A high-energy NYFW marks return to pre-pandemic normalcy, for better or worse

With a few notable exceptions, designers returned wholeheartedly to the runway this New York Fashion Week, making pandemic promises to rethink the fashion calendar feel like distant memories.

By guest author Christina Binkley from Vogue Business – September 15, 2022. Additional reporting by Hilary Milnes.

All captions courtesy by Vogue Business

Nearly three years into the pandemic, the norms of fashion week returned to New York: in-real-life shows, street crowds, nary a mask in sight, and a near erasure of designers’ pandemic pledges that collections would become smaller, more tightly edited and that runways might even be a thing of the past.

“From a mood perspective, it was upbeat,” says Jodi Kahn, vice president of luxury fashion at Neiman Marcus. “Brands have their energy back.”

Still, there were big holes in the calendar this season. New York’s fashion week has been struggling with its identity for several years. Is it too commercial, the calendar too crowded? Does it lack powerhouse brands? The identity crisis came to a head when Tom Ford, then the chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, opened Autumn 2021 New York Fashion Week by holding his show in Los Angeles. Noteworthy absences this week included Marc Jacobs, who instead collaborated with Fendi. Jeremy Scott chose not to reveal a collection for his eponymous label this season — and he declined to comment on his reasons — although he will show a collection for Moschino in Milan. Ralph Lauren skipped New York in order to dominate the spotlight with an October show in Los Angeles.

There was also a notable absence of NFT energy around New York this season compared with the last. Joseph Altuzarra, who issued an NFT at his February 2022 show with Bubblehouse that garnered only 51 members, wrote it off as a valuable experiment. “It’s OK if you do something and it’s not good, or it’s not the thing that’s going to become the big thing,” he said after his show. “I feel much less precious about it, and experimentation is so important.” His newer sub-brand Altu, however, participated in one of the few NFT projects, a series of digital keys that offered access to runways and products led by Afterpay.

Fortunately, the week was buoyed by welcoming visitors from Europe, with Marni eschewing Milan to reveal a vibrant collection — and celebrity fest with Madonna and Dua Lipa in attendance — under the Brooklyn Bridge in Dumbo. One viewer called it a “Dr Seuss” collection on Twitter, capturing its free spirit and zany, welcoming optimism.

Another Milan homie, Fendi, celebrated the 25th anniversary of its famous Baguette bag, showing its Resort 2023 collection, which included a collaboration of furry-hatted looks from Marc Jacobs.

An event built around a handbag — reproduced in every possible size and machination and attached to gloves, leg warmers, hats and fanny packs — was proof of the enduring impact of the Baguette. Talk about an impactful handbag. The Baguette was created by a Fendi leather goods team that included Alessandro Michele in the late 1990s. In part due to the leather goods’ success, Michele was poached in 2002 by Tom Ford at Gucci, where he now serves as creative director, introducing fur-lined loafers and bending women’s wear and menswear on runways — looks that have taken hold of global fashion.

Gender-bending has helped give rise to Peter Do, who this week introduced menswear and expanded his runway’s guest list. His collection solidified his position as a major new talent with sharp adventurous tailoring — such as jackets and shirting with triangular open backs — to be worn by any gender. Do, who has tightly guarded his distribution, has hinted he is slowly broadening it.

Overall, the evolution of American culture since #BLM and #MeToo was apparent on runways. The most obvious clue was the virtual disappearance of all-white model casting. American labels have gotten the message for that top layer of diversity, though curvy and middle-aged models appeared mainly in ones and twos, if at all. They were, for the most part, more tokens than representative, and models older than 40 were rare. Tommy Hilfiger, Puppets and Puppets and Eckhaus Latta were exceptions.

In a twist no one predicted early in the pandemic, this week found some designers embracing runways anew, having found that spectacles sell fashion. Adam Lippes replaced his longtime presentations with his second runway show. “When I started this brand nine years ago, I decided shows weren’t important,” Lippes said backstage. “Post-pandemic, I’m like, I was wrong. Shows are important.”

“All eyes are on fashion during show weeks, and it was something we missed out on,” Lippes continued. “Fashion is about glamour and emotion, and shows are a big part of that. We had tried everything — videos, beautiful look books, presentations. After our [February] show, our business was incredible.” Italian retailer Luisaviaroma asked if Lippes was a new label. “Our direct business is up 170 % this year,” says Lippes, who is now on TikTok and taking his collections to European showrooms.

There was a rallying around emerging brands evident in this season’s production. In a bid to lure young designers back to New York Fashion Week, IMG partnered with Empire State Development to offer a USD 500000 New York Fashion Week Small Business Grant to 10 designers to help them offset the costs of hosting a runway show. Maxwell Osborne, who debuted his pandemic-born solo label AnOnlyChild on Saturday, and Deveaux co-founder Andrea Tsao both said that the grants they received were pivotal in their decisions to host a show. “If it wasn’t for that, I’m not sure we would be doing this,” Tsao said ahead of her

Tory Burch continued her strategy of elevating and shrinking her ready-to-wear collections, showing just 31 looks on Pier 76 overlooking the East River on Tuesday evening. Her tightly edited choices centred on long, lean dresses with a crinkled tubelike overlay and transparent details that could easily cross from dressy daywear into cocktail and evening wear. “That was kind of the point,” Burch said after her show. “There are no rules around that anymore. Women are empowered right now to express themselves.”

Tightly focused cocktail dresses and simple evening gowns appeared on several runways, including Jason Wu and Khaite. The lack of voluminous gowns did not bother Neiman Marcus’s Kahn, who said she embraced “evening in almost a new way” — more casual for many emerging from the pandemic.

Kahn similarly highlighted the many crafty details that appeared on runways, such as fringe and crochet work at Jonathan Simkhai and Khaite. The craftsmanship balance between casual and sophistication is appealing, she said, at a moment when people are emerging from cocoons.

On Tuesday afternoon in an empty and deconstructed office at 30 Wall Street, one runway show reminded us that part of Europe remains at war while fashion month proceeds. Ukrainian designer Svitlana Bevza showed her minimalist Bevza label with a backdrop of largely empty bread carts — each holding just a few slices of bread — a reference to war and Ukraine’s interrupted export of wheat.

Bevza is currently living in Portugal with her two children while her husband serves in the armed forces near Mykolaiv. Her label survived the last six months, she said after her show, largely by selling her well-known spikelet necklaces, which were more readily shipped. Shipping has improved markedly, taking about 10 days from Kyiv, where the label is still being produced, she said.

Those spikelet necklaces and elegant minimalist designs were what drew Rickie De Sole, Nordstrom’s luxury women’s fashion director, to Bevza’s runway, said De Sole, who was flanked there by rival retailers including Bergdorf Goodman and Moda Operandi.

Bevza embraced the oddities of manufacturing a luxury fashion collection in a nation at war. “This is a country of paradox,” she said.

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