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At New York Fashion Week, the Revolution That Wasn’t

From Collina Strada’s neo-Victorianism to Khaite’s icy elegance, Lynn Yaeger reports from the New York shows.
Collina Strada Spring/Summer 2024
Collina Strada Spring/Summer 2024 (Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Finding one’s way to the Collina Strada show, held on a rooftop in the depths of the Brooklyn Navy Yard on a soggy night, did not put the audience in the best of moods. But once we saw the sunflowers on the planted deck, and the soft sculptures that looked like cartoon anime vegetables adorning the runway, we could not suppress a smile.

Nor, apparently, could the models, a wildly diverse group all grinning with uniformly slaphappy enthusiasm. And what did they have to be so happy about? Well, for one thing, they looked supremely comfortable in Collina Strada designer Hillary Taymour’s neo-Victorian patched frocks, her gauzy ruffled layered ensembles, and, on the downtown fixture Waris Ahluwalia, a charming tie-dyed suit with lacy insets.

These mélanges have their roots in the fashion revolution of the 1960s, and it was easy to imagine this runway flock dancing merrily in the mud at Woodstock, or covering their spiky rubbery Ugg Mary Jane shoes with trash bags and walking six miles out of the muck at Burning Man.

The stilettos Ralph Lauren put on his models were not meant for festival-going — in fact, they looked Iike they would be challenged if called upon to do more than get you from the valet parking stand to the restaurant table. His show, and the lavish dinner that followed, were also held at the Navy Yard, where the space was transformed with hanging chandeliers and satiny wall panels into a vast haute bourgeois salon.

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If the surroundings suited the celebrity-heavy guest list — Gabrielle Union; J.Lo; Diane Keaton in a checkered overcoat, despite the roasting temperatures outside — a number of his runway looks were the direct antecedents of Collina Strada’s winsome sprites. (Lauren — then Ralph Lifshitz — launched his business in 1967, two years before Woodstock.) Consider the lace skirt paired with a denim jacket that trailed what appeared to be ostrich feathers, or the golden poncho dress, laden with fringe and weighed down with a gaggle of beaded necklaces that could have been bought at a roadside stand at the Tucson Gem Show, or then again, at the Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue.

There were no beads banging on chests at Proenza Schouler the next morning. In fact, the clothes were completely quiet, both literally and figuratively, with the exception of one spangled flapper frock, its shape an homage to the 1920s, whose rustling paillettes lent a much-needed joie de vivre to the serious business underway.

Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez might have been inspired by The Row, or the strict late-90s edicts of Calvin Klein, or even the ghost of Helmut Lang, whose spectre has been haunting the season. The streamlined suggestions included jeans with stone-washed stripes up the side, a strapless leather dress, gathered, a bit incongruously, below the knee, and what used to call “spring coats.” If you are not the sort of person for whom a pale blue leather reefer makes any kind of sense (“It’ll get filthy!”), perhaps you would be happier with the fire-engine red chiffon ballet skirt, or even, in a rare foray into frivolity, the floor-length crocheted peek-a-boo number that looked like it was made from fishing tackle, and we mean this in a good way.

Not fishing tackle but a plethora of fringe descended from beneath the oversized black leather jackets at Khaite, whose show took place at the Park Avenue Armory, a venue where veterans in the audience could remember seeing Tom Ford back in the day. Ford could have served as godfather to Khaite’s big-shouldered coats, although, if memory serves, his shows had an overwhelming exuberance that sometimes veered perilously close to tacky, while tonight’s offerings shivered with an icy elegance.

The chilly ivory silk dresses were undeniably appealing, assuming one had the body and the bucks to make them work. (Some models carried evening purses shaped like gold bricks, an unwitting, perhaps unconscious confirmation of just how pricey clothes can be.) When a column with a dramatic poufy sleeve emerged in a surprising shade of paprika, you couldn’t help but think, more like this, please! Wasn’t it Diana Vreeland who once opined, “Never fear being vulgar, just boring”?

The song playing over the runway at Khaite intoned, “… the taste of water on my tongue, on my way towards oblivion,” but we were not headed to oblivion, though it might have felt like it by the end of the third day of Fashion Week. We were instead en route to Rockefeller Center, where Eckhaus Latta held their show.

When this soaring art deco complex opened in 1933, during the depths of the depression, it got a decidedly mixed reception. (“They all laughed at Rockefeller Center, now they’re fighting to get in,” Ira Gershwin wrote in 1937.) Now a beloved New York institution, it is frankly not the sort of place you would expect to find Zoe Latta and Mike Eckhaus presenting their clothes. After all, this was the duo that once took over a Brooklyn warehouse and installed an ear-shattering toddler orchestra banging on tambourines and drums.

Instead of cacophonous kiddies, this evening’s show offered an authoritative take on reliable hipster tropes: flappy tan trench coats; silver leather jean jackets; elongated denim skirts; trousers with gargantuan legs that glowed with a glittery copper sheen, echoing, at least for one night, the gold leaf decorating the walls of this historic edifice.

The surroundings were splendid, and the crowd was young and deeply imaginative — one attendee sported a tutu embellished with what looked like homemade paper flowers; another favoured candy-coloured ripped fishnets and sparkly shoes. What does it say about New York Fashion Week thus far that we were most excited by the person sitting across from us, resplendent in a watermelon pink off-the-shoulder Patou blouse and a Christopher John Rogers ballgown skirt?

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