Bright lights, big city, a subway ride and the Yankees, hot dogs and a night at the theater — what could be quintessentially more “New York?” Why, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week of course!

Champagne-drenched parties and sequined celebrities once again descended on the Big Apple from September 5-12. Known as the most commercialized of the “Big 4” fashion weeks, this year was no exception to that rule, with select shows made available for free live streaming online to the general public and a bevy of corporate sponsors that would make the NASDAQ blush.

But there were palpable shadows hanging over the glitz and glamour, as the fashion world is bracing itself for the upcoming release of a controversial biography of the late legendary designer Alexander McQueen. The book, authored by McQueen’s close friend Nick Townsend and an unknown ghost writer, will allegedly reveal details of McQueen’s private life and a “physically abusive” relationship he had with a luminary in London. Designer Sarah Burton, who took over McQueen’s label after he died in 2010, is rumored to be anxious about the book’s release. Then there was the brouhaha surrounding none other than Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who it was revealed Sept. 8 had decided to yank singer Miley Cyrus off the cover of the fashion bible’s December issue over the latter’s controversial sexually-charged “twerking” performance at this year’s MTV’s Video Music Awards.

Oh, and singer Kanye West appeared in the front row sans partner Kim Kardashian. The tabloid press went wild.

But despite the veritable cataclysm of distractions, the week was still ultimately about what any fashion week — regardless of the locale — should be: the clothes. They were breathtaking as expected, though in addition to the profusion of pastels that seemed to permeate virtually every runway show, the word “surprise” might best be used in place of any unifying theme.

Anna Sui: Fashion Week Spring 2014 Collections Video

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One of the biggest surprises came early in the week, when Prabal Gurung unveiled his spring/summer 2014 collection. Meant to evoke a type of floral armor, the show somehow fell flat, a shock to audiences and critics who have come to expect perfection from a designer known for his electric runway shows. Models stood in full view of the audience in a type of glass house as one-by-one they stomped down the catwalk, expressions somehow more dour than the typical refined model pout. Much of the collection was unnecessarily cluttered. A draped dress clashed with a clumsy bow. Dresses that appeared warm and uncomplicated from the front revealed harsh plastic harnesses across open backs. Lines contrasted with little rhyme or reason in a way that was anything but aesthetically pleasing. Overall, the collection bore an uncomfortable resemblance to recent Dior campaigns — a resemblance Dior’s legal department may or may not already be aware of.

But not all was as somber as the cast of Downton Abbey. Alexander Wang did Alexander Wang things, meaning he had a superb showing. Fun and flirty, pleated miniskirts, cotton tunics and athletic shorts in simple colors were the style, a statement made almost as if to say “Who cares?” to critics. The operative word was whimsicality.

Another of the surprises, and certainly most talked-about shows, was from former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham. At Beckham’s show — where husband David Beckham and daughter Harper were seated in the front row next to none other than Wintour herself (producing arguably the most cringe-worthy shot in the history of Instagram) — British model Edie Campbell opened in a cocoon-like crepe jacket, a ruffled canvas shirt, and slouchy black short-trouser hybrid that hit just below the knee. The statement, of course, was that this show would be all about the pants. As the show went on, roomy trousers were complemented with generously proportioned organza-paneled shirts, elongated tunics with gently ruffled hems and more kimono-like jackets — a sign that, perhaps, the era of women’s bottoms appearing as though they have been painted directly on the legs rather than pulled over one’s feet has come to an end.

Things solidified in terms of expectations being met as the week went on. Tommy Hilfiger brought surfer cool to the Pier 94 runway on the morning of day five, complete with a runway full of sand dunes equipped with surfboards and lifeguard high chairs in a testament to his evolution as a design showman. A series of polo dresses in block colors such as beige, burgundy and salmon in neoprene-bonded leather kicked things off, leaving little doubt that this show would focus on sportswear. Neoprene again appeared on simplistic jackets, hoodies and uncomplicated polo tops that served as a nice follow-up, leading into fun basketball-style vests utilized as mini dresses and silk shorts complemented by (gasp!) short sleeves. Fun, flirty, easy, breezy — Hilfiger’s show was just all-around enjoyment that seemed to mock those who tend to take fashion seriously.

Betsey Johnson: Fashion Week Spring 2014 Collections Video

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Fashion mainstay Diane von Furstenberg put on a solid show that was all about girl power Sunday afternoon. With a thumping soundtrack featuring the likes of Robin Thicke (the other half of Miley Cyrus’ infamous MTV performance), Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and Daft Punk, and celebrities in the front row like Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Allison Williams, Jessica Alba, Bella Thorne and the one-and-only Naomi Campbell walking in the show’s finale, the sheer star power alone more than lived up to the show’s name of “Oasis.” Von Furstenberg’s no-nonsense styles provided an uncomplicated simplicity, from a black-diamond-print halter jumpsuit to a white tunic and flared pants suit. Other notable pieces included a cork-printed leather safari mini-dress, a snake-print chiffon halter gown cut out over the waist and column gowns with rope details. The overall suggestion was that the designer seemed about to take a safari — a rather whimsical one at that.

Whimsicality was also on full display day six with Thom Browne, who showed off a couture-like collection at a show in the Chelsea neighborhood. With smeared red lipstick, graying wigs and pearl-embellished hair nets, models were equal parts Golden Girl, mental health facility inpatient, Batman nemesis The Joker, and little girls playing with their mother’s makeup. White hobble dresses and corseted jackets with high collars stunned, which — though a little too couture for the mass-market — helped remind viewers of the power, and magic, of fashion. “A breath of fresh air” in the purest sense describes the presentation best.

Sure, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week may at times have had a “left is right, down is up” feel to it. And sure, the plethora of controversies beyond the ordinary fashion week fiascoes didn’t help. But old mainstays helped win the week with solid performances that showed they could still make things work amidst a sea of difficulty and the considerable weight of expectations. A pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps (or in this case, heel straps) ethic prevailed yet again, a real New York tale of making it big in the place that may be the hardest on earth to do so — the fashion world included. In the words of immortal Big Apple icon Frank Sinatra: “New York, New York.”

Michael Kors: Fashion Week Spring 2014 Collections Video

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Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014: September 5-6, 2013

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Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014: September 7-8, 2013

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Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014: September 9-10, 2013

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Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014: September 11, 2013

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Rachel Zoe: Fashion Week Spring 2014 Collections Video

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Featured image: Model Karlie Kloss walks the runway at the Diane Von Furstenberg Spring 2014 fashion show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014 – Official Coverage – Best Of Runway Day 4 on September 8, 2013 in New York City. Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz.