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Invention takes the wheel

(Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)
By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / February 14, 2011

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By the number of inappropriately attired starlets, flashbulbs, and glasses of free champagne, it was clear that Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week was not timid about its grand return to Lincoln Center. Here are some key moments from the first few days in New York. CHRISTOPHER MUTHER

ALEXANDER WANG TAKES MANHATTAN

Harper’s Bazaar editor Mary Alice Stephenson gushed “It was the most important show of the season, by far.’’ The woman sitting next to me in the audience remarked, “It feels bigger than Marc Jacobs.’’ Alexander Wang, who had already been growing in cult status with his edgy downtown aesthetic, created the ideal confluence of artsy and elegant at his show. He even opens his first boutique this week. With Kanye West and Alicia Keys (who was seated next to Anna Wintour), Wang created a sensation with satin streamer dresses (think party streamers in couture form). Every detail, from fuzzy sunglasses to leather ponchos paired with quilted leather spats felt new and exciting. As other Fashion Week designers looked back for inspiration, Wang’s eye seems trained on the future.

PRABAL GURUNG’S GREAT EXPECTATIONS

The easy way to tell the level of sartorial respect surrounding a designer is to look in the audience of his runway show. If the audience includes Wintour and Hamish Bowles from Vogue, Stefano Tonchi from W, Robbie Meyers from Elle, and Nina Garcia from Marie Claire, then it’s safe to assume the designer is doing exciting things. That was decidedly the case on Saturday afternoon as Prabal Gurung mixed Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations’’ with “the way Brooklyn girls dress,’’ he explained. The result of his diverse mood was a mix of ghostly Victorian romanticism and downtown edge. His interpretations of Dickens’s Miss Havisham were displayed alongside more realistic cable-knit sweater dresses. The hard edges and soft details of the show may have felt schizophrenic, but the end result was inspiring.

LAYERED IN THE PAST WITH CHARLOTTE RONSON

The models, bogged down in sweaters, jackets, and wide-legged trousers, had the feeling of little girls playing dress-up in dark attic spaces — that is, if their mothers had been supermodels during the 1970s or ’90s. Charlotte Ronson’s fall-winter 2011 show on Saturday looked as though the designer was so afraid she would forget to send an important piece down the catwalk, she sent them all just to be safe. A description of a single look in her notes read: “Military faux shearling sweater vest, empress print silk tie neck blouse, empress print silk velvet trim skirt, herringbone wide pant, military suede elastic wedge bootie.’’ As Tim Gunn has been known to say, “That’s a lot of look.’’ When she stripped away layers, Ronson’s dresses were perfect for the flirty twentysomething. But when she stacked on the layers, or put her models in tights with (intentional) holes, or, even worse, Fair Isle sweater pants(!), the look was pure bag lady chic. The glowing review of the collection backstage from Kim Kardashian did little to sway my thoughts.

JASON WU’S LEATHER AND LACE

When you have fashion doyenne Iris Apfel raving that a designer’s runway show looks like a visit to the depths of her closet, you know you have hit a stylistic jackpot. And that is exactly what Apfel said this weekend about Jason Wu’s show. The young designer, who rose meteorically in 2009 when Michelle Obama donned one of his gowns, has continued to be an innovator. His show was a study in deconstructed lace, but was anything but frilly or florid. Along with sweet cocktail dresses and evening wear, he used lace on tailored, structured pieces; his lace felt almost dangerous. When you sew lace onto sweatshirt material, it knocks any trace of priss from a blouse. Wu’s show, inspired by a Robert Polidori book on the 25-year restoration of Versailles, had plenty of gilding to gasp over, but by fusing sportswear with the delicacy of lace, Wu struck a perfect balance of power lunch and lady who lunches.

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com.