Chicken Little started a panic when he insisted that the sky was falling, and that panic was infectious – the whole forest was in a tizzy in no time. Similarly, the media has reacted in an outsized way to the changes happening at New York Fashion Week, namely the fresh and stinging absence of some of its most notable designers.
Rodarte, Proenza Schouler, Altuzarra, and Thom Browne have all left New York in favor of Paris, and while that is startling given their status at NYFW, it is not a cause for alarm. Change is good, especially in a stubborn industry that has been slow to respond to rapidly shifting consumer demands. Most companies haven’t even begun to keep up, so those that are pivoting in search of a new way forward retain the prerogative to do so. The changes at NYFW are less about greener pastures, and more about broadening horizons.
While some major brands have vacated the premises, plenty of exciting new ones are rushing to fill the void. NYFW has every opportunity to become a young talent incubator – to rewrite the rules of fashion as we know them. Fortunately, the CFDA has been wise enough to support emerging brands like Telfar, Vaquera, and Gypsy Sport, all of whom are invigorating the scene with fresh ideas and thrilling perspectives. And let’s not forget that giants of American sportswear and luxury are still on the schedule. In fact, the series of Fall/Winter 2018 presentations kicked off New York Fashion Week with one of the biggest names in fashion: Tom Ford.
Unfortunately, while his reputation may proceed him, his collection was ghastly. Yes, kitsch is in – in fact, it’s at an all-time high thanks to Gucci – but kitsch this was not. Garish sequin leggings with matching coats, sparkly logo sweatshirts, and ruffled leopard-print slipdresses populated the collection, making it difficult to know where Tom Ford ended and Forever 21 began. Even harder to imagine is the woman who would gleefully snatch up this tat at Tom Ford’s notoriously astronomical price points.
Therefore, it fell to Tory Burch to deliver NYFW’s first major fashion moment, and she did it with carnations. Fields of them. Through winding rows of flowers, Burch unveiled a lovely homage to Lee Radziwill – Jackie O’s socialite sister – with a collection that offered printed frocks, patterned scarves, posh toppers, and more.
Also invoking a floral backdrop was Jason Wu, who announced his departure from Hugo Boss, but let his eponymous collection speak to the strengths of his namesake brand. Feminine fits, Fortuny pleats, and jewel tones painted a pretty picture, but the Swarovski crystal clusters that grasped the front of many looks recalled Raf Simons’ decorative motifs at Dior. Hopefully, Diet Prada doesn’t catch wind.
Over at the American Stock Exchange, Bottega Veneta unleashed a volley of delights, one vibrantly hued and vividly patterned look after another. The Italian luxury brand, always safely ensconced in the Milano scene, left its comfort zone in order to court a new audience this season. In honor of the opening of its new Upper East Side boutique, Bottega Veneta showcased an attractive way of dressing up in multicolored looks whose geometry recalled the Manhattan skyline.
Meanwhile, Alexander Wang is always an anticipated stop at NYFW, but this proved his last on the formal schedule as he has opted for a future June/December agenda that aligns his presentations with the retail calendar. He might be a reliable source of enticement by way of spectacle – rather than, say, design – but this time around, he sharpened up his outlook and did a really good collection. His looks were severe, business-like, and not a little futuristic. It was Wang without the #Wangover and, for that, we were grateful.
A marathon sprint to the midway point brings us to Victoria Beckham, who kicked off day four of NYFW with an intimate presentation. She’s bidding farewell to New York – for now – and showing in London for her ten-year anniversary show next season. On the catwalk, her designs couldn’t be more different than the body-conscious looks she debuted a decade ago. Instead, she’s gone down the Céline route with sensible, professional clothes transformed by little, niche touches of oddity and asymmetry.
Some looks featured scattered clusters of pleating, others were encircled by wide belts – and nearly everything was oversized. This was her most fashion-forward looking collection yet, and the confident smile with which she strode out at the finale spoke volumes of her self-assurance as a designer. As always, Prabal Gurung set forth a wonderful message in his collection, celebrating matriarchal groups like the Gulabi Gang of India, which works diligently to end violence against women while wearing a uniform of hot-pink saris.
His collection was overflowing with vibrant knit sweaters, après-ski separates, quilted skirts, and sequin dresses decorated with elements that recalled the traditional costumes of the all-female Mosuo tribe in China. Yet for all of its strengths, it is hard to square Gurung’s outspoken feminism with a recent report that he humiliated and body-shamed his pregnant former Director of Sales, Melissa Teitel – an accusation the designer has yet to respond to.
While loungewear styles and oversized silhouettes on the runways suggested a relaxing of sartorial codes for Fall/Winter 2018, Ralph Lauren took his leisure looks in a different direction. This time around, he imbued them with a distinct island vibe in homage to his Caribbean retreat at Montego Bay – or at least the first portion of his presentation said as much.
Out came barefoot models in breezy blue-and-white printed ensembles, but after only a few looks, the prep-school aesthetic was reinstalled and carried through to the end. With color-blocked designs that recalled national flags, leather-looking poncho/hoodie hybrid dresses, and scenic knitwear, the island vibe evaporated in favor of looks that the well-to-do might wear to an island resort. While the robe-dresses were supremely pretty, everything else felt like a swing and a miss.
Over at 3.1 Phillip Lim, the talented designer put together the kind of wardrobe that a true globetrotter accrues over thousands of logged miles. It was a hodgepodge of travel-inspired looks, evidenced by pattern-mixing, pleating, oversized menswear elements, ample outerwear, layered dressing, and vibrant knits that were slightly rumpled as if they had just been produced from a suitcase after a long flight. It was a cozy notion, but also a stylish one, especially when a multiplicity of textures on a single look caused the eye to travel.
Where last season, Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim let a little too much youthful experimentation bleed into their work at Oscar de la Renta – a heritage brand with a strong identity and client base that comes with exceedingly high expectations – they tightened the reins this time around. Their other label, Monse, is where they’ve relegated riskier designs, and that’s for the best.
Inheriting a brand like Oscar de la Renta is not easy, evidenced by Peter Copping’s brief tenure at the helm, but Garcia and Kim had a long relationship with de la Renta, which means they’re poised for success. Not only do they already know the archives, but they also know the right moment to revive them. For Fall/Winter 2018, it was bright colors and embellished surfaces that they rested their laurels on. From roomy coats with crystal clasps and embroidered princess-cut dresses to dramatic gowns, it was identifiably “Oscar” all the way through.
But the biggest draw on day five of NYFW was Carolina Herrera’s swan song, her final act at the helm of the eponymous brand that she founded in 1981 before stepping aside and letting Wes Gordon take over. Naturally, for a brand whose foundation builds upon the signature style of its founder, one would expect a retrospective final collection that referenced both the brand’s greatest hits and the iconic look that Herrera has perfected over the years: a crisp white blouse, fluid black bottoms, and elegant posture.
Because it was her last collection, there were plenty of playful moments, like a gorgeous black dress upholstered with silver foil animal cut-outs and a vibrant hot-pink suit that possessed a lot more attitude than we’re used to seeing on a Herrera runway. It was great, but the ending was the best, with a succession of models transformed into Herrera clones in button-ups and a rainbow array of maxi skirts. Herrera then emerged to thunderous applause for a final bow. Revisiting her contributions to the fashion lexicon resulted in an emotional ending, but for the brand, it represents the dawn of a new era. Gordon has his work cut out for him.
If a glance at Calvin Klein’s Fall/Winter 2018 runway show reminded you of the previous two, Raf Simons wants you to know that this was completely intentional. Carrying an aesthetic thread through to the final installment in his Americana “trilogy”, he cements himself as one of modern fashion design’s most conceptual artists. The second that the Belgium native was appointed to the helm of Calvin Klein, he went deep into the soul of America to see what Manifest Destiny had wrought, to see what had been neglected by other designers.
There, he found trauma, violence, and an obsession with celebrity – an American nightmare rather than an American dream. It’s rather timely for Simons to tug at this thread, especially since America has prostrated its dark underbelly in the past year. Where America once positioned itself as a beacon in the dark, it is now routinely shunning and harming the most vulnerable of its population. It is changing, and Simons is a documentarian translating the changes into a sartorial statement.
Calvin Klein’s former identity around American sportswear now has a little flesh and blood to it, thanks to Simons. It’s not all pretty neutrals and minimalist silhouettes anymore. Instead, the designer is doing safety vests, massive checkered coats, thick leather jackets, and knit head coverings – things that offer protection from a world filled with threat. Beneath their feet, the models walked on a bed of popcorn, a nod to America’s endless appetite for entertainment.
The looks, at times, were funny and odd, as was the case of several Looney Tunes-themed sweaters that looked like they had been turned inside out. This collection made you think, simply because the designs weren’t instantly pretty or accessible. Conceptually, it was drop-dead brilliant. Commercially, the success of Simons’ vision remains to be seen.
For the past two seasons, industry insiders have whispered, “This is sure to be Marc Jacobs’ last show.” And every season, he has charged ahead with fresh ideas, rumors be damned. This season, people went ape for his enormous silhouettes, which name-checked several designers who made the biggest impact on fashion in the 1980s – everyone from Emanuel Ungaro and Giorgio Armani to Claude Montana and Yves Saint Laurent.
Buried beneath mountains of fabric and peeking from beneath wide-brimmed hats, the models’ faces were all but obscured, which seemed to be intentional in an effort to lend mystery to Jacobs’ women. Furthermore, fanny packs, massive taffeta bows, shoulder pads that were wider than those on a football player, and kitschy color-blocking left no ‘80s stone unturned. Was this a nod to the current socio-economic predicament we now face?
If the ‘80s – with its healthy stock markets and stream of pop icons – represented the era of excess, then the 2010s have gone beyond what anyone could imagine when it comes to extremes. The gap between rich and poor, truth and lies, natural and artificial, and love and hate seems to be growing more rapidly by the day. By reviving these motifs, Jacobs is commenting on where we are right now as a society and, judging by the darker mood that invaded his runway, he seems to be saying we’re teetering on the brink.