The Day Katharine Hepburn Came to New York Fashion Week

At NYFW, J. Mendel evoked Hepburn and Alice + Olivia created a wonderland. Badgley Mischka served glamor, Lou Dallas downtown cool, and Sally LaPointe sparkled. Others fell flat.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast


When designing his latest collection, Gilles Mendel had one film star uppermost in his mind: Katharine Hepburn. The designer, representing the fifth generation of the eponymous J. Mendel label, hosted visitors at the Ladurée in Soho, so there were macaroons to nibble on alongside the furs and gowns if you so wished.

I didn't see anyone wishing to nibble on a macaroon, except in the restaurant proper whose patrons quietly observed the brief burst of fashion madness unfolding around them.

Mendel was inspired by Hepburn's strength: her tomboyish demeanor during the day signaled in a pair of mustard tapered slacks, and then in a range of fitted day-dresses and drop-dead evening gowns "you might see her in later in the day.

Hepburn and Lauren Bacall were Mendel's early favorite film stars: women of substance, with male suitors who had to be as strong to be worthy of them. The colors of the beautiful, beaded, and carefully structured pieces–"A woman likes to feel secure in a dress as well as beautiful," noted Mendel–were heavily autumnal: reds, browns, mossy greens predominated.

Mendel is an urban creature, he said, but his girlfriend loves nature, and he was inspired by the paintings of wild, isolated spaces of Canadian artist Tom Thomson. High fashion and such outdoorsy earthiness might seem unusual bedfellows, but Mendel has spiritedly married both. TIM TEEMAN


In an alternate universe, where the post-apocalyptic future and the romance past of the courts of Louis the 14th, the Regency era and 19th century fashion are seamlessly blended together, designer Raffaella Hanley of Lou Dallas would reign queen.

Ultra-cool downtown types filled Arsenal Contemporary–a small gallery on the Bowery–and pressed themselves against white walls on the edges of the runway.  

Compared to last year, this year’s crowd was more dense, especially with press, which is a testament that the designer’s unique perspective on reimagining what fashion is, has been duly noticed.

Electronic music played in house by the artist James K, crescendoed into the room as a varied and diverse group of models, including downtown indie darling Eleonore Hendricks, snaked their way around the gallery.

The designer’s re-purposing of discarded textiles organically created a collection full of texture and color that was cool and edgy with a real sense of newness that doesn’t often happen when a designer reinterprets the past.

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A montage of post-post-modern fairy tale ensembles glided through the gallery: bodices made of surprising materials, scalloped necklines, puffed capped sleeves, coats with bows, peplums and cropped shirts, shortened interpretations of chemise dresses à la Marie Antoinette, and a T-shirt that said on the front “Think Otherwise” and on the back a comic illustration with a word bubble stating that “fighting solves everything.” SARAH SHEARS


There is nothing like an early morning injection of Badgley Mischka glamor during NYFW. At a BM show, you haven't just emerged from a subway, you haven't got anything staining your teeth.

Instead, glamor rules: many of the pieces in their latest collection had floral notes; either flowers printed on a plain black background, or gussied up with spangles and glitz on evening-wear.

Skin was shown in dresses that swooped and scooped over shoulders. Other dresses came studded with cut-out petals. Take you pick from plays on black and white (and made leopard-print), or rich dark plums, reds, and gold. A stunning, deep red strapless ball gown stole the show, and even the athleisure-wear came with a fur hat. One should never be under-dressed for the gym. TIM TEEMAN


A color-coded library welcomed the guests of the Alice + Olivia Fall 2018 presentation, a retrospective collection that alluded to notable women-- think Marie Antoinette and American Revolution writer Sybil Ludington--who predated the initial late 19th-century push for gender equality.

The models, decked out in rainbow-striped matching sets, furs, and velvets, lounged around beds, fainting couches, and bookshelves from centuries past.

Creative director and CEO Stacey Bendet told The Daily Beast that the historical context of the various rooms--which included the Silk Road, the French Revolution, and the American Revolution--were intended to show the importance of learning from our history to change the future.

“The clothes this season are meant to be empowering, fierce, and uplifting,” said Bendet, an advocate for global education and equal pay.

Fashion Week creator Fern Mallis, actress Francia Raisa, and socialites of the aughts Paris and Nicky Hilton made appearances and posed for photo ops with Bendet at the crowded presentation.  

Somewhat vague, aspirational statements like “Knowledge is Power,” and “Make Change, Not War” appeared on the set, but ultimately the plaids, embellishments, ruffles, and Studio 54-esque party looks from the pieces conveyed Bendet’s message of individuality more clearly. ELISHA BROWN


Calling all star-gazers: the future will be shiny. For her Fall 2018 collection, designer Sally LaPointe was inspired by the optimism of the 1960s space age when “people were no longer dressing for today, they were dressing for tomorrow.”

In our current atmosphere, she wanted to bring that same spirit of positivity back by way of the fashion we’ll be wearing come fall. (And by “we,” I of course mean the lucky few who shop the runways.)

To the trippy, tonal beats of DJ Ryan Beppel, a parade of svelte models in elegant ivories and silvers gave way to a parade of svelte models in fall browns, bright fire engine reds, and brilliant glittering golds.

The models showed off sumptuous knits, dashing coats and blazers, and dresses and jumpsuits–all effortless elegance. Fur accents embellished sleeves, jacket seams, and asymmetrical swaths of a sweater before taking over whole pieces such as in a voluminous red fur coat.

Separates were crisp and tailored while still maintaining a casual yet glitzy feel. It was a collection made for the après-ski scene in St. Moritz or Aspen, all warm, comforting pieces with more than a touch of glam.

There were sequins on pants and dresses and long skirts with deep slits. Shiny beading, shimmering lamé, and touches of patent leather added some glitz between looks sprinkled liberally with metallic—and metallic foil—fabrics. ALLISON MCNEARNEY


“Unity. Wholeness. Infinity.” read the program for the Vivienne Tam Fall/Winter 2018 fashion show. It’s that last word that sums up her latest collection inspired by a spiritual journey to Tibet.

The looks were funky and fun, to be sure, a colorful riot of plaids and prints. Outerwear shined, particularly when bedecked with shearling, and a series of bright, printed dresses are just the thing to cure the all-black fashion blues.

Several different types of garments dazzled with embroidery work that drew on the imagery of mandalas and the figure of the Green Tara. A series of oversized parkas with embroidery on the back were particularly inspired as the models paraded down the runway with an attitude reminiscent of boxers’ strutting towards the ring in their robes.

But there were very few elements and materials left on the workroom floor. Fur, fringe, embroidery, lace, beading, sequins, plaid, prints, stripes, corduroy, silk, wool, denim, and leather all were given their moment on the catwalk.

The oversized and multi-layered aesthetic inspired by the nomadic tradition of the Himalayas was good in theory, and the collection offered plenty of pieces to delight. (Forty-three looks were presented, many showing layers on layers). But, overall, the collection could have used a little editing.

Infinity works as a life mantra; maybe not so much as the guiding principle for a single collection. ALLISON MCNEARNEY


For decades, Zang Toi personified fashion fantasy: born in a small village in Malaysia; flown to New York to study design; christened, literally, as fashion’s “next big thing”; worn by Hollywood’s incandescent. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Toi embraced a classic daydream for his latest collection—the Roman Holiday.

The question is whether it was all a bit too classic. The show opened with gray furs, heavy black scarves, cashmere suits for him and her, and an olive top paired with a black miniskirt. It was perfectly made. It was all perfectly wearable—you’ll see every last piece walking around your office next fall. It was perfectly forgettable. And then heavy black peacoats came out, followed by pink floral designs decorating standard-issue cocktail dresses.

The show brightened up in the second half, with an off-the-shoulder orange number that came with a cape, and shown like nuclear sherbet. Then came the hot pink-striped coat, with the form-hugging dress to match. But it wasn’t quite enough to rescue this Roman Holiday from rote. Toi emerged to an instrumental version of “That’s Amoré,” the hoary old classic. NOAH SHACHTMAN