New York Fashion Week stood at a crossroads last week as designers rushed to embrace change on the one hand, but not knowing exactly how to do it on the other.
The industry was clearly in the grips of an existential moment. “What are we doing here?” said Laura Vinroot-Poole, owner of Capitol in Charlotte, N.C. “It was really depressing. Designers are really confused, clients are confused and I’m confused. There’s so much unrest. It’s a tumultuous time and everyone’s scared. It feels like there’s a real cultural shift and generation shift.”
For all the talk about seasonless clothing and consumer-facing shows, the fashion industry is governed by established rhythms. Designers show two collections a year (well, excluding pre-collections, couture and any other special capsule they develop) in four major cities — New York, London, Milan and Paris. And while those rhythms are being upended, the path to the future is still unclear.
“At a time when we’re having a conversation about buy-now, wear-now, and consumers are feeling fatigue from clothes that are in stores far too early, it was disappointing to see so many designers resort back to heavy fabrics that are overweight and overwrought,” said Ken Downing, senior vice president and creative director at Neiman Marcus, who’s been one of the most outspoken advocates of changing the show system. “I thought we’d see more of a seasonless sensibility. Designers who showed [lighter-weight fabrics] are on the road to great success. Those who ignored it, that’s just not how the customer is shopping now. We’re seeing it in sales and seeing it throughout the industry. It’s paramount.”
“We simply can’t go through another season of heavy sweaters that weigh 500 pounds and separates made of fabrics that would protect you in an arctic storm when it’s 80 degrees outside,” said Suzanne Timmins, senior vice president and fashion director of Hudson’s Bay Co., who’s favorite collections included Ms. Min by Min Liu, which was shortlisted for the 2015 LVMH Prize; Babyghost by Joshua Hupper; Qiaoran Huang, and the hands-down retailer favorite in the new designer category, Sies Marjan, from former Dries Van Noten designer Sander Lak, who had a sure hand with color and texture.
Retailers also pointed to younger brands including Adam Lippes, The Row, Proenza Schouler, Altuzarra and Rodarte as among the standouts of the week. The prevalence of unusual color and textural combinations were praised, with retail executives pointing to the influence of Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele on the New York runways.
“Gucci has been influential as seen in whimsical and counter-intuitive mixes and mashups,” said Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation at Bergdorf Goodman. Overall, the collections were “rather tepid,” Fargo said, singling out Altuzarra, Brandon Maxwell, Rodarte and Marc Jacobs, “who closed the week with a reminder of what fashion can be. Other special collections: Proenza Schouler, Rosie Assoulin, Naeem Khan, Michael Kors and Rag & Bone.”
“The revival of Gucci has clearly influenced some New York designers,” said Kelly Wong, general merchandise manager for women’s wear at Lane Crawford. “We saw some trends from Milan come through in the form of rusty hues, earthy pallettes, pleats and prints. The lace-up detailing from Paris also evolved into a more urban interpretation at 3.1 Phillip Lim, DKNY and Proenza Schouler.
“With the Public School designers taking on the creative direction of DKNY, the label has been reenergized with attitude and a strong point of view,” Wong said. “Monse gained a lot of traction in its second season. The New York brands – including Proenza Schouler, DKNY, Rosie Assoulin and Thom Browne continue to form the core of our contemporary portfolio.”
“New York made a very strong statement with totally contradictory movements,” said Nicole Fischelis, group vice president and fashion director of Macy’s Inc. “It’s a reflection of change and may be for the better. It’s the end of a cycle.” Fischelis mentioned the gender neutral and highly-skilled tailoring of Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren’s Edwardian romanticism and Michael Kors’ color as well as “two new designers, Sies Marjan and Claudia Li” as among her favorites.
“It’s a period of change,” said Cindy Ho, fashion director of 360 Style. “Brands have to be more flexible somehow.” Asked about her open-to-buy in New York, Ho said, “The economic climate is not stable yet. We’ll keep it the same. The best trends were the mixing and matching of softness and hardness, the contrast between modernity and nostalgia and beauty versus beast. Rodarte, 3.1 Phillip Lim and Anna Sui were my favorite collections. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Fenty Puma,” Rihanna’s collection for the activewear brand.
Jeffrey Kalinsky, executive vice president of designer merchandising at Nordstrom, said his favorite trends included black-and-white dressing, extreme proportions, embellishment and the color yellow. “My favorite collections were Delpozo, Altuzarra and Marc Jacobs,” he said. “Brock, Brandon Maxwell and Sies Marjan are all supertalented and exciting new designers that have a bright future.”
Like the week’s schizophrenic weather — which went from balmy to frigid — retailers blew hot and cold about the New York shows. “The weather matched the current retail climate, which is unpredictable,” said Ed Burstell, managing director of Liberty Retail at Liberty of London. “It’s no wonder so many of the collections struck the balance between what’s commercially proven with just a nudge toward creativity.”
“New York has lost some of its edge to London and there aren’t the established ‘big boys’ that you get in Paris or Milan,” said Justin O’Shea, global fashion director of Mytheresa.com. “There wasn’t a lot of newness. That said, I enjoyed Altuzarra and Yeezy was cool. I liked Kanye’s new album. Sies Marjan is the new designer everyone is watching. It has the possibility of becoming something unique in New York.”
“New York Fashion Week had a dark energy, which manifested itself in a generally covered look,” said Tomoko Ogura, senior fashion director of Barneys New York. “Lush velvets, rich embellishments and ruffles added to the opulence of the season.” Ogura cited Marc Jacobs, The Row, Gary Graham, Rag & Bone, Alexander Wang, Brock Collection and R13. “Sies Marjan’s Sander Lak presented an aesthetic and sensibility that is untouched in New York.
“In general, the shows were flat,” she continued. “The diversification of show settings and concepts made New York Fashion Week interesting, but it’s important for designers to consider whether a show format — or show at all — is the most impactful and cost-effective way to highlight their collection.”
Sarah Rutson, vice president of global buying for netaporter.com, called out Monse, Altuzarra, Victoria Beckham, J. Crew, The Row and Michael Kors. “Gabriella Hearst looks very strong and we’re excited to pick her up for fall,” she said. “Our business is growing. The brands that are able to design and deliver the product we need will certainly grow with us since the demand for these collections is expanding in our customer base. It really does come down to product.”
Steven Cook, senior vice president of buying and merchandising at Holt Renfrew, said, “You can never bring enough newness to the table, especially when the market’s been tough in many parts of the world. We’re lucky that we’ve had a very strong year and clear pathways on where our investment is going. We’re seeing men’s lead the way in terms of trends such as chunky outerwear, shearlings and suedes. Our men’s business is tremendous. Our self portrait business is fascinating. We can’t grow it quickly enough. The Row is on a huge trajectory.”
Several retailers bemoaned the too much information syndrome and the sensory overload assaulting consumers on every device. “Whether the fashion industry embraces or protests the prevalence of breakneck speed, social media, reality TV stars, e-commerce and mobile shopping” remains to be seen,” said Nancy Zhang, vice president and chief operating officer of Otte. “Retail is very challenging right now because you can find anything online and fashion has become very transaction-driven.”
The idea of quality and craft in fashion is being lost in the ether of runway spectacles, bloggers, reality TV and celebrities all angling for exposure or, even more, overexposure, said Kelly Golden, owner of Neapolitan Collection in Winnetka, Ill. “Unfortunately, the focus wasn’t on the clothes this season,” she said. “It was all about, ‘Which season are they showing?’ and ‘Can I buy it now?’ That’s why I’m gravitating to smaller collections. They don’t have the built-in supply chains, but you can’t produce high-end garments in such a short period of time anyway.”
Zhang also appreciated smaller presentations where the creativity of the runway set matched that of the clothing, such as Ryan Roche, who laid a pristine white carpet out and encouraged guests to cross it. “It made quite a statement about design and art, versus function and how fashion is by definition interactive because it must be touched, handled and worn,” she said. “Brother Vellies had live butterflies at the presentation that brought the collection to life.”
Natalie Kingham, buying director of Matchesfashion.com, said New York Fashion Week was a lesson in layering with long knit dresses over trousers and paired with shawls at Ryan Roche, oversize sweatshirts over skirts designed to look like a pile of coats at Marc Jacobs and textured knits paired with lightweight dresses at Altuzarra. At the other end of the spectrum were “plenty of figure-hugging designs on show from crochet and body-skimming dresses at Proenza Schouler, crochet and Lurex at Tabla Rasa and metallic maxidresses at Tibi. Wide trousers will be an easy way to update your look as shown at Rosie Assoulin, Tibi, Proenza Schouler, The Row and Adam Lippes, to name a few.”
An area of excitement during the week was footwear, with colored boots seen on several runways, including thigh-high lemon styles at Proenza Schouler, blue velvet versions at Aquazurra, pale blue and pink suede at Brother Vellies and floral prints at Altuzarra.
“A newer trend that emerged was this energy of the street, the elevation of the hoodie and track pant. The mixture of opulence and street was exciting with sparkle, embellishment and rich fabrics like velvet and satin,” said Brooke Jaffe, Bloomingdale’s operating vice president of fashion direction for ready-to-wear, citing Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Alice + Olivia, Monse, Jonathan Simkhai, Rag & Bone, Veronica Beard, Cushnie et Ochs and Tanya Taylor. “I’m excited about the new Fenty line for Puma and I continue to love Novis.”
“The collections felt a bit more somber and toned down than spring,” said Roopal Patel, senior vice president and fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue. “Marc Jacobs reminded us to continue to dream at the end of the week. Other standout collections were Proenza Schouler, Altuzarra, Victoria Beckham, Jonathan Simkhai, Thom Browne, Rag & Bone, Rosie Assouilin and Zimmermann. Promising new collections were Sies Marjan, Brandon Maxwell, Monse, Gabriella Hearst and Colovos.”
Gia Ghezzi, fashion director of Intermix, said, “There’s a lot of newness in footwear with chunkier heels, oxfords, loafers and stacked booties. With the past few seasons feeling bohemian and feminine, I’m excited to see a bit of edge in the collections. My favorites included Rosie Assoulin, Jonathan Simkhai, Rag & Bone and Altuzarra. One of the new collections we have our eye on is Beaufille. It’s modern and bold in an ultrachic way.”
Leila Yavari, fashion director of Stylebop.com, said New York designers “presented a really modern woman with real life options. We’re nurturing the contemporary market, which has become an increasingly important demographic. We saw tremendous growth last year so that will reflect an increase in budget.”