New York Fashion Week may have been short on ideas, but it was long on new talent. And considering COVID-19 is not over, that designers’ collections came together at all was a miracle, more so this season than any other.
“Whole factories were wiped out by COVID[-19],” lamented Carolina Herrera president Emilie Rubinfeld of the unprecedented challenges.
“We had to hand carry most of our samples,” said Ulla Johnson of weather and shipping woes that had her staff racking up their own frequent flier miles.
Despite it all, there was a sense of joy in coming together as an industry, even if some designers did break away from the fray to show in March and April.
“We’ve been so split apart for so long, it’s good to see a renewed commitment to celebrating the city and the power of our collective voice,” said Johnson.
One thing that the absence of Tom Ford, Thom Browne, Ralph Lauren and others did was give emerging designers space to shine, setting up Peter Do, LaQuan Smith, Khaite and more as new movers of American style.
And it was easier to get around to see them this season, thanks to the CFDA’s improved calendar. But the atmosphere at IMG’s Spring Studios hub felt B list at best, with the crowd being funneled through the sponsor area to the doors creating a palpable trade show vibe. (Exit through the gift shop!) It’s also notable there was no car sponsor this season, suggesting that brands could be seeing less ROI from New York Fashion Week.
The shows at locations around the city had more flavor, whether it was Tory Burch 25 stories high against the backdrop of The New Yorker Hotel neon sign she helped to restore, Johnson in Astor Hall at the New York Public Library, or Eckhaus Latta at the abandoned Essex Street Market. (It made for better photos, too.)
When there was an element of surprise, all the better. Smith’s headline-making casting of Julia Fox is one example, Collina Strada’s greening of “The Hills” with a send-up of the reality TV show called “The Collinas” starring Tommy Dorfman, was another.
Here are the takeaways from the fall New York season.
New Sportswear King
There’s a new guard in New York, and no one made that more evident than LaQuan Smith. Working with Rihanna stylist Mel Ottenberg, Smith has polished his collection, now designing into a similar sportswear aesthetic as Michael Kors, only with a sexier edge. Both showed itsy-bitsy mini skirts and draped dresses under mega outerwear, but Smith brought the party, enlisting Julia Fox to open his show in a revenge dress. Even with Miguel to warm up the crowd, and Blake Lively, Brooke Shields and other celebs front row, Kors’ show felt more low key in comparison, though it did score the top spot in social engagement.
Statement Outerwear…and Innerwear
A Big Bird yellow knitted shearling at Kors, red patent maxi coat at Smith, printed puffers at Collina Strada, oversize leather toppers at Khaite and Do — designers are betting big that women will want a coat wardrobe come fall. And with 30-degree temperature swings like the one in New York over the weekend, they might just need one.
What’s underneath? Well, the skimpier the better, and the corset is the fall season’s bra top. Corseted gowns at Carolina Herrera, lace dresses at Dion Lee and knit waist cinchers over tailored pieces at Proenza Schouler were highlights.
New York is in the midst of a knitwear renaissance, from Victor Glemaud’s body-con styles to Tory Burch’s stunning finale of graphic color block knit dresses. Graphic effects using swaths of color were a theme, more so than prints.
A Mackie in the Making
The level of craft and audacity in Piotrek Panszczyk and Beckett Fogg’s label Area hit a new high with the spring 2022 collection they presented at their Chinatown atelier. Their flair for feathers, hardcore embroideries and shape-shifting silhouettes brought to mind greats like Bob Mackie and Thierry Mugler. Someone give them a Vegas residency to costume.
“This hasn’t been the easiest last couple of years…and there’s so much going on that makes luxury clothing feel futile,” said Zoe Latta, telling the hard truth after the fabulous Eckhaus Latta 10th anniversary show. The designers, humble to still be on the scene at the decade mark, said they deliberately did not want to make anything that looked too polished. They weren’t alone — gritty, grungy, “Mad Max” or Scorsese, the deconstructed look was a counterpoint to so much faux fur and flash.
New Talents, But Who Will Break Through?
Launching a label is one thing, but staying in business is another. When it comes to emerging names, Saint Sintra’s twisted tailoring and emo dresses, Connor McKnight’s outdoor-meets-workwear and Colin LoCascio’s feel-good patchwork pieces all stuck with me this week. Interior by Jack Miner and Lily Miesmer also have a good chance of making it. For one, Miesmer is Tory Burch’s niece, and Cate Holstein is a mentor. Miesmer also talks a good game, and has a freakish sense of fun. At her presentation, a dystopian dinner party at The Waverly Inn, I could have listened for hours to her talk about her film inspirations (“‘Waterworld,’ it’s a garbage film but the costumes are amazing,” she said).
Styling = Substance
Whether it was in the name of sustainability and preventing waste, or an effort to promote style over trends, several designers mentioned wanting their customers to play with and get the most out of their clothes. “People always think they need to buy new things because they don’t know how to wear what’s in their closet,” said Peter Do, whose stellar collection was called “Foundations.” Plenty of women need to learn.
The New York Look
There was a lot of talk about the New York look this season — Michael Kors said it’s “all about the stride,” Prabal Gurung defined it as resilience, Tory Burch associated it with Bill Cunningham’s iconic photos of individualism echoing on the streets today. “We all come here seeking something,” mused Cate Holstein of being inspired by strong women like Jerry Hall arriving on a bus from Texas and making it.
The New York Look is also diversity, with more designers of color ascendent in fashion than ever before. Now it’s incumbent on the industry to help promote them so they can stay there.