The mercurial, imperious genius of Charles James enshrined to one side, American fashion is about sportswear, pure and simple.
Let's be frank: New York has never been about the cutting edge of creativity. The whole reason New York emerged as a fashion centre was out of necessity, in splendid isolation from Parisian fashion during the Second World War. It was also born out of commercial acumen, canny textile tycoons realising there was a buck to be made and pulling in talents like Claire McCardell (one of this season's favourite reference points) to create wearable, saleable, manufacturable clothing.
The mercurial, imperious genius of Charles James enshrined to one side, American fashion is about sportswear, pure and simple. And sometimes that can get a little boring - especially when times are hard, and each and every (other) designer seems to be tugging ideas from the same grab-bag. This season, it was a Minimal sea of safe white, long skirts, a few flashes of Lang-alike brights, and an all-pervading sense of ennui.
The wonderful thing about New York fashion's fling with homogeny is that the truly great collections stick out a mile. I can count off the collections I found really interesting in New York on a single hand, but each had a distinct, personal and powerful handwriting that resonated across the rest of the season. Today, that's what makes great fashion.
The clearest and most distinctive handwriting in New York comes from Marc Jacobs, and it's a sign of his strength that he can flit from influence to influence without ever losing his identity. For spring, he delivered an unabashed ode to the seventies - his women could've walked straight out of an Antonio Lopez sketch, or a Bourdin spread for French Vogue. This is familiar Jacobs territory, but the exercise felt fresh - a genuine love-note to the era rather than a simple-minded rehash. Granted, it was packed with clothes we've seen many many times before, but it was that emotion that made Jacobs' show so powerful.
It was impossible not to love Oscar de la Renta's collection for the same reason - those Manhattan Matriarchs have to go somewhere for a chrysanthemum-encrusted gala dress in grass-green silk faille, and you'll bet the only place they'll get one this season is de la Renta. That's a captive market, right there - and damn us if he doesn't do them better than anyone else.
You got the same feeling at Proenza Schouler - an assured hand (or two) doing a job extremely well. Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez may have taken their girl back to school last season, but this time she grew up - hence the duo wrapped her in deconstructed Chanel-alike boucle tweeds, neat pencil skirts to the knee and such compelling oddities as fluro guipure and a crocodile coat the colour of ripe watermelon.
When speaking of oddities, we come naturally to the Rodarte duo of Kate and Laura Mulleavey. Twisted reality is their leitmotif and for spring they, like Jacobs, looked back to the ever-familiar seventies. Far removed from the stereotypical glamour of the period, the Mulleavey's vision was a suburban dream of wood-panelled dens, Delft-laden dressers, lumberjack plaid and every shade of brown. Thrown across clothes twisting and turning about the body, those everyday images became extraordinary, transforming the models into a cross between prim, pin-neat schoolgirls and some kind of mythological warrior.
That warrior woman raised her head high in Joseph Altuzarra's latest offering, which may well be the fashion dictionary definition of an acquired taste (cross-reference that with 'love-hate'). Just as hoards raged against his curvaceous Glamazonians shrink-wrapped in leather and goat tailoring, his proposals for a Barbarella spring/summer of python cone-breasts and shiny white satin sci-fi Safari suits are bound to raise as many hackles. The fascinating thing was hearing Altuzarra talk about how he synthesised those diverse influences: it's the first time Google has been proposed as the inspiration for a collection, rather than merely the image source. Altuzarra lives in the modern age, and that makes modern clothing, resulting in a bold mix of tribal, sci-fi, future and retro. With so many other young talents offering prosaic, barely-designed classics and a sea of white, Altuzarra stood out for his chutzpah and unwavering vision. He's brave. That's what fashion needs.