Just about half a year ago this past February, conversations overheard while waiting for the elevator to the 6th-floor studio at Spring Street or while descending the back staircase post-show often converged on a single topic – there were simply too many shows in the past few seasons at New York Fashion Week. It wasn’t just a recent occurrence – I remembered several seasons at Lincoln Center when the entrance pavilion was so full of sponsors’ kiosk with so many guests lingering at the tented space practically all day that it became a challenge for working professionals to enter the shows.
Fast forward to six months, those wishes are now fulfilled with NYFW just barely three days that resemble a bad Netflix series than a show week that can bring American fashion back to the fore. Sadly outside forces of the pandemic have derailed the hope for a leaner and meaner NYFW. Instead, brands are fending for themselves, figuring out what can work for their own business. Gone from the official calendar are not only the heartbeats of New York fashion – Marc Jacobs and Proenza Schouler but also the gigantic brands like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger have opted out of show week for now and Michael Kors will show in mid-October going forward.
Lacking any major brands that represent the backbone of American fashion and the spine of the New York shows for decades, it is the hope that the younger designers who establish their brands within the last decade can step forward and step up their game plan especially since they are immersed in the digital era and should be able to maximize their roll of dice through these online platforms. This would require creative ingenuity both on the fashion and on the tech side.
“It is what it is,” is surely an apt description of current times and how designers adapt to the new reality is a manner of providing a way ahead, albeit a creative way ahead. No one has any definite answers to the ailing fashion system. Uploading all of these new fashion week contents creates more competition in the sea of crowded existing branded initiatives.
Hopefully this generation of designers in New York facing existential questions can embrace and push the tech realm and its evolving platforms to the advantage of promoting and selling their fashion as their intended audience are already submerged on screen on a daily basis. The CFDA, the body representing American designers, just launched Runway360 as a multifaceted platform where any brands can tell their stories and also sell their products in a virtual showroom like space.
Fashion is at a cross road, the crucial intersection of the traditional and the visionary innovation. Think of it this way – now ubiquitous but does anyone know what Zoom was six months ago?
“For spring 2021, I was inspired by my home away from home, Tulum. I wanted to create a collection that reminds me of the bright, tropical hues that recall so many happy memories. The theme of the collection is escapism – because fashion should inspire and make us feel happy,” Jason Wu said of his show of a new contemporary collection in addition to his signature line, an actual physical show with limited guests on the rooftop of Spring Studios, the nerve center of the portions of the NY shows produced by IMG, that opens the spring women’s fashion season with a strong message of creativity and hope.
Sponsored by Lowe’s, the staging recreates a rooftop tropical beach walk with wooden planks and sands winding around like those Fire Island walkways. The clothes perfectly match the décor from the first look a burnt orange cotton sleeveless long dress to the cape sleeve white and red stripe belted dress to the orange loose jacket pantsuit paired with a black bra or a white oversize jacket and short to the silk prints strap dresses appearing towards the end. The ease of these clothes in their vibrant colors and prints surely provide a strong business impetus for Wu as their temperament perfectly the mood of consumers today.
In a note to the prominent values of sustainability, the show’s set decoration – trees and home furnishings and products supplied by Lowe’s – will find new homes in the A. Visconti Garden Center and a dining facility at the GMHC in New York respectively. Wu has worked with GMHC and The Collective Shift early this summer launching the ‘Distance Yourself from Hate’ campaign to provide food and mask to underprivileged communities.
Founded in 2007 by Brandice Daniel as a multicultural, event, and social platforms for fashion designers of colors, Harlem’s Fashion Row primary mission supports these underrepresented American designers and talents who are working outside of the mainstream fashion industry system in terms of sales in established retail entities and in terms of promoting these independent brands. Certainly, HFR is far ahead of the game in the critical needs to find, nurture and assists all these BIPOC talents years before the current racial reckoning following this summer BLM protests that have caused major introspection on who and how the fashion and media industry operates.
Now in its 13th year, HFR’s annual virtual gala is a mixture of award presentations – the Edward Enninful of British Vogue with the maverick, Kerby Jean Raymond as Designer, the publicist of the year prizes – and a series of fashion shows from three handpicked designers Kimberly Goldson, RichFresh and Kristian Loren. HFR also launched its non- profit Icon360 this June in partnership with funding from the CFDA/Vogue A Common Thread to raise and to secure funding for these emerging designers.
When Kristian Lorén Lopez was a young girl growing up in Philadelphia, she used to make clothes from tablecloths and curtain fabrics to put on her sister Sessilee to walk in a make belief fashion runway in the family house. Years later, Sessillee became a top fashion model and Lorén earned her way through school at the Fashion Institute of Technology while working as a model agent daytime and learning the process of making clothes after work.
Her online HFR presentation continues the kind of products that she has been making for the brand – easy, sexy clothes that are not loud statements but they are noticeable. The clothes ranged from a gold sequined ensemble to an orange chiffon evening dress with white feather trims, to cropped tee shirts and sparkling pants. These are day to night wardrobes without much fuss.
Launched in 2012 by the sisters Kimberly Goldson and Shelly Powell and based in Brooklyn, Kimberly Goldson is a luxury lifestyle brand comprising of high contemporary clothes with the style of clothes that they are familiar with and that they wear on a daily basis.
Hair and texture as Goldson explained is the base of her runway presentation with a black wool coat with painted face and red hair embroidery or a white tee shirt with face and blond curly hair worn with sheer chiffon pants and shorts. A grey sweatshirt dress with long twisted hair and a shiny blue pleated dress paired with black pants were two great looks from the brief runway.
Patrick Henry is a self-made designer behind the Fresh or Richfresh luxury label based in Los Angeles who not many years ago failed in his first attempt at a fashion business and was temporarily homeless before finding his true calling and land in the West Coast city of dreams. Fast forward to today, Richfresh has grown with a large and loyal set of followers for his takes on tailoring with splashy sport detailing.
For the runway presentation, the designer showed his two signatures – colorful tailored suiting in salmon pink and light brown tropical wool some accented with stripes, and his silk robe coats. The sharp cut track pant slim suit adds another element of sport luxury to the Richfresh canon of fashion.
HFR is imbued with energy and foremost commitment among the organization’s sponsors to advance the cause of fashion designers of color. Perhaps in the future, HFR can expand its own vision and feature more participation from the BIPOC fashion community to achieve the goal of diversity and inclusion.
This year it’s the CFDA Awards without actually being what we have always known as the CFDA Awards – the gala dinner recently moved to Brooklyn where all the designers gathered to collect their statues.
Today the CFDA chairman Tom Ford narrated a video feed explaining the virtual awarding of the 2020 awards and the winners are –
Kim Jones for Dior – International Men’s wear Designer of the Year
Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino – International Womenswear Designer of the Year
Christopher John Rogers – American Emerging Designer of the Year
Telfar Clemens – American Accessory Designer of the Year
Kerby Jean Raymond for Pyer Moss – American Menswear Designer of Year
Gabriela Hearst – American Womenswear Designer of the Year
In recent years the CFDA Awards has been criticized for awarding too many of the same candidates year after year that seemed to make the entire process a bit redundant and a lack of efforts by the industry at large to look at the work of lesser name designer. But today’s winners tell a different story as each of these designers has contributed in a major way in their respective nominated category. Kim Jones has revitalized Dior’s menswear with an injection of couture and street. Pierpaolo Piccioli has brought the sense and worth of couture back to Valentino and back to fashion. Telfar Clemens has created an It bag – the first for a small brand. Christopher John Rogers has captivated his audience with audacious and courageous designs coming from his heart. Kerby Jean Raymond offers the grandeur of history as the story of his fashion narration. And Gabriela Hearst has quietly built her business on sustainability and timelessness luxury.
Snow Xue Gao started her eponymous line in 2017 from the seeds of her MFA thesis show at Parsons that has become her signature asymmetric draping and placements of cutting lines that alter the construction of her clothes often with unusual visual effects.
Gao’s spring clothes titled ’Love, family, and friends’ for the down time she spend with close friends during the pandemic are mostly unisex garments – always produce entirely locally in New York – that carry forward her work in juxtaposition of different elements of a garment in the assembly of a piece. She mixes different fabrics like gingham and floral print into a jacket cut unevenly and tied at the waist or a blue floral dress with a section of a grey wool shirt at the front.
But some of Gao’s simpler garments like several of the outerwear pieces – the gingham coat with black trims or the orange slim long coat and her simpler floral slim cropped jacket with blue floral pants are less busy with complicated design elements that they stood out in this collection.
Georgina Chapman’s Marchesa brand has been undergoing a crisis of its own much longer than the global pandemic but despite of these headwinds, her new spring couture presentation shows the possible road back with a succinct and focused collection of her signature clothes in vibrant pastel tropical colors and prints.
These clean and slim-cut dresses draped concisely around the body are surely crafted by high couture standards and materials – hand-painted silk floral one-shoulder gown, orange flared sleeved short cocktail dress, a black A-line embroidered flower short dress, or a silver beaded tiered long dress with cape sleeves. The mood seems lighter with less emphasis on ornamentations and overly done decorations.
The bright floral motif that permeates throughout the entire Marchesa Notte collection comes from the luscious garden of the Mexican painter’s ‘La Casa Azul’, where the flowers became prints on simpler evening dresses and a series of day wear looks that included a yellow print shirt dress, a lime green jacket with shorts, or a colorful print blouson over a silk ruffle dress.
The Carolina Herrera creative director Wes Gordon and the filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland used a short film format in a new way in lieu of an actual presentation of clothes with a series titled ‘The Conversation,’ an intimate and close up chat sessions between Gordon and Herrera inside the sumptuous living room at Herrera’s upper east side apartment. Divided into four groupings – ‘Fashion is Magical’, ‘I Love New York’, ‘Life is in the Details’ and ‘The House of Herrera’ and screened at the brand various social media sites, the 16-minute feature dwells more into the casual exchanges – favorite TV shows, pets, or favorite restaurants – rather than a symposium of the current state of the world and of fashion or even much mentioning of the brand itself.
Without any physical clothes and a spring collection to be presented to customers later in the fall, this is purely an exercise in branding but done in a more nonchalant manner that reminisced Louis Malle’s 1981 movie ‘My Dinner with Andre’ where the two main actors Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn played fictionalized versions of themselves eating and conversing at the Café des Artists in the upper west side of Manhattan.
Here, ‘The Conversation’ connects two generations of designers living in radically different universe and experiencing different life visions that affect how each view fashion. Herrera recalled the late 1970’s Studio 54 era and that of the 1980’s Warhol Manhattan. For Gordon, the recalled memories are seen in kept photographs and not as living experiences. With their own words in such a frank exchange, these conversations divulge the diverse lifestyles that foster the creation of a certain kind of clothes and emotions then and now.
Gordon’s fall 2020 show at the Shed last season was his breakthrough show marking the anniversary of his second year leading the brand’s rejuvenation where the parade of bright and solid color palette and slightly oversize coats, capes, and grand dresses trimmed with ruffles against the vast empty space of the newly built Hudson Yards art hub. But these conversations provide a more intimate view of the brand and perhaps with a long-lasting impact than say a video of the clothes however creatively composed.
Here are some of the lines from Ms. Herrera – “Fashion has to have madness.” “Fashion should also be everyday life.” “I don’t own sweatpants.” “Everyone is so nervous backstage – We only make dresses and if you don’t like it, we make another one.” “I always read the reviews. You read everything that your name is in it.”
In the two decades since Ulla Johnson launched her brand after her college graduation, she has remained true to the kinds of clothes that she makes and sells without paying so much attention to on-going trends. These are the kinds of clothes that are commercially viable and the kind of clothes that always find a customer ready to spend because the product and the price are right.
In an audience-less physical show, staged at the Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island with an expansive view of the east side skyline of Manhattan as a backdrop, with the artists of Oliphant Studios in Bushwick creating a painted lawn runway and a live performance by Shamiqua, a local musician from Staten Island. The models walked at safe distance from each other wearing very nicely made clothes that resemble the not so noticeable clothes that many women on a daily basis like a light purple cotton side ruffle dress, a denim jumpsuit, or a colorful long sleeve knit dress.
“Searching for Aphrodite” maybe a confusing title for a collection but they way to understand what Haoran Li and Siying Qu, the designers behind Private Policy founded in 2017 in New York, meant is to see Aphrodite as a malleable concept of beauty that is fast changing especially in today’s environment and not as a stone-cold Greek marble statue. Simply put it is about how to cherish many different ways to be beautiful.
Manifestos aside, there are a great deal of good clothes in this Private Policy collection, all incorporating many of the elements of design that the duo has been known for in the short time since their debut – imbuing their well-tailored clothes with a sense of social/political/cultural messaging that convey their sense of values to their consumer. Sharing values is now a critical component for any brand – customers want to buy merchandise from companies they believe have similar values and similar points of view.
That said, the collection has many great pieces: for men – a black leather suit with zippered cut out pants, loose leather overcoats, light green slim suit, ‘backpack’ blue trench coat, and a white safari cotton suit and for women – green print and purple slip dresses, light green jackets, and a white trench.
“This season, we’re focusing on the present. We know that the change we need, as a society, as a planet cannot be achieved alone. We must join forces and walk together, and there are no short cuts. We’re stripping back to basics and prioritizing our community, pursuing sustainable practices, and striving to always be a responsible and thoughtful member of our society. As such, this collection is rooted in the now, designed for everyone to shop immediately,” Jonathan Simkhai said of his live showing at Spring Studio.
In lieu of presenting a spring collection, Simkhai staged a live showing of selected looks from his fall 2020 collection, a show that he had shown last February in the exact same space at Spring Studio now the rows of wood chairs are empty of any guests. Fall 2020 was one of Simkhai’s strong collections in recent years, one that is well designed and one that bears his potential customer in mind with clothes that don’t scream fashion but are fashionable enough.
It is actually refreshing to re-see these fall looks in a new light – much less clutter and at a slower pace than an actual runway walk. The video presentation gave these clothes a new lease on life – the new version of the trench, the sweaters and cardigans, the slip dresses, the chiffon light brown dress – clothes that were shown half a year ago and clothes that are now available for purchase only if the consumers are reminded that these garments are at stores or on e-commerce. It’s a smart business decision for this independent brand founded a decade ago and has since 2018 relocated to Los Angeles.
Mikhel Alexander knows how to make precision handbags.
Prior to launching his own gender-inclusive accessory company in 2019, Alexander has spent time at Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Proenza Schouler to hone his design skills after studying fashion design at Parsons. His new bags titled ‘Neophyte’ explore the modular design system in a manner that makes the bags much more versatile and ready for carrying sufficient contents for multiple outings. All the bags are made domestically using Italian vegetable tanned leathers and are designed with maximum functionality and versatility such as compact carryall, the portfolio, and the ‘48’ tote with a cylindrical base.
The collection is very focused and the brand is a smart business move as handbags are now less stratified, less gendered, and perhaps in a way less logo driven to some extend.
Hanako Maeda founded Adeam in 2012 in New York with the mission of fusing Japanese traditional dressmaking methodology with its western counterparts to create an east/west symbiosis in fashion.
“I would like to share the beauty that lies within Japanese culture with a global audience, especially now that international travel has become more difficult,” Maeda said of her spring collection that features loose and relax silhouettes in light fabrics in a video of models strolling in the gardens of the Meiji Kinenkan in Tokyo.
Light brown sleeveless shirt and flare pants, colored striped tunic and beige pants, red slim long dresses, stripe dress with ruffle sleeves, and an ice blue flare satin flare dress and white cotton light coats are highlights of this consumer friendly collection.
In her fourth collection, Michelle Duncan dwelled on the act of repetition as she had experienced in the last months of lockdown in order to explore the ways to translate this journey into a fashion narrative. In her debut season for fall, Duncan presented her aesthetics and clothes as “armor for the goth girls gone corporate and prefer her garments with a hint of after-dark glamour with heavy tailoring and unexpected details to create timeless pieces.” In a nutshell, what that means is sexy party outfits for cool girls who can afford weekly changes of clothes for their nights about towns.
In her sophomore collection, Duncan did not stray far from her point of departure but the ethos has slightly evolved taking into account the current atmosphere and nowhere to really go party. In her short video presentation her two model girls are still dancing to rock tunes albeit inside a studio and on the staircase steps outside wearing black and white satin dresses with v-neckline and long elbow gloves. The strength of Duncan’s collection lies in these ranges of dresses some with added light embroideries.
The Rodarte fall 2020 show at the St. Bartholomew church on Park Avenue decorated with lite candles was nothing short of the wonders that a great fashion can instill with a finale of hand-painted floral dresses in a procession of models that was nothing short of breathtaking for the audience mesmerized by such an emotional fashion outing. Kate and Laura Mulleavy have always managed to connect their hand made clothes to poetry and to art and to that distant fantastic land (called fashion) so that the garments themselves are imbued with values beyond actual clothes.
But the pandemic has altered their drive along their own fashion highway. In a low key presentation of their spring collection in a series of photographed looks shot outside in the California hillside among luscious green trees, the sisters have adapted to current circumstances by offering their own version of more casual dressing but done in the Rodarte way.
The clothes are much lighter in spirit and in execution. A cotton pink floral elbow sleeve dress, a blue and white gingham cotton suit, a white stripe floral print cotton dress with ruffle neckline and neck bow, a white and green floral print puff sleeve dress all have the Rodarte signature but with all the possible adornments left out. Perhaps in a nod to the stay-at-home trend of casual dressing, the sisters include a white cotton sweat short dress with the embroidered letterings ‘J’aime Rodarte’.
Rodarte is one of the American collection where a physical show is imperative to absorb and appreciate the sister’s work.
Colleen Allen graduated from Central Saint Martins with a BA in menswear fashion design in 2019 after having started her fashion education at Parsons. Allen is presenting her first collection in New York for this spring with the idea of deploying both digital technology and the recycling processes to create new clothes.
For collection zero, Allen presents a video of the six looks she created for spring using a virtual reality landscape of a downtown New York subway station where the ‘models’ wearing each of the outfits climbed up from the staircase and proceeded to walk forward and disappeared into an open void. The clothes have a bit of the feel of a post-apocalyptic world or perhaps a post-pandemic world with black pants with cargo pockets for carrying extra ammunition, a blue rubber suit, a neoprene pant with black jacket, a gray suit with rubber casing on the pants, and a multiple pockets anorak. There’s a green sweater vest with ‘Cambridge Analytica’ – the data firm that illegally mining users data – emblazoned in the front.
Hopefully much more will come from Allen with her future collections on and off line.
Maisie Schloss is the year-old label Maisie Wilen from a former womenswear designer at Yeezy whom Kanye West helped with seeding funds to launch her eponymous collection. Now in its third season, the highlights of this spring line are the use of the shiny fabrics and prints on asymmetrical cutout dresses or diagonal striped pants and skirts with matching jackets in faux photo prints images.
The collection lacks a genuine point of departure beyond the potential for these to be social media-ready. But that isn’t really fashion but gimmicks. In addition, going forward, Schloss needs to expand her fashion vocabulary to encompass a larger consumer public.
Daisuke Obana has been showing his N.Hoolywood line in New York for the past decade as New York is considered a critical place for the brand’s global vision.
This time around the designer is showing the two separate lines from the brand – N.Hoolywood Compile, a more classic wardrobe staples that were shown for this fall at the Messonic Hall in Manhattan and the N.Hoolywood Test Product Exchange Service, a more experimental and seasonal fashion products.
Test Product Exchange revolves around the theme of the durability of military wear in terms of actual garment construction and in terms of aesthetics and how military uniforms have filtered down to high fashion. Over the years, the Japanese based designer has been collecting and now incorporating these British army clothes from the 1940s as well as training gears from the U.S. space force into newly made clothes for next spring.
In the video images of soldiers wearing real military gear in many warlike settings are juxtaposed with models wearing colorful camouflage shiny shirt/short combo, white nylon long anorak, black high tech nylon parka suit, nylon drawstrings pants with large tops, or a black oversize short sleeve vest coat and shorts. All the clothes are made from durable fabrics including a tan 2 buttons single-breasted cropped jacket pantsuit.
For N.Hoolywood Compile, the overall military theme continues with parts of the collection made from different shades of dark olive but the clothes here resemble more traditional menswear staples – boxy suits, blousons and shorts, short trench, or a three-piece suit – all are also available in all black. Compile, available since 2004, can be thought of as a permanent collection rather than one subjected to seasonal changes.
When Maria Cornejo opened her studio-store called Zero in the Nolita section of downtown Manhattan in 1998 to explore her ideas about the essence of fashion design namely the cutting and construction of a garment, her ideas of the timelessness of innovative design, of constructing simple-looking garments from complex cutting maneuvers like using one piece of fabric with as few seams as feasible seemed so distant then at a time when so much of fashion was more about luxury, sexuality, and consumption. But time passes and ideas once foreign gain acceptance.
“A love letter to New York City” is how Cornejo calls the spring collection she managed to pull together despite all the difficulties engendered to remind everyone what is important to create these clothes.
True to her design ethos, Cornejo executed the clothes in the same flawless manner she has done for decades now express in a black and white cotton sleeveless flare coat paired with a long oversize white blouse and navy pants, a dark fuschia stretch dress, a flowy black silk nylon strappy dress, and an ecru relaxed pantsuit. Even the much more casual outfits such as the white or pink hooded zippered coat and shorts or the silk fuschia tracksuit don’t feel athleisure but they do convey the mood today.
In addition, 84% of the production will be done in and around New York City with a large portion from upcycled fabrics and will be shipped in eco-friendly 100% compostable TIPA packaging.
“Driven” the short film that Brian Wolk and Claude Morais created for their Spring 2021 collection is a true delight not only to watch and just like any good films the content lingers in the mind a bit longer after the film ended. What will be remembered is how the film portrayed the mood of the entire city of Los Angeles and even the world all-around in a series of drive-by shooting of friends of the designers – Moon Unit Zappa, Lydia Hearst, Omar Ablerrto, Katherine Ross, Ben Bragin for examples – all dressed up and hanging out in their front door as the filmmaker Fiorella Occhipinti filming from an old Lincoln town car around the Hollywood neighborhood.
The film captures this moment lack of companionship and yearnings for anything out of isolation and solitude, it evokes how fashion can transform in a moment of crisis and how the individual can withstand all these depressive and negative happenings on a daily basis. While the clothes are wonderful and more so because they don’t seem out of place or as if the people did not choose any of the outfits they wore while waiting for … well for whatever. It’s a fashion film that isn’t focused on fashion – the clothes are just there in supporting roles and they are not the reason behind the film’s creation.
The clothes feel super soft with a slim top and flare bottom silhouette made from fabrics that are familiar like corduroy and herringbone wool – not extravagant fabrics. Among the strongest looks is the brown wide corduroy wide-leg cropped jacket pantsuit or with shorts, a grey tweed slim pantsuit with a pink shirt and tweed necktie, or the raspberry or grey herringbone wide leg two-button cropped jacket pantsuit for men and a metallic floral brocade puff sleeve jacket with metallic herringbone pant, grey overcoat and white banker shirt, a black sequin puff sleeve jacket and trouser and a herringbone overcoat and short skirt with a black vest and white shirt and tie for women. Even the evening dress is subdued rather than ostentatious – look at the black silk jersey ruched dress.
“I miss energy. I thrive on energy,” said a male voice. We can all relate to that for sure.
STAYME70 is a creative platform from Carmelo Anthony in support of the community of black creativity. The new Propel SS21 project gathers black creative and underrepresented voices from diverse backgrounds based in and around New York City to come together to create one cause – in this case creating a series of graphic sweatshirts. “Blackness and black designers” are sure here to stay as the main message from the video that features all the contributors voicing their strong opinion about owning their creativity and rightfully so.
The Tier fashion Brooklyn collective of Nigeria Ealey, Esaie Jean-Simon, and Victor James made a light yellow sweatshirt with large expressionist eye and teardrops; the Bronx food collective Ghetto Gastro Jon Gray, Lester Walker, and Pierre Serrao made a black sweater with the word REVOLT written in red letterings; the Queens fashion designer Shakira Jackson made a white sweat with a green silhouette holding a red light; the Manhattan creative director Ouigi Theodore aka The Broolyn Circus made a tan sweat with the number 2,193,798 print at the front; the Jersey City designer Reuben Reuel working as Demestick made a tan sweat with purple floral print; the Flatbush streetwear designer Michael and Nicole Nicholas aks DIEM made a green sweat with various symbols, and the Brooklyn designers Steven Barter and Jeff Jean-Jacques aka Barriers Worldwide made a black sweat with a circle of kaleidoscope print.
All these different sweats will be on sales to benefit the project.