The most challenging dilemma to tackle during New York Fashion Week was the politicisation or depoliticisation of garments. From Tom Ford on the opening day to Marc Jacobs on Wednesday evening, one didn’t know whether to lambast designers for lack of political context or to examine the clothing as they are.
These conflicts have been highlighted as the most controversial American administration continually eviscerate progressive legislature and the country reels from the effects of Hurricane Harvey in the south, wildfires in Oregon and on a human level, the domestic terrorism at Charlottesville.
(Notably, on the topic of Hurricane Harvey, there is First Lady Melania Trump insensitively arriving to survey the damage of Hurricane Harvey in stilettos—one cannot comprehend the flagrant display of upper class white privilege at the site of such destruction.)
But, it must be asked, can fashion have a social conscience if its very nature is a consumerists’ playground? The proliferation of ethical fashion—supported fervently by Academy Award-winning actress Anne Hathaway on recent promotional tours—has been a felt force, with stylists requesting their clients to wear vintage garments or pieces from sustainable fashion designers. However, sustainable fashion designers are few and far between with the exception of a label like Oscar de la Renta whose clothing is made in-house in the New York studio, ahead of fashion week. Those minuscule sequins, crystals, and leather patches on surrealist-inspired evening-wear was all done in-house—although as a whole, it was pastiche, lacked direction and the elegance synonymous with the brand.
It couldn’t match Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s The Row outing at the Carlyle Hotel. It was unobtrusive, refined and sophisticated. It was everything we’ve come to expect from The Row—it is what women will want to wear in the winter months. Ditto Derek Lam’s return to the runway at the Pool Room. He reeled out a budding wardrobe of covetable separates, or the primness of Lela Rose’s colourful outing in Washington Square Park.
Elegance has a counterpoint in the loudness of brands like Linder, Alexander Wang and Rihanna’s Fenty x Puma. Linder’s gothic-inspired collection was particularly underwhelming. Alexander Wang’s three-act runway show that began at Lafayette Street before moving onto Astor Place (two public-facing shows) before arriving for the editors to see it in Brooklyn. It recalled past looks that defined the brand in its infancy and it was a rather nice throwback but it synthesised with the newer, bolder, louder elements that have characterised the brand in recent years. (As is tradition, it was followed by a heck of a party.) Furthermore, Rihanna’s third Fenty x Puma show saw freestyle motorcyclists charge the X games-inspired event. The clothes didn’t do much other than boldly proclaim that they don’t have to: she’s Rihanna, avant tout.
The best shows of the week were spotlighted in the absence of Altuzarra, Proenza Schouler, Thom Browne and Rodarte. Eckhaus Latta showed a searing post-gender amalgamation of clothes not confined to the rigorous silhouettes as predetermined by designers of generation past. Similarly, the work at Chromat was fabulous and flirty as usual, fit for men and women of all sizes. Jonathan Saunders finally hit his stride at Diane von Furstenberg after two quiet seasons. His debut runway presentation was one for the books: an ode to the 1970s, the creative heyday of New York City.
For some, the week rested on Shayne Oliver’s debut at Helmut Lang and Marc Jacobs. In the case of Oliver, he failed to create memorable fashion. His clothes were fine, some of them strong, but they didn’t create lasting moments and quite simply, that’s what one should expect from Helmut Lang, a label which defined the 1990s. Jacobs also missed the mark as his clothing—a greatest hits of sorts—was overly referential but it did eschew from the abbreviated skirts he’s grown fond of lately.
New York Fashion Week is modern, forward-thinking in its approach to presentation. They may have taken a hit with the exodus of noteworthy labels but emerging talents rose to the challenge. One hopes they adapt more effectively, and speedily, to the political turmoil of their country.