If you live in the Midwest, you may not be too terribly familiar with the Vivienne Tam label. For those more familiar with the Asian markets, however, the Chinese-born, Hong Kong-raised Tam is pretty much a household name with a strong reputation for taking traditional Cantonese themes and mixing them with the most modern and high tech fabrics. I have long enjoyed Tam’s designs and am amazed at how she manages to find new ways to express ancient ideas.

Today’s show was a little more challenging to sit through, though. Granted, being later in the day one’s back side is already getting a bit tired of sitting. But what made watching the show more challenging was neither the time nor the fashion but the models. Ms. Tam is not one to go for the big runway names. Her shows are always no-frill, straight to the point, over and done. Budgets being what they are, one can understand running as inexpensively as possible. In New York, that generally means working with younger, less experienced models. While the CFDA does its best to prohibit the use of models under the age of 16, judging from what I saw this afternoon Ms. Tam might have broke that rule just a bit. At the very least, several of the models could not have been more than a few weeks past 16. The inexperience showed. Their gate was slow, their shoulders slumped, their facial expressions showed a level of detachment that at times seemed barely able to make it down the runway and back. With as large a collection as Ms. Tam showed this afternoon, by the time we were half way through the presentation the scene was excruciating. Because of that, I may have missed a look or two.

This really isn’t a collection one wants to miss, though. What Tam does with this collection is actually quite impressive. Take some of this season’s biggest trends: mesh, sheer, and metallic fabrics, and layered panels. Now, marry that with astonishingly beautiful Chinese art. Sheer, painted overlays kept the all-mesh under pieces from being even slightly immodest. Careful cutouts gave lotus blossoms almost a 3D appearance. Ms. Tam moved back and forth between black and white for most of the under pieces, letting the paintings provide the color. As she moved on through the collection, she occasionally used emerald and red pieces in place of black and white. The finally piece, a long gown done in blue with white mesh cutouts, depicts a tree along side the ocean, and is nothing short of a work of art.

While the line is extremely popular within Asian communities, those of more European heritage may find the ensembles more of a novelty. Is one likely to fill their wardrobe with pieces from this collection? Probably not. Yet, you really do want to give this line a lot of consideration. The looks are smart, sporty, and fun to wear.

And you’ll almost certainly give it more life than the models did this afternoon.

Photo credit: Frazer Harrison

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