A purposeful thread has wended through NYFW as designers grapple with the question of how women who choose to can dress well and thoughtfully in a casual world. So far, we’ve seen some encouraging proposals. Proenza Schouler’s Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough started out by observing what stylist Camilla Nickerson did with their Christmas gift: a blanket. She started wearing it instead of a coat, which got them thinking about warmth and protection in reaction to “what’s going on in the world.” It couldn’t have hurt that Nickerson registers pretty high up on the chic scale, or that there’s a signature sensuality to her style, as there is to Proenza Schouler’s as well. Even at their most artful or oversize, Proenza’s clothes have retained a keen sense of body awareness.
Backstage, Hernandez said that for fall, they started with “the idea of silhouettes unraveling, a zigzag line, things falling apart.” Into that, they injected the blanket idea. Yet watching the show, neither registered as the primary takeaway. Rather, the designers worked those two dissimilar notions into a statement of urbane chic that served the iron-clad premise to which they have recently rededicated themselves and their business: making great-looking clothes that work well for busy women with hectic lives.
Dresses twisted and turned around the body, some with signature cutouts and demonstrative button closures. Necklines were pulled to one side, as if falling off the body, even on the array of substantial outerwear, some of it cozied up with un-bulky padding. As for their palette, unlike many of their New York compatriots, McCollough and Hernandez used upper-cased Color only in rare accents, injecting shots of pale blue and bright red into a base of classic urbane neutrals, black, white, beige, khaki. And in a departure from their recent work, they ditched long. After noticing women wearing half of Proenza’s tunic-and-skirt looks from recent seasons — just tunic, no skirt — the designers decided to respond to that client-driven direction. But what they consider short these days isn’t, really; no hemlines that just covered the essentials nor even hit mid-thigh here. Rather, dresses and skirts hovered around the knee, often over scrunched boots. That’s a significant distinction. McCollough and Hernandez observed that their woman wants a leggy look, but in clothes she can wear to the office.
These days, they are all about what she needs, period. In that sense, one felt a kinship with Donna Karan to a degree unusual for male designers. The link came not in the look of the clothes but in their mood — sensual, high-interest and high-function, clothes intended not to imbue a woman with confidence, but to aid her in telegraphing the innate power that’s already there.