Following in the tradition of Isaac Mizrahi, Stella McCartney, Karl Lagerfeld and others, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez — the smooth-faced dynamic duo behind Proenza Schouler — have created a budget line for Target. One of my favorite downtown boutiques, Opening Ceremony (they of “we have Topshop items upstairs” fame) held a special party to fete the line’s launch, filling the entire store with the new spring pieces. By the time I got there, editor’s assistants from Vogue were elbowing publicists for silk dresses; socialites and their entourages were flooding the small spaces between the racks, peeling their clothes off and zipping themselves into cotton skirts and tops. The melee looked worse than Day 1 of the Barneys Warehouse Sale. I barely managed to escape back into the cold, empty street with a purple bustier top and a few scratches, and I didn’t even find the collection terribly stirring. Most of the clothes were well tailored and not too cheap to the touch, but looked better in the ad campaign than they did on any of the men and women tearing their own clothes off to make room for them.
I thought about the collection later when I was watching Cathy Horyn’s narration of Zac Posen’s new collection for The New York Times (one of my fashion week pleasures — her voice is deliciously deadpan). In Posen’s Fall 2007 collection, Horyn saw a designer who was focusing more on “merchandising,” having found his “bread and butter” signature look. “Sometimes,” Ms. Horyn noted, “When a young designer is too expert and brand-conscious, he forgets that he’s also supposed to be fun, and even a little outrageous.” Many designers under 30 (Proenza Schouler among them) are often stifled by the pressure of editors and buyers to deliver: What most people outside the fashion industry don’t know is that most young designers even display their new collections before notable fashion editors (Wintour, for example) and buyers for their feedback before the formal fashion week presentations (often enduring comments like, “I wish you’d made another of those great floral dresses…”). I fear that our generation is all too often over-parented and less playful, eager to play with the big kids faster and desperate to avoid the kind of mistakes that are often character defining. True, these designers are leading the pack, but that doesn’t mean they have to produce their signature bustier top in every collection they make, or get caught in a commodification trap so early. All this isn’t to say, however, that I’ll be returning my new $50 Proenza Schouler bustier.