I wasn't at the New York collections in person, but glancing through the images pumped out across the Internet mere seconds after the shows had finished - or, indeed, logging on to the multitude of live streams that proliferate at this most technologically adept and media-savvy of fashion weeks - you got the picture. A glance, in fact, was all it took with many of the shows. Sometimes that was a decidedly good thing: a direct and easy-to-digest message . Other times it smacked of a lack of complex thought, or even any thought at all. When does Minimalist design become minimal design? That indeed is the question.
Another question often begged of fashion is 'when does re-appropriation become plain appropriation?' And how much does it matter when the result feels right? There was many a reference running riot in Altuzarra's collection, from a throbbing vein of Tom Ford's vintage Gucci years through to more recent creations by Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga (something of an inspirational theme for the season) and even recent Proenza Schouler. Joseph Altuzarra, however, gave his own twist to those familiar fashions, making all that old look very new indeed. The newness wasn't in the Hawaiian prints, striated leathers and sucked-in sports detailing, but in the way that Aruba-scuba thing was thrown so effortlessly together. Which of course belies a lot of effort indeed.
Effort. Woe betide its absence, designers running on autopilot and spewing out saleable by-numbers numbers. But when clothes drip too obviously with it, it can conversely kill a collection. Example: Oscar de la Renta. Far be it for me to critique the grande dame of the New York fashion scene, but seeing heavy bubbled ball-skirts under lacy sweaters, gigot sleeves crusted with lace applique and a prissy pussy-bow knotted under a tweed suit somehow cancelled out the sleek, youthful slant of the rest. For a man versed first-hand in the mid-century couture everyone else is feeling right now, it felt curiously lacklustre.
The youthful pretender to de la Renta's throne is Jason Wu. He's nailed ODLR's lady-like - in fact, his clothes are First Lady-like, playing much the same role for Mrs Obama as de la Renta did for Nancy Reagan. This collection displayed was about lightness - light fabrics, light colours, a deft lightness to the touch. It was light on new ideas, if we're honest - florals, wisps of chiffon slip-dresses and more of those ballgown skirts - but they were done with playfulness and a contemporary air of sporty luxuriousness. Those ball-skirts, for example, were weightless, billowing into trains but sliced above the ankles to facilitate movement. Wu is young, and these clothes exuded youth, which is an elixir of seduction when it comes to fashion.
Seduction brings us inevitably to Alexander Wang: is there another young designer in New York, or in fashion as a whole, that can capture that slippery Zeitgeist with quite such wallet-crushing certainty? This time he latched onto the sports-luxe flux, and with Wang's weight behind it, it was a sure-fire seasonal must-have. Its interesting to contrast Wang's commerce-as-creativity approach with Kate and Laura Mulleavey of Rodarte, who this season wore their fashion-as-art affiliations on their sleeves. And skirts. And bodices. And just about every place you could imagine, splashing Van Gogh's instantly-recognisable Starry Night and Sunflowers across dresses inspired by Disney's Sleeping Beauty. Although both are thoroughly played-out pop culture references, you couldn't get less commercial than Rodarte's reappropriations. 'There's things stores need, there's things clients want to see, and there's things you want to make,' Laura Mulleavey once said to me - and it's plain to see where the majority of this collection fell. You have to question if those prints and princess pastels ended up more pap than Pop, and if that will really make the tills ring for sophisticated high-fashion consumers.
There were no such queries about Proenza Schouler's offering, where Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez managed to inject five-figure beaded blouses and sheath-dresses with a believability that simultaneously undermined and justified those pricetags. Suspension of disbelief was the game - you saw crochet but it was plastic, leather was actually rubber, while something glistening like PVC was actually eel-skin. Tailored jackets were cut from swimsuit jersey, in styles that resembled streamlined jumpsuits and the pinched silhouette of forties tailoring. That was a leitmotif, a meshing of the retro with the futuristic - a fusion that managed to feel exactly right for now. Which is a neat summary of what good fashion should be about.