Venerable New York Times street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham has been around about 20 years longer than I have, which is to say pretty much forever. Lately, he’s been fairly vocal about his dissatisfaction with the direction fashion is going so when I saw him take his typical seat, front row on an inside corner, I was anxious to watch. Bill isn’t there to catch every look, unlike the poor folks crowded into the photographer’s pit. Bill shoots the looks he likes or finds interesting. This morning, he wasn’t taking too terribly many pictures of the LACOSTE runway. In fact, had he been shooting film (he wasn’t), he wouldn’t have used a whole roll.

LACOSTE creative director Felipe Oliveira Baptista is trying to make the historically preppy brand a little more urban, widen its appeal beyond the trust fund set. While that may sound like an intelligent move from a marketing perspective, actually pulling it off in reality is considerably more difficult, especially when the brand is starting about as far from urban as possible. So, set in the Lincoln Center theater against a background of white sails, we watched anxiously to see where Felipe might take us.

The first few looks showed some promise. Think blue-grey tuxedo overcoats, the kind New York City doormen wear in winter, minus the sleeves. The first one was long, and the next two were progressively shorter. None were particularly bad looks and, depending on one’s destination, could be totally workable. Similarly, the first two men’s looks, monochrome blue, one with a matching rain slicker, and sneakers, were pretty much the type of style one expects from LACOSTE. A couple of women’s jersey shirts with blocky geometric patterns came next, then … well … I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bill shake his head like that.

Imagine a long, maroon tank (with the same geometric pattern) over black sweats with a windbreaker tucked into the waist of the sweats, under the shirt, so that the jacket flopped behind like some sort of limp cape. Now, we’ve had to put up with the LACOSTE set tying their sweaters and jackets around their waist for several years, but even with the careful dressing of a NYFW runway presentation, this just looked sloppy. Every time it came down the runway, and it kept showing up on about every third two-piece ensemble to come along, it looked wrong. Just imagine, if they can’t make it look good for the runway, how do you think it’s going to look when less talented people try creating the look for themselves?

The jackets were a disappointing distraction to what was otherwise a very strong collection. The pastel colors are typical of LACOSTE’s traditional palette and the looks are, generally, very contemporary and sporty. My favorites were the last few pieces of women’s separates, color blocked asymmetrical tops and bottoms going in opposite directions. The look is very cool, very sporty, and very summer. Had we seen more of that type of creativity, I think everyone would have been much more happy.

As it was, both Bill Cunningham and Vogue’s Suzy Menkes looked none too happy as they made a hasty retreat the instant the lights came up. Bill was looking at the back of his camera. I’m not sure, but he may have been deleting pictures.

Photo credit: Valerio Mezzanotti

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