As the lights came up on the first big show of Boston Fashion Week, it became clear that the new tent in the courtyard at the Mandarin Oriental signifies a dramatic upturn in quality from previous seasons. A pristine white runway sliced down the middle of the room, while Boston’s fashion veterans (Yolanda! Marilyn! Doris!) claimed their territory in the VIP section. If it weren’t for the lack of climate control - show programs double nicely as fans in the stifling tent - and a few DJ-related mishaps at that particular show, the scene could have been taking place in that fashion behemoth to the south. (There were even models nearly tripping on their dresses, just like New York.) As the shows begin winding down (tomorrow night’s finale is Daniela Corte) here is a look at the action in the tent so far.
MIKE & TON: The idea sounded more like a whim than a fashion line as dentist-turned-jewelry designer-turned-clothing-designer Tonya Mezrich teamed with Braintree designer Michael De Paulo to create a new line called Mike & Ton. A show earlier this year at the W Hotel revealed that the element tying their pieces together was a zipper, its black tape prominently displayed on every dress and skirt. It felt like an unsustainable gimmick. But in the Spring/Summer 2012 show, the clothes were much stronger. In wisely chosen shades of paprika, ivy, and black, the pair showed voluminous poof skirts, form-fitting wool dresses, and an impressive three-piece suit. What was most remarkable about the collection is that the two have a fully formed vision of their customer: She is young, smartly attired, and cocktail ready. The color block pieces, particularly a band dress with their signature spring colors, was as forward looking as a Mondrian.
MICHAEL DE PAULO: While De Paulo and Mezrich focused on everyday dresses, De Paulo’s solo offerings focused on luxe evening wear inspired by the French Riviera. That influence was not as clear in structured brocade trumpet gowns or coral column gowns, but a retro vision of the South of France emerged in an immaculately tailored jersey gown that showed an ideal amount of skin.
THE LAUNCH: These recent fashion grads were challenged to expand their four-piece senior projects into full 12-piece runway collections - in under six months.
GeorgAnnette Chatterley (Massachusetts College of Art and Design): Chatterley’s collection highlighted her skill at weaving synthetics into well-tailored pants and jackets. She was also the only designer of the group to try her hand at menswear. There was a stark contrast between her daywear and the rock aesthetic, but Chatterley demonstrated a fearlessness in tackling both.
Christine Lam (Lasell College): The X-ray-inspired print that appeared on a handful of Lam’s designs showed her interest in the human body, from its inner workings to its overt sexuality. But the influences were subtle. A good designer can convey an idea without being beating audiences over the head.
Karina Bresnahan (School of Fashion Design): Swimwear is never an easy category to tackle. A properly made suit needs to flatter and fit precisely. Bresnahan’s work managed both. These bikinis would not feel out of place in Malibu. She adorned her well-chosen print swimsuits with beach wraps cleverly belted and tied in innovative ways.
Mishal Kizilbash (Massachusetts College of Art): Trips to Pakistan inspired Kizilbash to create clothes that felt as if they arrived from the Middle East and Southern Asia of the future. Wool herringbone combined with mirrored leggings and intricately embroidered dresses rendered in metallic weaves. When she veered into evening wear, her influences remained, with headpieces and ear-to-nose piercing chains.
Candace Wu (School of Fashion Design) - The most challenging collection of the group, Wu was determined to convey her idea of woman as flower, but at times her influences were too literal. Petal skirts sported actual fabric petals, and a gown covered with oversized violets and a bustier of mammoth fabric leaves resembled an unattended garden.
EMILY MULLER: Breezy silks in billowing silhouettes are a typical staple in resort collections. However, to bring her line into the seasonally appropriate spring, Muller incorporated tougher elements: patinaed leather pulls and straps, stiffly structured railroad stripe chambray, and skull-hugging aviator caps over loose ringlets. The theme of the collection was “Escape,’’ which (for me) evoked a mixed vision of escape artists and finely sanded beaches - and Muller somehow managed to find a sweet spot between the both. A failed attempt at runway dramatics (a model in a bridal gown sloppily tossed her train onto the ground) and poor footwear pairings were bumps in the road at the Muller presentation, but as a young designer she can’t be expected to have it all. What she does have is a solid foundation and a clear vision translated into featherweight silks and delicate drapery - charmingly feminine, strong, and wearable. I anticipate good things to come for Muller and look forward to seeing her transcend the “newcomer’’ label in the coming year. RACHEL RACZKA
DANIEL FAUCHER: Wedding gowns are Faucher’s specialty, and it showed on the runway Monday night. Models swept through the tent in sparkly, lacy, well-structured dresses, many of them with fitted bodices and trumpet skirts. But the highlight was an exquisite and demure cream lace gown with cap sleeves and a flowing mantilla veil. You could hear the audience gasp in appreciation. Still, as lovely as Faucher’s wedding gowns are, one wishes at times that he would employ that old rule known to grandmothers everywhere: Take one thing off. Sometimes a gorgeous lace can dazzle without a sprinkling of rhinestones. Some trains don’t need to be punctuated with a bow. Sometimes one flourish - created by a designer who clearly knows what makes a woman look beautiful - speaks for itself. HAYLEY KAUFMAN
GALVIN-IZED HEADWEAR: Marie Galvin, the city’s milliner par excellence, finally returned to Fashion Week and it was a collection worth waiting for. Galvin’s line of hats, headpieces, and fascinators revealed once again her gift for whimsy and humor. She popped an oversize pom pom atop a woolly winter cap, and trimmed holiday headpieces with cheeky curlicues. But Galvin doesn’t just settle for wit in her designs, she reaches for something more. One design called to mind something positively organic, a delicate sea anemone perhaps? Another unveiled a cloud of bobbing feathers, like birds in flight. To those who think that fashion is little more than frippery, Galvin’s artistry might just change your mind. HAYLEY KAUFMAN