Here we go again — the same, but also different.
Deadly flooding, Delta variant, the 20th anniversary of 9/11…it’s a very heavy time. And yet there is something comforting about getting back to an in-person New York Fashion Week, to the fashion bubble, some kind of routine and normalcy, even if it does involve uploading vaccine cards, wearing masks instead of lipstick and criss-crossing the city for the 91 shows and presentations happening through Sunday.
“Nothing can replace seeing something in person,” said Thom Browne, one of American fashion’s greatest showmen, who’s returning to New York for one season only, at The Shed on Saturday. “What’s really important: the energy. In Europe it’s such an electricity you feel in Milan and Paris. I hope you get that sense here in New York.
“We’re having 250 guests, which is smaller than our usual shows. There’s so many people so anxious to come…every response you receive is all caps, ‘I CAN’T WAIT!,'” said Browne’s PR.
What is fashion without fashion week? It’s our Davos, our CES, our chance to come together and get excited in real life about this crazy industry we all love.
“I think everyone is looking forward to it, it’s like a kid going back to school,” said Jeremy Scott, who will show his Moschino collection on Thursday at Bryant Park, riffing on the days when the fashion week big top was there. “I always feel optimistic. With everything that’s happened, it’s a rebirth collectively and individually.”
This spring 2022 season is off to an auspicious start with a unified front — and calendar — from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and IMG.
Many of the shows will be smaller, with some designers foregoing outside photographers altogether.
“It’s even more important to be exclusive at this time. Obviously, from a safety perspective, but also because it’s time to minimize and scale back, zero in on what’s important and eliminate the excess,” said LaQuan Smith, hinting at what could become a point of difference once again for American luxury — as it was in the time of the Battle of Versailles — a more intimate, free and real experience, perhaps.
On Thursday night, Smith is presenting the first fashion show at the Empire State Building in its 90-year history, with a capacity for 160 guests compared to his typical 350. “The Art Deco really inspired me,” said Smith of what he has planned. “For the collection, you’ll see the use of printed leather, aqua, sapphire suede, rich, dusty New York red.”
What is truly remarkable this season is the larger slate of diverse talent on the runway, including Smith, Peter Do, Kenneth Nicholson, Theophilio’s Edvin Thompson, Rebecca Henry and Akua Shabaka of House of Aama, Victor Glemaud and Sergio Hudson.
“I feel like the industry has made an effort to be more inclusive, and to be honest, they are learning along the way. Black designers are not wanting special treatment, we are just wanting equal billing and opportunity,” said Hudson, who dressed Michelle Obama for the inauguration of President Joe Biden and has seen his sales skyrocket 495 percent since that day, with his collection picked up by nearly every major retailer, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Net-a-porter and Neiman Marcus.
The Los Angeles designer’s first runway show was February 2020, then the world shut down. So this week is a second chance. Instead of showing spring 2022, on Thursday at Spring Studios he will show his fall 2021 collection of sleek, sexy power clothes with jolts of color, and it will be released and available to shop right afterward.
“It’s to me a new guard coming in, it’s like, make room! Make room for some diversity, especially in the sportswear arena, where we have not seen a designer of color ascend to the level of Ralph Lauren and Oscar de la Renta. It’s about time.”
The upcoming Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute exhibition, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” is also aiming to be more inclusive. Using Prabal Gurung’s 10th anniversary show from 2019, and its question “Who gets to be an American?” as a central theme, the show will explore the politics, protest, individualism and immigrants who shape the industry.
“My fight has always been this, that Americana has been so much informed by the colonial lens,” said Gurung, a Nepalese American. “So to see all this, even the new calendar with all these designers of color, it feels exciting. And I hope everyone’s shows are different because that’s what fashion needs.”
Gurung will be collaborating with Mattel brand American Girl, which is sponsoring his show Wednesday night, launching a limited-edition T-shirt for girls and dolls celebrating diversity and women, and presumably bringing buzz to both brands. “We all understand the challenging time the industry is going through,” Gurung said.
One only has to take a stroll down Madison Avenue and see all the for-lease signs to know it’s not business as usual. Nor does everyone want it to be.
“I love making clothes that make people feel great, but I’m over the fashion politics and dirty business and I can’t believe after all that’s happened, we’re right back to it again,” said Christian Siriano, referring to the Vogue-sponsored Met Gala that will follow New York Fashion Week on Sept. 13.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s a celebration of American talent to be putting them under pressure,” he said, noting that the logistics of doing a runway show on top of VIP dressing for the Met, the Venice Film Festival, MTV Awards and Emmys is almost too much for his team to handle. “And let’s be honest, we are still in a pandemic. We have some of our number-one clients, heavy-hitter, big-spending women, who are not coming to the show because they are afraid.”
Yet for Siriano at least, the runway is still worth it. “We make money off it; it’s six months of sales or longer, and we get a lot of sponsorships. Think of it like a musician who gives a concert — this is our performance and it’s what people love.”
Siriano’s show will be held tonight with an audience of 275, less than the 2,000 people Gotham Hall can hold, but more than the 61 he hosted for his show in February 2021.
That feels like some progress, too. “We are still keeping it tight enough to keep it comfortable, comfortable in an awkward time,” he said.
Welcome to the awkward time.