We’ve come a long way from designers showing in third-floor walk-ups and models wearing their own shoes!
Designers can’t just make clothes anymore, they have to be entertainers or risk being pushed aside by the entertainers who are becoming designers themselves. So this season at New York Fashion Week, they upped the experience and performance level, which makes a lot of sense: because if there is one thing America knows how to do (besides sportswear, another buzzword this week), it’s entertain, from the Golden Age of Hollywood to the iPhone in your hand.
Ralph Lauren built the Art Deco Ralph’s Club from scratch, and booked Janelle Monae to shake the chandeliers. Tom Ford re-created Luc Besson’s moody 1985 film “Subway” in the actual subway (it may not have smelled F—ing Fabulous, but it looked it). And Rihanna and friends lifted spirits at the Barclays Center, with all sizes shaking and singing in their underwear in a celebration of self-acceptance.
Indeed, many of the week’s shows and performances highlighted what may be America’s other most valuable contribution to fashion: promoting diversity.
Two shows celebrated the black experience back-to-back on the same night at historic concert venues: the Tommy x Zendaya block party at the Apollo in Harlem, and Pyer Moss’ tribute to rock-‘n’-roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe at the Kings Theatre in Flatbush, with a gospel choir raising the roof like it was church on Sunday.
“Designers are looking to create a holistic experience,” said Brittney Escovedo of Beyond 8, who produced the Pyer Moss show, which required five rehearsals, 76 choir members, and a band that included a female guitarist and bassist, playing songs by female trailblazers Anita Baker, Whitney Houston and Cardi B. “The clothing is something editors will review, looking at construction, fit, is it salable, wearable, and something different. But not everybody understands that. When you add layered elements, it gives everyone something to relate to…Kerby [Jean-Raymond] always wants to evoke emotion. That’s the most important part…I heard a lot of people cried so I think we did a good job!”
Marc Jacobs gave us an entrance (and exit) to remember, with his own personal Liza Minnelli moment that had him twirling his way off the stage.
“I was just hoping he didn’t spin out…that’s a long twirl, even for a professional dancer, in those Rick Owens shoes,” said movement consultant Stephen Galloway, who worked on Jacobs’ show but not with Jacobs himself. “I can’t take any responsibility for his joy. He is 5,000 percent invested in his joy!”
There was a lot of joy this week — and movement, so much so that the shows featuring models who didn’t move with personality looked pretty lifeless. Michael Kors had an entertaining concept, “American Pie,” and the Young People’s Chorus of New York City performing, but it felt flat. I wanted the models to break out in a Busby Berkeley number!
Jacobs, on the other hand, had a cast of characters Bob Fosse would love. They walked into the Park Avenue Armory “Chorus Line” style, and made the experience interactive by passing through the audience in their seats. Each model had different hair and makeup — and moves — creating plenty of opportunities for attendees to capture videos, which make for more valuable social media currency than static photos.
“We live in a time where ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ ‘America’s Got Talent,’ ‘Pose’ and ‘Fosse’ are on TV. [Dance and movement] are part of the conversation,” said Galloway, who consulted on the Tom Ford, Brandon Maxwell and Tommy Ton shows this season. “There is an understanding about the art of performance and the concept of a runway.”
At Christian Siriano, all-size models vamped for the cameras, and at Hilfiger, 21-year-old model/dancer Alton Mason nearly stole the show with his funkadelic moves.
“Tommy was see-now-buy-now, it’s for a very wide audience. So it wants to be more entertaining than a normal fashion show,” said Betak.
But the message was as much about diversity as the Seventies Harlem vibe. “Diversity started and has extended very radically at least in New York, if not so much in Milan and Paris. That’s a sign of the changing times, and you have the Zendayas and Rihannas to thank for that. Maybe it’s because they don’t come from this world that they are more open, but these entertainers have changed fashion.”
Whether New York will lean into the show-as-entertainment concept in future seasons remains to be seen. The Council of Fashion Designers of America has confirmed there are no plans to move fashion week to the entertainment capital of the world, L.A., in February. So fashion’s Hollywood dreams will have to stay in New York.
“There was a prejudice that New York was going to be so boring because there was no Calvin Klein, no Rodarte, so maybe that general worry pushed many designers to do more,” said Betak. “But then people say the shows are entertaining because the clothes are boring, so you can’t win.”