NEW YORK, United States — A barely audible “swish” was the only sound that broke the pin-drop silence at Marc Jacobs, as models — many of them dressed in parachute-silk tracksuits, layers of acid-bright garments based on old patterns plucked from the designer's archives strapped in by fanny packs — turned the four corners of the bare 55,000-square-foot drill hall of the Park Avenue Armory, with its 80-foot high ceilings and unlacquered wood floors.
Jacobs said the show was about taking a trip “somewhere,” either far away, through the streets of New York, or in the mind.
In many ways, New York Fashion Week this season was about displacement. Designers are fleeing for other cities, yes, but they’re also simply at a loss of what to do next when it comes to their businesses. Department stores continue to struggle, but selling direct-to-consumer is an expensive and complicated undertaking.
And then there's the turmoil of the world outside of fashion that is impacting the runways. The shock of Trump-as-president is as palpable as ever, what with a new extremist policy, insensitive remark or foreign threat populating the headlines every morning. And then, of course, there are the forces that are physically displacing people around the world and here in the US. In the last two weeks, there have been three significant hurricanes and an earthquake in North America alone.
It’s no wonder, then, that, more than ever, there is a “What is this all for?” feeling going around in fashion. Many designers are trying to make sense of it through their presentations: piling it all on, creating fortresses of protection. (At Tory Burch and Calvin Klein, models sometimes carried blankets instead of bags.) They’re also trying to, in their own ways, define what “America” means.
At Coach, Stuart Vevers continues to romanticise the West, this time, dumping glitter across it, a fantasy of what could have been but never was. Ralph Lauren — with his immaculate houndstooths and princess-tulle ball gowns — remains nostalgic for his — and the country’s — idealised past. At Calvin Klein, Raf Simons, with his blood-splattered leather and gut-spilling pom-pom dresses, sees America for the (still-beautiful) horror story it has become.
Younger labels, including Monse, Public School and Adam Selman, purposefully wove American-ness — or sometimes, more specifically, New York-ness — into their narrative. "'American' is not a bad word," Selman said backstage. "New York needs to show some teeth," added Jason Wu.
Others attempted to forge that sense of place by creating one. For years, the industry has been trying to figure out how to modernise the runway show: to make it a worthwhile endeavour for those who attend, but also for those who can now see everything immediately. The late L’Wren Scott was one of the first in the modern era to host these sorts of intimate events, where clothes are showcased at a luncheon or a salon rather than rushed in and off a catwalk.
This season, Rachel Comey, who showed first — and off calendar — may have done it best, with her dinner presentation in the Met Breuer museum. The audience, many of whom connect personally with the designer and her brand, wanted to be there. Same went for Opening Ceremony's modern dance theatre, a pleasurable collaboration between OC's Humberto Leon and Carol Lim and their longtime friend and creative partner Spike Jonze. The Row’s breakfast at the Carlyle, too, felt like time well-spent. And no one complained about visiting Bushwick to get a glimpse at Eckhaus Latta.
The question, of course, is how sustainable is it all? Sure, Ralph Lauren’s sojourn to his upstate car garage was a one-off, but was the ROI as good as the company hopes it would be? Alexander Wang can keep throwing sweat-stained raves, but does he need to do that during the first week in September?
And fashion week will continue to unbundle. Just as digital media means folks rarely listen to an album from start to finish these days, a succession of shows no longer feels natural when consumers following the action online can watch anytime, anywhere. What that means for the future of fashion is as difficult to discern as which of these companies will be able to survive the great retail disruption.
This season, the shows in New York underscored that there is no there there when it comes to fashion. There is no common destination. And we won’t be able to shake that feeling anytime soon.