NEW YORK, United States — American fashion is more Darwinistic than its European counterparts. After all, this is the land of capitalism and entrepreneurship. But money isn’t always the answer.
At New York Fashion Week, there are underfunded brands like Oscar de la Renta, which could potentially be so much more with the resources of a major luxury conglomerate, as well as overfunded brands like Coach, whose magnificent, apocalyptic sets and high-impact millennial campaign stars don’t make up for the fact that the product is only okay.
Ralph Lauren’s 50th anniversary Central Park extravaganza certainly showed what money can buy. But it wouldn’t have gone over quite so well if the collection wasn’t good, too. Whether the brand, whose sales have suffered in recent years, can recapture the relevance it once enjoyed during its late-80s-early-90s peak remains to be seen, but it’s a start.
At Calvin Klein, Raf Simons delivered another FOMO-inducing show with his crinkly floral dresses and torn pleated skirts. Of course, there was more to it than design: in another exploration of the dangers that lurk beneath the seemingly placid surface of American society, Simons sent his models down a blood-red carpet, their hair dripping wet, while a carefully curated celebrity front row looked on and giant screens played scenes from Jaws. The Belgian designer delivers content, something to chew on, in addition to clothes that feel alive.
For the other real fashion moment of the week, budget-conscious Marc Jacobs again showed on a spare set at the Park Avenue Armory, though the designer swapped the cheap metal chairs of previous seasons with plexiglass models. But the outing was, in many ways, a throwback to another time, when the American designer would start his shows ludicrously late. On Wednesday, the audience waited for about an hour-and-a-half, forcing several European editors to depart before the show’s start to catch overnight flights, while others jumped into cabs to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where Rihanna was showing her latest Fenty lingerie collection.
Those who stayed at Marc Jacobs were transported to his fantasy land, with its 3-D crystal chokers and exploding rosettes. But Jacobs’ clothes mean so much more on that runway than they do at retail. And in fashion, that doesn’t work anymore.
Jacobs’ clothes mean so much more on that runway than they do at retail. And in fashion, that doesn’t work anymore.
What stuck, then? Proenza Schouler’s pared back effort could signal the start of a new era — their slick, smocked denim is cool enough to sell — but do they have it in them to be more directional? It’s less a matter of resources and more about sheer will.
The designers that people really wanted to see were not always ones that would be traditionally considered major. Instead, eyes were on Pyer Moss, Eckhaus Latta, Telfar and Vaquera: community-driven labels that offer sincere cultural commentary. Creatures of the Wind designer Christopher Peters debuted his good-looking unisex line, CDLM, in an art gallery at the beginning of the week. Poet and performance artist John Giorno modelled. (Many of these shows, not coincidentally, were cast by Walter Pearce and Rachel Chandler of Midland.)
It was Fenty, where, according to BoF correspondent Chantal Fernandez, Rihanna achieved what “Victoria’s Secret should do and has never done,” with its diverse cast, both in size and ethnicity.
Then there was Sies Marjan, whose designer Sander Lak is the real deal. He proved his talent in spades this season when he pulled back significantly on his tendency to lead with colour — an early brand signifier — and simply designed from the gut. The vibrancy will surely return, but he communicated so many emotions through these clothes (sadness, loss, a sense of peace) that you can’t help but wonder what he could do next.
Of course, Lak has a secure financial backer that seems to be willing to let him develop Sies Marjan at a reasonable pace. It still won’t be easy for him, nor is it for any of these designers. But at least they’ve been given the opportunity to try. Only in America.