New York Fashion Week | Cleansing the Palate

Yohji Yamamoto, Pied Piper of New York Fashion Week

Yohji Yamamoto, Pied Piper of New York Fashion Week

NEW YORK, United States New York Fashion Week is always a blur of meetings, shows and parties, and this week is no exception. But there is also something different in the air for Autumn/Winter 2009 a palpable sense that some serious change is coming, and in some quarters, the slightest hint of optimism that we may be reaching a market bottom.

On Monday evening, Marc Jacobs scaled back his show significantly: there was no major set, almost no celebrities, and 1000 fewer guests than normal, which is a dramatic reversal from his show at the height of the economic boom in September 2007. The focus, instead, was on the clothes which were an explosion of colour compressed into 8 minutes of fantastic, over-the-top 80′s punk and high, shellacked hairdos.

The new redux approach felt exactly right for showing such a vibrant collection in the context of a deep recession. If the runway was also maxed to the hilt, it may have seemed in appropriate. Instead, Marc got away with showing a cacophony of colour on the catwalk by paring everything else back to the bare minimum.

Also, by my watch, Marc’s show started 1 minute early, with one in five highly-coveted seats totally empty when the lights went down, leaving editors scrambling for their seats. The same thing happened at a noticeably more muted, but always elegant, Oscar de la Renta show yesterday, which also started earlier than usual, leading to yet another mad dash for prime fashion show real estate that was sitting empty. It’s an ironic metaphor for the state of the actual real estate market in New York.

Another difference has been that everyone seems more thoughtful and reflective than in seasons past. It’s almost like the economic earthquake of last September and the lingering aftershocks since then, have got fashionistas into thinking mode something which is long overdue. One designer called it a “cleansing of the palate” which I thought was quite apt.

Kim Vernon, President and CEO of Vernon Company, a consultancy firm focused on lifestyle brands, says that apart from the faltering economy, this cleansing can also be attributed to the new US administration.  “There is a renewed hope, albeit temporarily shadowed by economic uncertainty, of the American public. This has been initiated by a change in our leadership and a speed to action of recovery. The new administration has voiced its goal to look within and fix what is broken and support our own national public.”

Of course, the impact of the Obamas at the White House does not end there. There is also an important fashion angle at play, rooted in a resurging American pride. “Nationalism will grow in spirit and Americans will be educated not only to “go green” but to buy American,” says Vernon. “First lady Michelle Obama made that immediate impression by choosing to wear several American based designer outfits very publicly.”

The role of Michelle Obama as a potential saviour for the American fashion industry in crisis seems to come up in every conversation here. The impact of the Obamas on fashion was explored at length in not one, but two recent articles in The New York Times. Citing an “Obama Effect,” Guy Trebay comments on the preponderance of African American men on New York’s runways while Cathy Horyn and Eric Wilson dissect the relationship between Michelle Obama, and her not-so-secret stylist, Ikram Goldman.

That said, there is no doubt, that the highlight of my New York fashion week thus far was the Y-3 show held on Sunday. The collection was a winner, but it was the notoriously media-shy Yohji Yamamoto who brought a smile to everyone’s face when he took a bow at the end of the show with a gaggle of hip kids decked out in his own creations, shepherding them like a sort-of Pied Piper of fashion.

In these uncertain times, perhap some leadership and youthful energy are just what the doctor ordered.