was exchanged over playtime the night before.

"We went to Hamilton," one man said in a flat monotone to a friend. "We went backstage to meet Jonathan Groff, and then on to some party, oh, you know, someplace. You know how it is, blah blah blah."

Note the tonal Fashion Week bases hit by this fellow. Unpacked: "I've been to all the right places, seen all the right people, and I'm totally over it. I was over it when I was there, probably even before I got there. What's next? Meh, I'm probably over that too."

Christian Siriano by Lizzie Crocker

The celebrities sitting front row at Christian Siriano on Saturday afternoon were unusually cooperative during a seven minute onslaught of flashing cameras before the show.

“We’re just embarrassing ourselves at this point,” one Siriano staffer said to another, terrified that Thora Birch or Jason Biggs might be annoyed, before breaking up the scrum.

But Thora Birch looked perfectly content, despite the fact that her stylist had suggested she wear a scrap of blue silk on the coldest day of the year. All the half-naked women at these shows are immune to the elements, you see. Don’t ask questions.

Orange is the New Black’s Jackie Cruz had her stylist fluff the fringe on her white dress in the foyer outside the show.

Even more remarkable than the scantily clad women unaffected by the polar vortex was Glee’s Naya Rivera, whose breasts were both inexplicably buoyant and perfectly aligned beneath a plunging pajama-style silk blazer. They had sustained gale-force winds outdoors, and her stylist was nowhere in sight.

Christian Siriano’s collection was inspired by artist Sheila Hicks’ “Art of the Yarn” exhibit, which meant that almost every piece had some knitting or weaving theme.

Sculpted braids climbed the front of over-the-knee snakeskin boots like zippers, and images of cable knit digitally printed on silk jersey dresses had a trompe l’oeil effect. There were also oversized woven scarves and stilettos with braided knit straps.

The Project Runway winner delivered plenty of show-stopping looks for the red carpet: tiered gowns in yellow organza, black tulle, or a black and silver marble print; sheer black dresses embroidered with shimmering black paillettes; long silk gowns in sunny yellows and fire engine reds; and a yellow floral appliqué jumpsuit (Siriano’s fiancé, the music producer Brad Walsh, wore his own custom-made version to the show).

The dramatic tiers and textures looked all the more lively with movement, never more so than when the models walked out together to David Bowie’s 'Fashion' for the finale.

Jason Biggs applauded vigorously, his girlfriend narrowly avoiding his flapping arms.

Lizzie Crocker at Altuzarra

Joseph Altuzarra’s latest collection was inspired by Jim Jarmusch’s 2013 film, Only Lovers Left Alive, in which Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston star as art-and-culture-obsessed vampires.

Swinton’s character lives in Tangier and hangs out with Christopher Marlowe, who is still bitter that he didn’t get more credit for Shakespeare’s plays.

How was this reflected in the clothes?

“Worlds--and eras--collide, mixing and matching 19th Century textiles, Indian paisleys, Venetian pearls, Moroccan and Turkish folkloric costumes, utility wear, but always with the ease and pragmatism of the street,” the show’s program informed guests.

“Ease” and “pragmatism” are not words typically associated with high fashion, but the pieces in Altuzarra’s Fall/Winter ‘16 show were infinitely more pragmatic than the countless pairs of bare legs and sockless feet on its attendants.

“It’s freezing,” Olivia Palermo declared after the show, pulling her leather pants down around her bare ankles before stepping outside, where the temperature dipped below 5 degrees.

Fashion over function, beauty is pain, etc. etc. Wearing a parka that looks like a sleeping bag may be pragmatic on these New York Fashion Week nights, but it means sacrificing any chance of ending up on a street style blog. At least members of the bare-legged committee have their priorities in the right order.

Fashion is aspirational, of course, and Altuzarra gave the crowd what they were yearning for: chunky scarves, turtlenecks layered under dresses, and a lot of heavy, shearling-lined outerwear.

Allison McNearney at Monique Lhuillier

On Saturday night, minutes before the official start of the Monique Lhuillier runway show, the fashion flock queued up in a line that spilled out of Moynihan Station, one of New York Fashion Week’s new homes, and onto the icy eight-degree Midtown streets.

But it was well worth the frostbitten wait; Monique Lhuillier warmed the crowd with a show that fulfilled every little girl’s fashion fantasies.

Inspired by 70’s actress Talitha Getty, Lhuillier sent 36 looks down the runway in an explosion of colors, materials, and styles. Add in the mix of words she used to describe the collection in the show notes—cool, relaxed, eccentric, rock ’n’ roll, over-the-top elegance—and one couldn’t be faulted for thinking the result would be an overwhelming mess. How can one collection have it all?

But Lhuillier pulled it off, and with considerable verve.

There were long, flirty floral dresses in pale pinks and grays. There were leagues of lace in forest greens and blue-bell blues. Paisley printed jacquard pants and skirts were dressed up with chic outerwear (like a luscious deep green chinchilla jacket), while metallic gold details added to the rocker elegance of black gowns and billowy tops.

The collection was thoughtful and fun, precisely crafted and intricately detailed, yet, it still maintained an air of effortlessness.

To round out her glam-rocker-chick-meets-elegant-cool-girl vibe, Lhuillier populated her front row with her very own girl squad. Actresses Jennifer Morrison, Hilary Duff, Ashley Madekwe, and Cara Santana posed for the flashing lights in skin-baring cocktail dresses and strappy heels, proving yet again that stars really aren’t like the weather-plagued rest of us.

As the show ended, one was left with visions of glamor and a lingering question: do they not feel the cold, or is there a secret celebrity changing room backstage?