As Spring 2012 Shows Unfold, Music Heightens An Ordinary Mood

vena cava collection nyfw 2011
©2011 Georgia Nerheim
A selection from the Vena Cava Collection
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Spring 2012's clothes are about elevating the ordinary; the styles showcased throughout New York Fashion Week have mainly been wearable, colorful, and designed for people on the move. This makes it a season more approachable than most, a seemingly unified front among designers to create "user friendly" looks. It also means more economical looks, not only in price point but in versatility. Spring 2012 is about subtle upgrades and context shifts. It's also a perfect opportunity to allow music, and other cultural inserts, to fill in the gaps between runway fantasy and reality.

Designers now enjoy incorporating their personal muses right into the runway. Savvy young artisans might bypass hiring a model to enact a role, when she can simply coax her heroine to literally dress up as an amplified ideal of herself for an hour. Downtown duo Vena Cava pulled that idea off well last week for their Spring 2012 showing, calling upon The Like's Tennessee Thomas to be the avatar of the season. It helps, of course, that Thomas happens to be elegantly proportionate, but she still stood out in Vena Cava's latest installation of Forties-kissed glamor. That used to be a fear of designers: that the personality of the wearer might overshadow her clothing. The tide is shifting; individuality is now (more) welcome. A musician-as-model can make the clothes more interesting.

That independent spirit certainly infused Gerlan Jeans' punk-themed show Saturday, where Solange and Maluca watched as slime-splattered models took the runway in all forms of Nineties-era outrageous subcultural dress. The effect was akin to htting a day-glo rave, local punk show, and hip-hop harem all in one night — and picking up a new element of costume at each location. It bridled with a DIY spirit and felt particularly musical, as upsurgent dj/producer Venus X fueled the event with a mutant industrial pop mix. "Ghe20 Gothik," the music event series she helms in New York City, reflects the "mall witch" vibe Gerlan was gunning for.

VPL's Spring 2012 show took on a more direct approach, with designer Victoria Bartlett taking the show music into her own hands. "I love music, it's always driven my work," she said backstage Saturday. For her Keith Haring-themed new collection, the guttural, polytextural sounds of kraut pioneers Neu! and Can emboldened her highly pigmented, neon-heavy looks, making them seem more overt and incisive – the way she intends us to see them.

Indeed, a dose of dark psychedelia instantly heightens an environment, making it at once scarier and more poetic. At Y-3, a wild and brash mix of emo and industrial metal created a feeling of compelling terror on the runway, as models stomped past in black andorange plaid post-grunge uniforms. You could feel the way the music brought the clothes into thematic focus, possessive of lives of their own.

At Cushnie Et Ochs, clean and prim cocktail-ready frocks were shown against the swagger of a Biggie Smalls soundtrack, instantly injecting a bit of danger to the otherwise polite looks. It's interesting how hip-hop can be used to sexualize or otherwise add a taboo touch to otherwise feminine, airy designs.

 Though the front rows may not take note immediate note, any audiophile at the shows realizes that the music on Spring 2012's runways is far more experimental than what you encounter on radio or in a local club. While some shows prefer to pair their most recent work with the hits of the moment, the more interesting shows do something more, building a new discourse between clothing and the way it makes you feel (something only music can express). Interestingly, many of the songs on the runways right now are a preview of hits to come. As the season's symphony of style and sound evolves, so does a foreshadowing of pop music. On Thursday, we'll take a closer look at what artists and genres charted highest during New York Fashion Week. Stay tuned.

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