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The United States of Stuff

From Fendi to Tibi, the opening days of New York Fashion Week were unapologetically commercial, reports Lauren Sherman.
Fendi’s New York Fashion Week show celebrating its Baguette bag’s 25th anniversary doubled as a marketing platform for parent company LVMH’s American brands Marc Jacobs and Tiffany.
Fendi’s New York Fashion Week show celebrating its Baguette bag’s 25th anniversary doubled as a marketing platform for parent company LVMH’s American brands Marc Jacobs and Tiffany. (Getty Images)

NEW YORK — An interesting thing about the work of designer Kim Jones is that it has increasingly become a vehicle for showcasing other designers and brands, from his groundbreaking collaboration with Supreme at Louis Vuitton, to his Dior Jordans, to Fendi x Skims and the splicing of Fendi and Versace. At Fendi’s show celebrating the Baguette bag’s 25th anniversary, which took place on the first night of New York Fashion Week, he not only exhausted every possible way to feature the now-iconic accessory — including little satin versions sewn onto socks — but he also provided a marketing platform for Fendi-parent LVMH’s American brands, Marc Jacobs and Tiffany, by asking Jacobs to design a vignette and colouring several of the looks with Tiffany’s signature robin’s egg blue.

“That was fire,” an Italian woman said as the crush of well wishers pushed their way backstage after the show. “Fire” or not, it was an unapologetically commercial endeavour: a branding and merchandising extravaganza. And, of course, Fendi chose New York Fashion Week for such a project. Designers here have always seemed more concerned with selling product than conveying new ideas.

At the moment, the United States is also a land of opportunity for the global fashion business, as Europe continues to suffer from high inflation and an energy crisis and China seems stuck in a pattern of never-ending Covid lockdowns. The US economy may very well slip into recession, but for now, luxury sales are holding strong — and not just for big labels.

This season’s newcomers included two direct-to-consumer brands designed by alumni of The Row. Gigi Hadid’s all-cashmere collection Guest in Residence, whose design director Sijeo Kim did time at Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen’s New York-based luxury brand, as well as Theory and Helmut Lang, has received early buzz not only for its perky silhouettes and colour palette, but also for its accessible price points. (“It almost feels not expensive enough,” one observer said of the $225 shrunken crewneck and $195 ribbed polo.)

Then there’s Fforme, designed by Paul Helbers, who once led men’s at Louis Vuitton, Martin Margiela and The Row. It’s an interesting experiment. The brand’s co-founders are Laura Vazquez, a merchant and fashion executive with decades of experience across all sorts of (mostly) American brands, and Nina Khosla, a Silicon Valley product designer whose father, Vinod Khosla, is the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and the founder of venture capital firm Khosla Ventures. With Helbers, they’ve spent the last year developing Fforme, a sculptural, modular wardrobe that employs creative pleating and draping in the hopes of offering something that looks new and rich, with prices to match. (A double-faced cashmere coat is $7,500; a draped T-shirt is $500.)

While their price point and audiences may diverge, both ventures are going to have to work smartly to convince consumers that there is a need for their goods in a market filled with so much stuff.

At Proenza Schouler, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez zagged in a sexier, livelier direction, in part inspired by an exploration of Hernandez’s Cuban heritage. The crinkled bubble skirts and waterfall flares had a good-time appeal, but in this case the sum was not greater than its parts. It felt like the designers didn’t quite get all the way to where they wanted to go.

Joseph Altuzarra, on the other hand, has a clear sense of where he’s headed, further settling into that lived-in, nomadic feel of recent seasons, most compellingly through a series of exploding Shibori pieces hand-tied and dyed in Japan. But while McCollough and Hernandez are turning over ideas a bit too quickly at the moment, Altuzarra needs to move his forward next season in order to open the brand up.

It’s a tricky balance, one that Jason Wu got more right than usual with his latest collection, which was light and airy, with wispy dresses and sparkling, unfussy short sets.

Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta continue to impress, conveying a raw elegance in their wares, including rough-edged foiled knits and bouclé wool drawstring trousers hung low on the waist. While it’s difficult to discern the extent of their ambitions — they seem determined to do things on their own terms — it would be interesting to see what they could do with more resources or by taking on another brand.

Francesco Risso is a contemporary of Eckhaus Latta’s who got that chance with Marni, where he has managed to draw in a younger customer with shaggy sweaters and camp shirts. On Saturday night, he staged a runway show in a passage under the Brooklyn Bridge, with a live orchestra, Madonna in the front row and a collection of deconstructed bathing suits and broad-shouldered jackets inspired quite literally by sunsets. Risso said that his New York Fashion Week appearance was a long time coming, and that he’d like to do a series of shows outside of Milan as a way to activate different cities. But under Risso, Marni has yet to pop. Perhaps this new approach will help to change that.

There’s an argument that many designers who show at New York Fashion Week really shouldn’t, because they’re not offering up anything new. But this is America, where anyone with money and a few work permits can do whatever they want. And sometimes, that’s a good thing. Victor Glemaud knits certainly don’t need to be marketed on a catwalk, and yet to see roller skaters glide around in them on Rockefeller Centre’s rink was a pleasure. Their antics helped draw attention to his still-narrow, but expanding universe, which this season was inspired by American sportswear designers like Geoffrey Beene and Stephen Burrows.

Tibi Spring/Summer 2023 look 36.

Founder Amy Smilovic’s reinvention of Tibi has been well-documented. But it’s the work she has done since the pandemic to develop a one-to-one relationship with her customer, both online and off, that feels noteworthy. Case in point: On a recent trip to the Tibi store in SoHo, a sales rep used rubber bands to artfully lift up the hems of a too-long pair of pants, explaining that “our designer Amy” doesn’t recommend shortening trousers, but instead re-arranging them.

At her show, one of the biggest of New York Fashion Week thus far, held at Essex Street Market on Saturday night, a woman walked by in a pair of Smilovic’s silk cargo pants, bunched up just the way the salesperson had suggested. There were more cargo pants on the runway, but it didn’t really matter. What mattered was the audience: the dozens upon dozens of customers who were invited via Instagram and came wearing her clothes.

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