Behind the seams at New York Fashion Week

As the tents at Bryant Park are packed up and the foundations of lavish European runway sets wait to be assembled, discussions continue to focus on the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, New York’s contribution to the fashion scene.

Since the peaks, descents and resurgences of iconic American design powerhouses like Ralph Lauren, Isaac Mizrahi and Diane von Furstenburg, there has consistently been a void in the modern dominating voice in American fashion. New York’s Spring 2009 runways, displaying the work of designers from Sept. 5-12, produced no consensus and only admitted more candidates.

Marc Jacobs’ designs for his namesake line have remained impressionist and, to a certain extent, fraudulent. For Spring 2009, he paid homage to the plight of the American woman, combining allusions to women’s suffrage, the overlooked female contribution in factories during World War II and fresh references to the East.

His gathered, split, tiered and pleated hobble skirts were amiable, but what spoke most to his aesthetic were the kimono-draped aprons in gingham and assortments of plaid – think Rosie the Riveter on an Asian excursion.

The collection was, at best, fairly interesting. Although concepts were fully developed, it was the overall execution that became a turnoff. Jacobs’ tragic flaw rests in his magnitude – his promotion from designer to designer/celebrity/socialite.

This season, Jacobs went over the top with set design – featuring an assortment of mirrored doors with corresponding towering mirrors placed down the center of the runway.

If the regality of the front-row attendees was stripped, and his extravagant set designs eliminated, it is questionable whether his intellectual product could stand on its own.

Phillip Lim’s dramatic 10-minute voyage through Spain put his name on the ballot. You could almost see the textured runway being kicked into tangible clouds of red clay by the models. What was so important was how far his execution was from being literal. He brought his vision home with smoky eyes, a cropped linen tribute-jacket to Le Toreador and soft flamenco floral prints accompanied by ethnic neckwear.

This was an amazing season for Lim due to his collaboration with cobbler connoisseur Christian Louboutin. Sitting second row, it was easy to see the series of flats and heels equipped with fringe and surrealist rosettes crafted from snakeskin and Italian leather.

Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, the duo behind Proenza Schouler, burst onto the scene in 2003 and have consistently produced lust-worthy looks. This season, Schouler took the audience on an adventure from the ’80s to space travel.

The puffed shoulders on jackets hinted to the heyday of 1983, while a featured jetblack belly shirt was merely a coned bra away from the iconic Madonna look.

The intense pallet of black, silvers and accompanying rompers with exposed zippers proved to be the meat of this collection.

The Rodarte sisters, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, delivered an astounding presentation for spring. The sisters took the aesthetic to the ethereal with blank faces, orange lips and arch-snapping heels.

The collection featured their customary play with chiffons and moth-ridden knits, but with an unexpected roughness. The juxtaposition of soft filmy textures and Balenciaga drapery against hardware – chainmail, rings and biker gloves – was incredible.

However, some of their iridescent wrap-skirts were awkward-fitting. All faults were forgiven when the last three looks appeared. The layered tie-dyed chiffon gowns with crystal embossed bodices became vacuums that stole breath from attendees as a mini lightshow commenced to show the complexity of the garments’ construction.

In the end, the continuing search for America’s chief fashion voice was postponed another season. When it comes to Fashion Week, New York is all about the unexpected, but never fails to deliver great talent and memorable excitement.