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The Business of Fashion

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At New York Fashion Week: What Recession?

Designers this week were laser focused on pleasing their customer, but rarely managed to convey what’s happening in the culture at large. Lauren Sherman reports on collections, from Tory Burch and Tom Ford to Area and Peter Do.
Korean singer Jeno walks the runway for the Peter Do fashion show during September 2022 New York Fashion Week.
Korean singer Jeno walks the runway for the Peter Do fashion show during September 2022 New York Fashion Week. (Getty Images)

As pop culture has fragmented into an endless stream of TikTok reels algorithmically tailored to your specific likes, so has fashion, and the Spring/Summer 2023 shows in New York reflected this reality. In the past, designer collections were often in conversation with one another and broadly headed in a similar direction, offering a sense of where the culture was headed. Now, each brand is an island, catering to a specific niche.

Uptown, the clientele is morphing. The rich, white charity-gala sponsor still exists, but she’s no longer the only person in the room. Fashion has long borrowed from Harlem ballroom and voguing culture, but it’s not been until recently, most notably with the rise of reality competition series “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” that the establishment has started to acknowledge those players. Brands like Carolina Herrera and Area sat fixtures on the scene, including Symone and Christine Quinn, in the front row.

At Herrera, designer Wes Gordon paid notice to the past by showing at the Plaza Hotel, following in the footsteps of the brand’s eponymous designer. Other than the venue, the most delightfully old-fashioned thing about the show was the gentleman who stood near the steps, available to assign any model who needed help making her way down without tripping. Gordon’s super-sized, cabbage-flower brooches and taffeta ball gowns looked fresh and airy.

Also uptown, at the Frick Madison, Area’s Piotrek Panszczyk’s curls of material moulded into caged dresses were fantastical, but he’s engineering them to work so that someone can actually sit down and have dinner while encased. Marcel Breuer’s Brutalist stone-and-concrete masterpiece building, which has been home to three cultural institutions over the past decade, is a great place to stage a runway show, especially one so architecturally precise. Panszczyk’s efforts are certainly paying off: Area experienced “double digit growth,” last year, he said.

Gabriela Hearst, who once again set up at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is thinking of her client, too. So much so that she cast one of them to walk the runway, alongside an astonishing mix of women that included the activists Cecile Richards and Xiye Bastida, and even one of her oldest friends, serenaded by the Resistance Revival Choir.

Hearst is fearless about using her influence and wealth to sound off on climate policy, women’s rights and other capital-I Issues, and her sincerity seeps into the collection, this season inspired in part by Sappho, a female poet in Ancient Greece whom her daughter portrayed last Halloween. (She even recruited Stanford Art History professor Emanuele Lugli to write on the subject.)

But despite all the deep research she puts into her work, the clothes have felt a bit static over the past few seasons, often relying on a certain elongated, heavily knitted silhouette. This time, she peeled back one layer, indicating that, with a bit more pushing, she can likely evolve further.

It wasn’t only Hearst whose work felt more personal. Michael Kors and Tory Burch, two of the few leading American brands showing this week, turned out clothes that were destined to inspire — or better yet, be worn by — real women. For Burch, it’s been a three-season process of presenting less theme-y, more item-driven collections. This time, she was thinking of the 1990s, when she first “fell in love with the industry.” (There were welcome vibes of Prada and Marc Jacobs from that era, with all the narrow midi skirts and sheer layering.) It was the kind of collection that fashion editors want to buy themselves: post show, several were comparing lists of what they planned to order directly from the brand.

At Kors, it was all about styling tricks — the asymmetrical tying of a cashmere sweater around the shoulder, the layering of a long gold pendant in the sliver of skin showing under a blazer — offering the sort of distilled-down glamour so many women attempt to achieve when they get dressed every day. The collection also happened to heavily reference the one Kors showed 21 years ago in the wake of 9/11. He was playing the greatest hits, but in a way felt correct for the moment.

When a designer is young and talented, getting “personal” can feel much more vulnerable, like Peter Do, who asked the author Mary H.K. Choi to help him write a letter to his father, which was played right before the models — including Korean pop star Jeno, who opened the show — started walking. Unlike many of his peers, Do is advanced enough to reference other designers through his own work without it feeling soulless. Mostly those of another generation, like his old boss, Phoebe Philo, but also Rick Owens and, as one seasoned industry friend mentioned yesterday, Ann Demeulemeester.

What’s striking about Do’s work is the tailoring: he paid extra attention to the back of the garment this season, opening it up and then corseting it together, the clothes hugging the rear in a very specific way. Do is trying hard not to move too fast as the spotlight on him brightens, but the question I walked away with was: what is his place in the industry? There are so many paths now, and I’m not sure which one he is headed down.

Do may have been the most-anticipated show of the week. But for other young designers wedged into these last few days of this biannual circus, it can be difficult to garner notice. Omar Salam, founder of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund brand Sukeina, did a smart thing by showing his collection in red only — that way guests could really focus on the materials, construction and silhouettes of his dressed-up range. (It reminded me a bit of the kind of work Prabal Gurung did in his early years.) Kim Nguyen — who blocked off a strip of Centre Market, near Canal Street, to stage her first runway show on Wednesday afternoon — is doing something that appears quite simple, taking old T-shirts and sewing them together to create new shapes. And yet, the piecework was so exacting you couldn’t help leaving wondering what will come next.

High Sport designer Alissa Zachary — whose engineered-knit kick flares are a major hit at retail — squeezed in a showing at the Bowery Hotel. The success of her line, combined with the entrance of even-newer brands like Fforme, indicate that there’s a real appetite for clothes that borrow from the Alaïa playbook and put a different aesthetic spin on them.

Like many designers of generation, Edvin Thompson, the charming talent behind Theophilio, continues mining Y2K for inspiration. He set his wares apart by paying homage to Tom Ford at the peak of his power, with bum-baring sequined minis, lacquered snakeskin and square-toe boots.

“When I think about my place in fashion, I think sexy,” he said backstage. “To me, being comfortable, being vulnerable, is sexy — and I always thought of Tom Ford that way as a kid.”

It was a fitting precursor to Ford’s own show, which transported the audience to a Meatpacking District club circa 2006, with a mirrored floor, a front row of plush white benches and Grey Goose vodka cocktails on the ready. The collection was a puffed-up version of what Ford’s namesake brand is known for: satin cargo pants, reams of lamé and gowns encrusted with heavy, rich sequins, the models walking towards the flashing bulbs as Freddie Mercury’s “time waits for no one” played in the background. The lyrics felt like some sort of message from Ford, although he wasn’t available for post-show interviews to elaborate.

There’s been no news as of late regarding Ford’s future with Estée Lauder Cos., but after talking with several different sources this week (including bankers, as well as people who have worked at ELC) it sounds like a deal is likely. Tom Ford Beauty contributes a huge amount to ELC’s annual revenue, and he also owns the rights to his brand. When their current contract runs out, Ford could shop his beauty business elsewhere, so given how much money Ford makes for ELC, the logical conclusion would be to cement the partnership. It may be the last megadeal before a recession next year. Which, by the way, no one has been talking about. At all.

Like I said, each brand is an island.

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Inside the $7 Billion Dior Phenomenon