with contributions from Jean E. Palmieri, Alex Badia
 on September 11, 2019

Michael Kors waved the flag for his American dream at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Wednesday morning, mixing nautical style, stars and stripes, Forties Hollywood and a preppy-punk spirit he dubbed “Kennepunkport” in his spring collection.

“It’s a statement about possibility, it’s a statement about optimism,” he said of the show, which featured the Young People’s Chorus of New York City singing standards by Don McLean, Simon & Garfunkel and Woody Guthrie.

From Pyer Moss to Prabal Gurung, for many, this runway season has been an examination of what it means to be an American — and an American designer — during a time when the most diverse generation in history is coming of age in this country, yet still reckoning with the legacy of racism and the future of immigration.

Kors did some searching of his own during a recent visit to Ellis Island, where he discovered his great-grandmother had arrived alone on a boat at age 14 with $10 in her pocket and her race listed as “Hebrew.” “The fact that she was able to make a life, and that I was able to make a life…” he mused. “She lived on the Lower East Side, and now you go and it’s trendy! That’s New York,” he said of the city’s capacity for reinvention and rebirth.

On the runway, it was a different story; Kors’ American dream felt a bit like a broad-strokes Broadway revival. There was nothing wrong with it, but nothing subtle or tortured, either, except for the pointedly political sweater with the word “Hate” spelled out, and crossed out, across the front. “America is about immigrants. We are all immigrants,” said Kors when asked about President Trump’s immigration policy.

But this was a chance to forget all that, and join in on the “Love Train,” as the finale song suggested (even if designers haven’t been able to join in on coordinating their shows better geographically this season — collaboration starts at the top!) Kors was here to cheerlead — for America and the industry: “We invented sportswear, we didn’t invent ballgowns, and we have to own it…and the fact that the world wears it,” he said.

He owned it by revisiting golden oldies like Forties tailoring (the original power suiting). A midnight wool gabardine blazer with outsize sculpted shoulders, worn with a khaki wool pleated skirt, felt a tad costume-y. Less exaggeration served him better, as on a houndstooth pantsuit gorgeously nipped at the waist, or a gingham cropped Spencer jacket with gently rounded shoulders, worn with a cascade ruffle skirt.

Draped jersey peplum dresses and rompers in cherry or lemon crystal embroidery were for a starlet made, as was a crimson draped gown with silver sequined star embroideries that looked like fireworks. A metal anchor and gold star embroideries felt a little heavy-handed, however.

When punk entered the equation, it generally made for more interesting looks, as on the chic khaki wool gabardine trenchcoat worn with fluid pleated trousers and a cropped cashmere pullover, or the yellow peacoat with gold stud details.

Preppy standards were also better when they weren’t so straightforward: a red pullover sweater and cherry-print shorts worn with loafers with cherries on top (of the toes), for example — they made me smile. The collection could have used some more cherries on top.

Nautical references felt more natural in the men’s offering. Kors did it best in the striped fisherman sweaters, toggle coats and pleated trousers. Beyond that, the big shoulders and wide legs in gingham suits and tattersall blazers continued the Seventies vibe he delivered during his spring showing. And while the pick-stitch pin-striped suit may be a bit much for a lot of guys, the updated argyle sweaters and gabardine military coats should have universal appeal.

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