Metaphorically speaking, my legs are a little wobbly after exiting the rollercoaster ride that was Fashion Week. There were some very high highs, and some extremely low lows, perhaps explaining why my center of gravity feels off after viewing it all in one month-long marathon. Other veterans of the Fashion Week circuit felt similarly enchanted and betrayed by fashion, which makes me glad I’m not alone in my feelings. Some shows were so good that they were downright intoxicating, and some were bad to the point of being offensive. Credit the latter to a battle between multinational luxury conglomerates and their unwitting alienation of many customers in a race to bolster the bottom line.
The prevailing mentality in the modern fashion industry is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – a profit-driven business mentality that will prove to be the boot on the neck of creativity going forward. It’s the driving engine behind Hedi Slimane’s clear decision to stick to his notorious skinny party girl aesthetic (a look he honed previously at Saint Laurent) while delivering his first collection for Celine. It’s what he was hired to do, but it leaves one wondering why Paris suddenly has two labels competing over the same designs. Similarly, the likes of Chanel, Dior, Gucci, and Saint Laurent showed more of the same, but this isn’t a criticism of that methodology – merely an observation. They didn’t become billion-dollar megabrands by changing their core aesthetic every single season.
However, this leaves designers stuck between a rock and a hard place. Innovate too much, and you might lose the identity that consumers associate with your brand, and therefore lose consumers. Stay too static with your designs, and people might become bored of the predictability and abandon your products in search of something new. Smart brands like Dior and Chanel contextualize their collections according to imaginative storylines, and place them alongside magnificent performances and unbelievable sets to support the narrative (and the sales). Besides the feeling that fashion is on the verge of losing its way, there were a lot of positives worth focusing on instead.
For instance, wearability and comfort were dual pillars upon which many designers built their collections, meaning streetwear and lingerie were central components at Oscar de la Renta, Fendi, Stella McCartney, and even Chanel. A lot of designers went out of their way to respect the female gaze by giving women clothes that felt protective and luxurious without leaving them literally exposed. A pantheon of plush suits, flowing shapes, and elegant outerwear options made us feel like there were still brands out there listening to the needs of their clients. In fact, it was such an overriding theme that when certain collections were too salacious, baring too much flesh, they felt out of step with society at large.
Travel and leisure were also huge themes across all four Fashion Weeks, with nomadic, bohemian influences felt at Tory Burch, The Row, Roksanda, Etro, and many others. Finally, after viewing hundreds of shows and writing dozens of reviews, I chose ten collections that were really beautiful, moved and inspired me, and proved innovation is still very much alive in fashion. Let these heal you of your post-Phoebe Philo bitterness and assure you that there is still something for everyone if you know where to look.
For the past few seasons, Rodarte has been cutting its teeth in Paris, and it shows. After returning to the calendar, the brand beloved by brainy intellectuals and party girls alike showed the best collection at all of NYFW. Not only was the Spring/Summer 2019 collection hauntingly beautiful (and shown in a cemetery), but it also showcased just how far the brand’s skill set had developed. Extraordinary craftsmanship offered a magnificent finish to Rodarte’s romantically hued tulle gowns – even a rain shower couldn’t dampen the joyful spirits of onlookers who reveled in the dramatic silhouettes and striking beauty looks.
While some designers showed their inaugural collections at Fashion Week to dismal reviews, Riccardo Tisci was not one of them. His debut at Burberry was so perfect, so satisfying, that it was instantly clear he was the right man for the job. Tisci was smart with his approach, turning out a gorgeous selection of trench coats, pencil skirts, and chic blouses that brought an empowering quality to the runway, and then suddenly switched gears to embrace aspects of punk culture and streetwear. “Something for everyone” never looked so enticing. Brava! I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
After ten years at the helm of one of LFW’s most innovative brands, Mary Katrantzou could easily rest on her laurels, but that’s not at all what she did for Spring/Summer 2019. Her stunning, goosebump-inducing collection proffered an onslaught of creative textiles, mesmerizing prints, astonishing embroidery techniques, and more – all related to her signature use of talismans and collectibles.
Stamps, badges, insects, banknotes, and flower gardens were translated into fantasy forms and decorated lavishly on prismatic dresses and a wonderful array of translucent outerwear. In my ultimate fashion fantasy, there are two women I would tap to create my looks: Mary Katrantzou and Sarah Burton. Look at this marvelous collection and ask yourself, “Wouldn’t I?”
With Karl Lagerfeld at the helm, you can be assured that Fendi will always be good, but this time around it was excellent – superlative, even. By fusing street style like bike shorts, belt bags, and plastic raincoats with handsome leather trim, sophisticated separates, and gorgeous accessories, Fendi landed on an upscale, sportif aesthetic that any woman would be delighted to wear, especially because everything came with pockets.
Lagerfeld also cleverly turned the Fendi logo into one of the collection’s strongest selling points – even for those suffering from logo fatigue – by creating an interlocking double-F logo that fit together like a puzzle piece. He then embossed this ultra-cool logo onto leather pencil skirts and jackets, and the effect was brilliant. There are very few times I come away from viewing a show and think, “I want every single piece.” But this was one of them. Suddenly, I’m a Fendi girl, which I never saw coming.
Joseph Altuzarra’s unapologetically beautiful collection for Spring/Summer 2019 was dedicated to the feeling of falling in love, which is precisely what I did with his creations. “Pretty” fashion can be boring, at least from my perspective, because I tend to like things that are weird and avant-garde – or “conversation-starter fashion” as I like to call it.
However, Altuzarra’s version is beyond pretty. It’s downright gorgeous, and I was smitten, even though I’m definitely not his target audience. Beautiful wildflower prints and bold gingham patterns were shrunk and twisted around the body, offering just the right hint of skin. His women looked feminine but confident, self-assured and serene. What a pleasure to look at.
Chitose Abe might not be a household name the way Karl Lagerfeld and Maria Grazia Chiuri are, but her visionary outlook on fashion is so well-known that hundreds of other designers and brands have rushed to copy it. Abe’s brand, Sacai, is known for its artfully deconstructed and rearranged designs and, for Spring/Summer 2019, she outdid herself with a collection based on the coolest interpretation of a trench coat that I’ve ever seen.
By hybridizing a multitude of textures, shapes, and fabrics together, Sacai’s clothes feel spontaneous, fresh, and incredibly fashion-forward. Trenches were injected with madras prints, and lacy blouses were outfitted with bulky cargo pockets. Meanwhile, technical meshes, rugby shirts, and floral prints were worked together into dresses. Collage methods aren’t new to fashion, but at Sacai, they’re done better than anywhere else.
Full disclosure: I am not a fan of Demna Gvasalia’s work. There, I said it. Since the days of overblown Vetements hype, I have questioned his stature as a designer – I’ve always taken him to be something of a rip-off artist. And now I am prepared to eat my words. Balenciaga’s Spring/Summer 2019 show was marvelous. With its crisp lines and bold silhouette, the sharp-shouldered outerwear was my favorite. I also loved the longer dresses he showed towards the end.
The reason his silhouette felt more evolved this season was due in large part to the precision lent to the craft by 3D-printing, which he used for the first time. The styling was also streamlined and simple, and that has everything to do with the absence of Gvasalia’s longtime stylist Lotta Volkova – maybe it was her vision I wasn’t feeling all along. Overall, the collection felt really directional, like he had been searching for the right foundation to launch from and, after drifting for several seasons, has finally found himself anchored to something understandable and ultra-desirable.
Ever since Paco Rabanne’s reboot in 2014, I have been less than impressed with its output. However, the Spring/Summer 2019 collection was too splendid to ignore. Under the guidance of designer Julien Dossena, the brand’s signature chainmail designs were revived in a marvelous way for the season, rendered as metallic prints on floral, hybridized dresses. It made his women feel simultaneously tough and feminine, which many designers attempt, but so few are successful at.
Edwardian suits were a surprising find at Paco Rabanne, and they looked sharp in silver metallic brocades. Little chains were also braided into the surface of lithe floral dresses, while larger chains acted as halter-necklace hybrids that supported necklines. It was all so cool and edgy that it made me wish Paco Rabanne was one of the brands still doing “See Now, Buy Now” collections.
Oh, Valentino, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Ever since Pierpaolo Piccioli became the sole provider of your designs, you have become one of the most reliable sources of red-carpet beauty. Your designs provide ample silhouettes for the modest-minded, and sexy sheers for those seeking empowerment in other ways.
Your embellished surfaces are so mesmerizing that I refused to blink when they went by, unwilling to part with even a microsecond of wonder. Your prints are so fetching that I’ve strongly considered upholstering my entire house in them. Oh, and all of that painstaking hand-pleating? Madame Grès would have been outrageously jealous. In other words, Valentino, your Spring/Summer 2019 collection was so shut-up-and-take-my-money gorgeous that I needed a fainting couch after seeing it.
Last, but certainly not least, we find Louis Vuitton demonstrating Nicolas Ghesquière’s genius. He has been building this aesthetic between futuristic and streetwear for several seasons now, but it coalesced into something marvelous (and marvelously weird) for Spring/Summer 2019. First, he blew sleeves up to outsized proportions and then bunched them up above the elbow so that their volume only increased. Huge sleeves were shoved through tabards and vests or stitched onto shrunken minis. Ghesquière turned his attention to 1980s designs with fun squiggle prints, juxtaposing those against minidresses covered in stiff, starchy honeycomb overlays – very Judy Jetson.
His molded jackets were exceptionally designed and shot to the top of my must-have list for Spring/Summer 2019. Finally, he turned everything on his head by showing menswear on women who were dressed to look like men. In fact, they were so masculine that many guests wondered if Ghesquière was fusing menswear and womenswear at Louis Vuitton behind Virgil Abloh’s back. No, he was just demonstrating his version of female empowerment, which meant gender-bending to the nth degree.