Fashion Week takes haute-couture mainstream

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It’s Fashion Week. The days are cold, the models are hot, and, most importantly, the clothes are fierce.

(Well okay, it was last week — but close enough.)

The annual Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Bryant Park in New York City showcased work by all kinds of designers. The event demonstrated that fashion has evolved from a privilege for the elite to a commonplace among all types of people. New designers with a myriad of different takes on the art form that is fashion are emerging everywhere. These new brands have diversified the market, making fashion incredibly mainstream, while single-handedly capturing the attention of a wider audience.

I know it seems funny to be surprised at fashion becoming mainstream. Isn’t that what fashion is — clothing for our everyday lives? But once upon a time, the clothing from New York Fashion Week was for the elite. Those who could afford it or those who cared enough to pay attention to it were the only people who knew what was hot for the season, long before it trickled down to Macy’s. Now, teenagers are wearing Diane Von Furstenberg; moms are sporting Stella McCartney; and Lagerfeld, Galliano, and Balenciaga are household names. Even mentioning the words “haute couture” doesn’t illicit strange looks from non-fashionites.

In fact, the entire fashion industry has become incredibly diversified. No longer is the market dominated by the typical I’m-wearing-this-truly-ugly-dress-that-cost-more-than-your-car type of clothing. Nor is it marked by outrageous outfits tied to exotic European names whose correct pronunciations you’re scared to even guess (Who knew it’s pronounced “Zhee-von-she,” not “Gi-ven-chy”?). The fashion market has seen an upswing of clothing for the so-called common man, and now, Bryant Park acts as a showcase for new artists with fresh looks. Brands like Sean John and Betsey Johnson have very common, urban looks, and thus appeal to a broader audience.

Truthfully, I have mixed feelings about brands like Sean John being in Bryant Park. It just seems to be somewhat out of place in terms of style when compared to the designs of, say, Zac Posen. At the same time, I enjoy the idea that something so different from everything else on the runway can actually thrive during Fashion Week.

Technically, we can’t discriminate, because fashion is a form of expression. It’s just that members of the so-called urban subculture express themselves in a different way than traditional designers might. I like that some of the newer brands break away from the traditional haute couture that people are used to, but I’m not a huge fan of seeing the clothing of the masses on the runway. I think fashion is supposed to be a fantasy and an art form. A lot of the things that appear on the runway are seemingly unwearable, but may give rise to major trends, and thus become a wearable reality for everyday people.

I must admit, however, that Rock & Republic, which is a little punk, a little urban, and a little couture all at once, is fantastic. It is easily one of my favorite brands to watch for and fantasize that I have enough money to buy. The line features men’s and women’s wear with dark denim washes, leather jackets with fur-lined hoods, and bold colors like blood red and regal purple. Last week, Rock & Republic showed draped satins in sexy cuts, full-length dresses with wide belts at the waist, and, of course, leather and hardware accents. It is definitely edgy and fun, but still high-fashion. Michael Knight, a contestant from Project Runway’s third season, also has a mainstream-meets-couture thing going that I think is amazing. He experiments with mixing provocative silhouettes and sophisticated folds, with bold patterns and colors like plaid and canary yellow.

I think the designs that merge the two ends of the spectrum (commonality and extravagance) are the best. These designs are innovative; they put a new spin on something traditional. They also seem to be a little more universal, appealing to many more consumers. Real people, rather than just models and the super elite, can actually see themselves in these clothes.

The onset of designs that appeal to the actual masses (as opposed to the more fashionably-inclined) eliminates the prevalence of the “trickle down” effect as well. Where it would have once taken at least three months for 2006’s wide-belt look to make its way to the Targets and Wal-Marts of the world, the effect is now nearly instantaneous. Now, we’re seeing styles come straight off the runway and into the closets of many.

Fashion has taken a turn for the best. Designers are appealing to more people, and new talent is emerging everyday, keeping the market young, fresh, and exciting. Now everyone can enjoy fashion to some degree. The differences in the styles of each person show that a diversified fashion market is a necessity; no one wants to look like a clone. New looks are created all the time, and there is hope for anyone with a dream of designing, no matter what their style is, to succeed.