Field Notes from New York Fashion Week

Santa Barbara Boutique Owners Buy Up Their Spring Collections

Yuna Yang’s romantic prints at St. Mark’s Church

The world of fashion has often been described as a study in function following frivolity, where seasons are defined by a strict calendar of designer rollouts rather than the prevailing climate. That’s why three Santa Barbara retailers and one Indy journalist found themselves in Manhattan on a blustery week in September celebrating the arrival of spring.

Despite frigid temperatures, New York Fashion Week (NYFW) descended on the city in full-bloom glory, with roughly 125,000 in attendance for the presentation of the Spring/Summer ’19 collections. Traditionally a two-part event, the first week is dedicated to dazzling runway presentations for journalists and photographers, followed by the mad rush known as Market Week, where buyers and retailers tear through the city placing orders for their respective boutiques and websites.

“I can still vividly remember attending my first runway show back when I was a student at Parsons,” marveled Rebecca McKinney, owner of Whistle Club in Montecito. “But now it’s all about appointments and orders.” McKinney spent three days in the city squeezing in upward of 20 collection appointments, which translated into a meticulously edited, tonal collection filled with an easy sophistication her clients have come to know her for. “Living in New York for so many years, I make it a point to pop in a structured piece here or there,” she said, showing me pictures of a few items she was about to pick up from New York designer darling Rachel Comey, as well as a strikingly understated collection from emerging designer Merlette. “There’s a careful balance between style and comfort with the Santa Barbara woman.”

Jenna Pound, buyer for Wendy Foster State Street, agreed. “We have time-tested Santa Barbara staples that we’ll always carry,” she said. For her State Street boutique, that translates to flowy Ulla Johnson dresses and pillowy 360Cashmere sweaters. “New York is where we go to source new and emerging designers,” she added, describing a new collection called LoveShackFancy, filled with ruffles and romantic prints, that will debut in March.

For the mother-daughter team at Allora by Laura on Coast Village Road, Fashion Week presents an opportunity to see some of their best-selling designers come to life in New York City. “When I saw a woman casually walking down the street in a Zero + Maria Cornejo jumpsuit, I thought to myself: That’s my customer, and she exists, and she’s bicoastal, too,” exclaimed owner Laura Dinning. She and her daughter T.J. Breidenstein hit the streets of Manhattan to do double duty, splitting their time between runway shows and buying appointments. “We definitely come here to be inspired, and then in turn, we want to inspire the Santa Barbara woman to take pride in dressing up,” said T.J. When asked on what occasion it would be appropriate to wear an elegant trouser or a printed silk blouse, their go-to answer is simple: “To the grocery store!”

And with that, I set off on my fashion journey, armed with a pair of sturdy Rachel Comey boots and a thick cashmere sweater to take in a weekend of, er, spring in New York City.

Metallic edge at Custo Barcelona

Friday

Drowsy and not a little disheveled by the journey, I dropped off my bags and headed straight to Tribeca, where NYFW hub Spring Studios was hosting a series of panel discussions that ranged in topics from Activism in Fashion to Meet the Model Squad. The entrance was a flurry of overzealous paparazzi snapping feverishly at the procession of outfits and personalities streaming through the doors. Inside, a bubbly assistant handed me a bedazzled keepsake pin and ushered me into an airy space with panoramic views of the skyline. This morning’s topic highlighted creative financing and the ethics of fashion, with five industry leaders tackling the subjects of gender equality and cultural appropriation. The conversation spilled out into the lounge, where young bloggers in idiosyncratic outfits took turns solemnly discussing career hurdles and which shows they’d managed to snag invites to. It was a juxtaposition that I would come to recognize as par for the fashion-industry course.

Rachel Teixeira, Laura Dinning, and T.J. Breidenstein from Montecito boutique Allora by Laura take in the Sally LaPointe show.

Saturday

Dressed in a swingy pleated dress, I moved down subway steps and emerged at Chelsea Piers, a soaring entertainment complex towering over the Hudson River. The Custo Barcelona show was about to begin. Spanish designer Custo Dalmau’s spring collection didn’t disappoint, with flashes of brightly colored acetate minidresses as models strutted down the catwalk to the tunes of a techno-happy deejay. In a 10-minute burst of color and fringe, it was all over, and I rushed crosstown to St. Mark’s Church, where Yuna Yang was unveiling bare-shouldered, whisper-thin blouses paired with origami-pleated trousers and full skirts. Witnessing Yang’s beaming expression of pride and relief as she took a final bow brought tears to my eyes. This is what Fashion Week is all about.

Sunday

Thunderstorms descended on the city, which presented an annoying wardrobe challenge. I settled on an Ulla Johnson maxi dress paired with low-heeled boots and a tuxedo jacket and headed to Spring Studios. Then a peculiar thing happened: The photographers’ flash strobes suddenly pivoted in my direction, and for a few glowing seconds, I was awash in luminous light and shallow appeasement, both of which felt terrific on this cloudy day. I floated into the Claudia Li show, where embroidered details adorned a series of hand-drawn floral-print dresses. Next, I traveled downtown to the South Street Seaport for the much-anticipated U.S. opening of 10 Corso Como, a concept boutique founded by legendary fashion priestess Carla Sozzani in 1990s Milan. The gallery cum fashion emporium houses a glimmering café that was packed despite the torrential storm. And then I saw her. Bounding toward me like a mythical creature in a silk headband was Sozzani herself, looking me up and down carefully before offering an approving nod. At 71, she is a striking vision of style and confidence. I skipped the rest of the way back to my room, marveling over this fine spring day.

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