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In New York, Sea Creatures and the Seventies

The second half of New York Fashion Week suggested the season wasn’t just about 90s influences but gossamer fabrics, trawling nets, big jackets over tiny skirts and when in doubt lace, lace, lace, reports Lynn Yaeger.
Gabriela Hearst Spring/Summer 2024.
Gabriela Hearst Spring/Summer 2024. (Indigital)

NEW YORK — On September 11th, clouds hung low over the banks of the East River, where Michael Kors bedecked the railings with bougainvillea and presented his Spring/Summer 2024 collection. You couldn’t help but think, at least fleetingly, of the smoke that enveloped this skyline exactly 22 years ago, but even though we could see the site where the Towers once stood, we were too far away to hear the commemorations, the bagpipes and the tolling of bells.

In any case, Kors was looking back further than two decades — his heart was in those halcyon days of the 1970s, a love poem to a barefoot Jackie in Capri, to Jane Birkin before a handbag was named after her. Kors honoured Birkin, who passed away in July, with a trilogy of white lace offerings that opened the show, and if these weren’t dramatic enough for you, there was an evening rendition in gold lace with bell sleeves. This designer likes to have something for everyone: the casting was delightfully size-inclusive, and the full range — 65 looks! — included black-and-white bovine-printed trenches, long gauzy skirts, a comfy fuzzy fuchsia pullover, and an overblown floral caftan for lounging by the pool at Le Sirenuse.

“You really ought to read more books — you know, those things that look like blocks but come apart on one side,” F. Scott Fitzgerald once advised, and indeed these blocks were on each seat at Joseph Altuzarra’s show — copies of Ira Levin’s “Rosemary’s Baby,” each volume interspersed with fabric swatches, blurry stills from “Valley of the Dolls,” and other clippings. (Some poor intern must have stayed up all night making these.)

Was Rosemary’s bedevilled infant the inspiration for Altuzarra’s last look, a ruffly tulle affair, shown with a veil, in a shape and length once referred to as baby doll pyjamas? Before this startling suggestion, there were pale see-through sheer skirts and dresses, their austerity somewhat relieved by a smattering of sequins, and undeniably, a nod to the glory days of Prada. If you were seized by a sudden modesty, satin swing coats in delicious shades were also helpfully provided.


“Get your ugly ass out of here!” the actor and comedian Tiffany Haddish, resplendent in a bright red dress and sporting a platinum Marcel wave, howled at a photographer blocking the runway at the Tory Burch show. The event took place at the Museum of Natural History’s incredible new Gilder Center, and if my seat mate thought it evoked the work of Antoni Gaudi, its undulating walls also brought to mind the Smurfs’ residences. Burch was indulging in the season’s filtration with pantless-ness — her first looks featured a wee skirt barely visible beneath a blazer. She also showed a commitment to the silhouettes of the 1960s — those well-bred young working girls in their prim outfits, a million miles from the addled hippies on, say, Collina Strada’s catwalk. (Think “Belle de Jour” as opposed to “Easy Rider.”) Finding ourselves starved for whimsy, can you blame us if we preferred the two numbers that closed the show — net dresses with trapped pearls layered over printed slips, suitable for a mermaid who had grown legs of steel to get her through New York Fashion Week.

As if this sea creature didn’t have enough soggy clothes in her repertoire, Gabriela Hearst offered her another set of net dresses, though in lieu of precious stones the material here trapped mysterious blobby leather patches, leftovers recycled from Hearst’s handbag line. Other styles had an elaborate backstory: if you were willing to plow through the well-meaning but frankly nutty press material, with its digressions about Druids and quotes from the Wicca handbook, you would learn that in order to create some of these garments, “each glass bead is individually threaded onto silk and then spun with 100 percent cashmere to hold the beads in place. The yarn is then hand crocheted by artisans.” Phew.

Those stumped as to what to wear under these things — because not everyone looks good with her bra and panties flapping in the breeze under hand-crocheted yarn — you could forget this whole business and opt instead for Hearst’s long sheer black coat over sheer trousers, demure despite their transparency.

At this point in the week, we can confidently say that it is not just a season of redux 90s influences but also gossamer fabrics, trawling nets, big jackets over tiny skirts, and when in doubt — lace, lace, lace. At Gabriela Hearst this manifested as an elaborate woven white cashmere dress, vast as a caftan but airy and perforated; at Carolina Herrera lavender lace informed a slender slip dress, and a narrow skirt paired with a bra top. The corseted princesses for whom these ensembles are intended had plenty of other options as well — among them a marigold tutu with a matching jacket, a charity-benefit-ready chiffon floral chiffon tea dress, and even a surprisingly appealing strapless ballgown with alternating stripes of mauve and black, made of what looked like tufted tulle.

Dancing stuffed animals greeted you as you entered the Puppets & Puppets show, and suddenly you realised what has been missing this week: Joy! Fun! Maybe even the tiniest bit of hilarity! Some of these jiggling critters were carrying miniature Puppets & Puppets purses, those cult bags decorated with cookies or sunny-side-up eggs. The toy posse is the trademark of street saxophonist Jazz Ajilo — he played during the presentation — and their furry bodies shimmied throughout the proceedings. If you could raise your gaze from these tiny dancers, you observed great slouchy coats with giant trousers (add gargantuan pants to the list of this season’s greatest hits); a long skirt differentiated with smocking; a single-sleeved sequined dress; and a white dress perfect for this never-ending sultry weather that benefited from the traditional two sleeves.

In June 1943, the Zoot Suit riots erupted in the Mexican American neighbourhoods of Los Angeles. American sailors armed with make-shift weapons hunted and beat “zoot-suiters” — Mexican teenagers who favoured baggy pants and long coats. This horrific explosion of white racism spoke to the grotesque xenophobia of the time, but it also attested to the power of clothing to express freedom and defiance and resistance.

Eighty years later, those extra wide pants and perfect jackets found a home on Willy Chavarria’s runway — a spectacular show where genders may have blurred but tailoring was razor-sharp. Sometimes the tailleurs were decorated with huge blood-red blossoms pinned at the shoulder; other times a plain white tank set off silvery Oxford bags. The show closed with three models in humongous satin robes, faintly ecclesiastical but for the undies they struggled to conceal. If the ensembles here were almost all rendered in solid hues — the season has been overwhelming monochromatic — there were a few exceptions, among them, a silk-screened pullover flaunting the pre-9/11 skyline, the Twin Towers resplendent, and the word Nuova York printed where the clouds would be.

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