Last season marked Gilles Mendel’s notable move towards a more dressed-down design aesthetic for J.Mendel. Yes there was still plenty of fur and glitz, but his penchant for a Swan Lake princess had taken a 180 in favor of a more modern lady who enjoys a night out on the town. Well, that plan seems to have worked, judging from the designer’s upgrade in show venues. While last season Mendel sent Karlie Kloss down the runway of Lincoln Center’s smallest tent, this season he plucked Arizona Muse and Lindsey Wixson to sashay through its largest—fashion’s mega-arena only used for blockbuster shows. (And the Olsen twins sat front and center, in their first documented New York fashion week front row appearance.)
Models entered the runway through a doorway fashioned from three overlapping scrims, wearing a collection that, for the first few looks, used a monochromatic palette and structured tailoring to create an easy and affluent vibe. Then came Mendel’s trademark eveningwear and lavish furs—though the two seemed to aesthetically straddle the designer’s well-tuned affinity for balletic damsels and his more-relaxed concepts for spring. The collection’s most opulent moments were still undercut with a sprig of grit, and vice versa. Case in point: A plunging sage minidress that was paired with a pair of velvet gauntlet gloves, or a long-sleeved mock turtleneck gown that was sheer, except in places where a band of rhinestone embroidery was anatomically important. Mendel, much like fellow eveningwear masters like Oscar de la Renta and Valentino before him, is on the move to attract a widespread audience of customers both young and old. This collection seemed to nail it.