In today's New York Times "Thursday Styles" section:
For the Young of Heart and Hair
AN hour before walking past squealing kids wobbling cutely around the Bryant Park skating rink, on my way to the BCBG Max Azria flagship, I had been struggling in my bathroom, trying to take my own passport photo.
BCBG Max Azria
461 Fifth Avenue (40th Street); (212) 991-9777
BIGGER CLOSETS This new three-story showplace is crawling with golden ivy, sleek accouterments and trend-friendly wares for the woman-child who might want to hang out and work for a year before college.
BETTER GOODS If you don’t mind a petroleum blend in your cashmere, you can Get the Look for somewhat, if not significantly, less. A veritable United Nations of manufacturing labels from Peru, Ukraine and China ensure that savings are being passed on to you.
BECAUSE Even girls with smaller budgets have big dreams, and these cuts are cute enough to create a bon chic silhouette without giving your wallet a grand mal.
If you take 100 pictures of yourself trying to look simultaneously attractive and unthreatening to national security, you will notice that the slightest movements can blow everything. One wrong millimeter of eyebrow, and the expression you thought was your flower-girl face resembles Slovakia’s deadliest escort. Eyes open too wide, and optimism becomes “My dog told me to do it.” A spotlight in the wrong part of your shower can add 10 years.
God, as usual, is in the details, and details can be damning.
Officially, BCBG stands for the French compliment “bon chic, bon genre,” or “good style, good attitude.” I had always heard it stood for a muskier saying: “beau cul, belle gueule,” meaning “nice derrière, nice mouth.” We can’t be sure which BCBG the designer Max Azria intended, but I suspect both versions secretly go together: an illicit affair between smarts and smut.
BCBG’s collection lifts inspiration from Coco Chanel’s impromptu day look. After spending the night with a boyfriend, she absconded with her lover’s cardigan, slung a belt around it and threaded a ribbon through the buttonholes. Voilà!
BCBG has the cardigans and belts, 1930s-style shoes, ropes of fake pearls, cloche hats and affordable imitations of Chanel’s enamel cuffs. What gets lost in translation is elegance, which Ms. Chanel once defined as “the absence of vulgarity.”
Mr. Azria seems to have taken Coco’s iconic look and said: “Yes, but it needs sexing-up. Flashdance the cardigan off one shoulder. Gob on more baubles. Tighten the belts, stick feathers on the hat and make it all 45 percent acrylic.”
The overall ethos reminded me of “Working Girl,” in which the outer-borough gum-snapper Melanie Griffith goes to work in Manhattan and reluctantly empowers herself by embracing the corporate dress code. BCBG seems wedged in the middle of this character arc: sometime after Melanie starts flirting with Harrison Ford but before she gets serious hair. The Azria outfits seem to bridge and tunnel that paradoxical space between Bon Jovi and boardroom, Perth Amboy and Wall Street, beer and wine, bon chic and beau cul.
One need not pay astronomical prices for great clothes. A judicious eye serves as well as unlimited credit. A quality knockoff can work as well as its source. The simplest things, however, can often prove most expensive, and hardest to find. As the quality of garments gets diluted for wider distribution, simplicity always seems to hit the cutting room floor. A subtle Chanel detail might be quite large on a BCBG garment, as if to say: “Yo! Check it out! A classy detail!”
Some items suffer from excess creativity. One dress fuses a voile top onto a pinstripe skirt. This felt like a fashion handicap ramp, designed to assist girls incapable of managing actual separates ($260). A black sequined tank dress is apparently intended to break all the rules by being worn over a striped oxford button-down shirt, with ruffles. This combination works, I suppose, as long as the cocktail dress is being used as a barbecue apron.
The top floor is dedicated to the BCBG Runway line. This is prom dress heaven, dominated by Empire-waist goddess gowns, ideal for swooshing over with a xylophone glissando to reveal to game-show contestants what’s behind Door No. 3!
Some details, however, are puzzlingly crude. The bust of a chocolate chiffon dress seems to have been appliquéd with chipped flint tools from the mid-Paleolithic era; I christened it, “Je m’appelle Wilma” ($800). It would have gone well with an animal pelt that had a tag describing it — really — as a Rabbit Hare Coat ($498).
Some of the infantine BCBG staff members wore their black slacks so tight it looked as if they might be growing out of them. One rolled her eyes when I gestured inarticulately toward a crumpled brown tube that looked like a costume for a grade-school biology pageant: I am Mr. Snuffalupagus’s magic esophagus. I am the Snuffalupesophagus.
“So, like, are you trying to say you want to try that dress on?” her mouth managed to ask despite both braces and gum.
Little girl, I prayed for restraint. Please don’t poke the Cobra.
“Why, yes,” I said.
I have no children, I thought, with bright ecstasy.
The dress looked exponentially better on. Under different lights, the stretchy fabric was a burnished gold. The skirt draped well, and the top was a sturdily engineered bustier lined with an all-weather, vulcanized latex material, tough enough to grip off-road or on the dance floor. Still, I worried about condensation ($800).
I really liked a pair of black driving gloves ($125). I was walking to the register to pay for them when I tried them on. They fit well, but I realized the featured detail — a round opening at the back of the hand secured by a snap — was too large to be usefully glovelike. These weren’t so much gloves as riding chaps for the hands.
I also noticed, a bit glumly, that my hands, exposed through that decorative window, had never looked quite so dry, so vascular. There are hands that would look spectacular in those gloves: long, brown, dewy hands that told no tales, with watches that told less time.
I was damned again by details.
I turned around and replaced the gloves on the display table. BCBG, both the store and the compliment, should be directed toward a very young lady, after all; one still on her journey toward a suit without decorative zippers, and not yet possessed of serious hair.