Tory Burch turned Mercer Street in front of her new store into a community block party on Sunday morning.
Celebrating community was a big theme during the first in-person New York Fashion Week since the beginning of the pandemic, and Burch wanted to give back to New York, she said.
So she selected some of her favorite local haunts (Sant Ambroeus, Balthazar, Mercer Street Books and Records, Emily Thompson Flowers) and invited them to set up shop on the street alongside her runway, with free treats for all. (That’s one way to generate good will — and foot traffic — coming into a new neighborhood!)
“New York has given so much to all of us, and it was heartbreaking to see to see what COVID-19 did to the city,” said Burch. “These businesses are coming back but it’s a struggle and we wanted to support them.”
On the runway, the designer offered a history lesson, paying homage to female fashion trailblazer Claire McCardell with an optimistic lineup of picnic plaid, technical knit jersey and cotton poplin pieces.
The mother of American sportswear in the ’40s and ’50s, McCardell changed the way women dressed, creating more casual, functional clothing in humble fabrics, and such iconic silhouettes as the Popover dress and the Monastic dress. She also popularized the ballet flat decades before Burch would make a mint on her logo versions.
Burch was already at work on the McCardell project before the Costume Institute announced its “In America: An American Lexicon” show, which opens on Friday, she said. In January, she took a research trip to the Maryland Center for History and Culture to see McCardell’s archives, eventually returning with her design team.
“I’ve always been intrigued by people who don’t think America contributes a lot to fashion and I wanted to dispel that,” said Burch, wearing a vintage McCardell navy dress. “She’s been a hero of mine, and I wanted to look at the way she allowed women to be free and made things wearable. She was the first one to put a zipper on a dress.”
While McCardell’s problem-solving sportswear designs may look quite formal to contemporary eyes, they were revolutionary for their time, when fashion still had rules and women were expected to follow them.
Like Christian Dior with his New Look, being celebrated in an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, McCardell was interested in the waist, but not the restrictive, cinched, haute couture version. Instead she cut dresses on the bias, added pockets and highlighted the waist with belts or sashes to give women more freedom of movement as they joined the workforce.
For her part, Burch shaped the waist with versatile technical knit corsets that could be layered over a cotton eyelet dress, a jersey button-down shirt worn with navy stripe pants, or even a T-shirt and jeans.
She borrowed from the dance world in her use of jersey — on a black cap-sleeved top with wraparound sash over an orchid jersey skirt, and the black jersey dropped waist of a kelly green grid pattern silk print full skirt.
Meanwhile, a cotton poplin sailor top, shirtdress and honeycomb eyelet full skirt had interesting topstitching, piping and windowpane grid details. Reversible trenchcoats and jersey tops were among the more effortless pieces, underscoring the designer’s mission to problem-solve.
A reissue of the ballet flats McCardell created with Capezio in 1953 was a nice touch. The designer also created the Tory Burch Claire McCardell Fashion Fellowship at the Maryland center to support her legacy.
It is curious that Burch did not include expanded sizes on her runway, like nearly every other designer has this season, reflecting America’s singular contribution to democratizing fashion. Nevertheless, the collection was another step forward in elevating her brand, steering it toward something more timeless with pieces women can make their own.