NEW YORK, United States — New York Fashion Week ostensibly began and ended on the floor of the American Stock Exchange Building. It felt like a sign, and perhaps one of impending doom. Just days before Bottega Veneta staged its boom-era dinner party within the historic building’s walls, the Dow plunged almost 1,600 points — the worst single-day decline in history — even with unemployment at a 17-year low and consumer confidence at record highs.
If it felt like 1987 that night, with designer Tomas Maier’s silk-pajama-clad models sitting amongst modernist sculptures and feigning good conversation, that’s because there are easy comparisons with then and now. In fact, Christian Lacroix, whose pouf defined the look of the Go-Go 1980s, staged his first show in New York a week after the Dow fell 22 percent. The US didn’t enter a recession until 1990, and while history doesn’t always exactly repeat itself, some market analysts believe we’ll see another slowdown by 2020.
At the other end of the week, in the very same room, Raf Simons’ apocalyptic rumination on the American dream for Calvin Klein felt more like fantastical reality than Bottega’s unrealistic fantasy. Simons’ vision of hazmat-suited farmers, wading in cowboy boots through a drift of snow-like popcorn, may have frightened some, but it also mesmerised.
Save for Marc Jacobs — with his bewitching models decorated in blow-up rosettes and hiding under the broadest-shoulder blazers — Calvin Klein was the only true fashion moment of the week, the real reason to spend money on a plane ticket and a hotel room to be here in the flesh. Others designers turned out quality collections, but the internet has finally, truly killed the trade show. In the modern age, the ultimate luxury is ownership of time, which means many would rather watch a livestream at home or peruse a line sheet on their computer than revel in the inefficiency of New York Fashion Week, which should shrink from eight days to four. The consolidation would require the CFDA to be stricter about who was invited to join the official schedule (a point of contention in a supposed meritocracy like the US). But both London and Italy have already heeded to this philosophy, and they are better for it.
The days would be more crowded, but the blood would pump. As it stands now, the little jolts — The Row’s ode to minimalism amongst the Noguchis, or Telfar’s musical extravaganza — were sparse.
Maybe that’s because there are very few designers showing here who have a sense of what they stand for or why they need such a platform. After all, we might be in a spell of economic growth, but fashion never recovered from the Great Recession. Even when consumers started spending again, those dollars were no longer placed with marquee brands. Now, a follower of fashion is as likely to be wearing something she bought via a little-known Instagram account as she is a major label.
We might be in a spell of economic growth, but fashion never recovered from the Great Recession.
It seems that financial security, or at least a sense of having nothing to lose but creative respect, has quite a bit to do with success right now. Simons has the PVH machine behind him, not only evident in Tuesday’s nights ambitious set design — which was Marc Jacobs-during-the-Louis Vuitton-years level — but also in the control they are affording him across the brand. That effort stood in contrast to Ralph Lauren, which is begging for a speedier evolution, and Michael Kors, whose still slick, but uncharacteristically unfocused collection indicated that everyone — even the master of ceremonies — can have an off-season. Tom Ford did Tom Ford very well. But was it enough?
Alexander Wang and Jason Wu, the last of their generation to remain in New York, are experiencing creative growing pains, too. Eveningwear stalwart Oscar de la Renta is improving under the leadership of Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, but they have plenty of worthy rivals these days, including newcomers like Rosie Assoulin, whose devil-may-care attitude leaves her almost-immune to criticisms around lack of focus, and Wes Gordon, the newly appointed creative director of Carolina Herrera, whose light touch may be just what the brand needs.
Then there are the Philophiles like Gabriela Hearst, Rosetta Getty and Victoria Beckham, who each turned out entirely respectable, if not eye-opening, collections but may find fashion more of a challenge when the last of their leader’s ideas for Céline run their course.
Eckhaus Latta, Brandon Maxwell and Monse, all very different labels with different missives, show that there is still room to grow here. What unites them is not strategy and certainly not aesthetic. It’s that they appear to enjoy making fashion, and they’ve attracted still-small-but-keen communities who can sense that joy.
All that being said, it was hard not to feel a bit of longing for the great talents that once populated the New York schedule. And not just Thom Browne, Joseph Altuzarra, Proenza Schouler and Rodarte, whose exodus to Paris may end up being permanent. But also the ones who are gone altogether, like Band of Outsiders’ Scott Sternberg or Thakoon Panichgul, whose creativity and energy is earnestly missed. They don’t have to come back to New York, but it would be great if they came back to fashion.