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Who Won New York Fashion Week?

In a season of snoozy propositions, there were a few standouts.
Peter Do's Autumn/Winter 2022 show.
Peter Do's Autumn/Winter 2022 show. (Peter Do)

In a New York Fashion Week filled with plenty of perfectly respectable, if sometimes snoozy, propositions, Peter Do shined. His sharp tailoring and elongated silhouettes — a story that began with his very first collection — offer a fresh way to dress.

Do, an Old Céline alum, has been compared to Daniel Lee, who also worked with Phoebe Philo and landed at Bottega Veneta around the same time that Do’s line launched. But Do has moved beyond this comparison — especially important as Philo prepares to launch her own line — and managed to make a name for himself as a designer to watch (and buy) in an era where it’s extremely hard to compete with the European heavyweights.

Why is it working? Women tend to design things they’d want to wear themselves, while men often design with a vision of an idealised woman. That’s blurring as gender blurs, and Do is an example of this: you can see him so clearly in the clothes, which he wear-tests throughout their development. He also styles the collection himself, a risky proposition. But for Do, it’s another opportunity to get his point across.

The right stylist can change the path for a designer. Joseph Altuzarra recently began working with Gabriella Karefa-Johnson, who has given his runway a more lived-in attitude. Altuzarra’s autumn collection recalled previous ones, with its shearling-collar coats and coin embellishments, but this was a low-stress version, reflecting the designer’s liberated approach in the wake of his split with Kering.

LaQuan Smith, capitalising on the pandemic-era success of his catsuits — company sales were up 87 percent in 2020 from a year earlier, he said — brought in Interview editor Mel Ottenberg to style his hip-baring micro-skirts and high-cut crotches with some irreverence. It didn’t hurt that Julia Fox opened the show, the same day her break-up with Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, became public.

A little bad taste can do a collection good. Wes Gordon pushed further than expected at Carolina Herrera, leaning into the brand’s outrageous ‘80s heyday, with bows galore and giant sleeves. Streams of purple tulle framing the silhouette of a black suit had more pizazz than the standard-issue boned bodice tops. But for those heading into gala season, the sculpted ball gowns, constructed with the support of two Herrera pattern makers who are retiring this year after two decades working in the company’s atelier, were the answer.

It’s an interesting time to be a gala-dress designer. These days, Oscar de la Renta’s client is throwing house parties instead of attending benefits, so Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia are more focused on cocktail attire. What was nicest about the short-and-sweet collection was the spread of colour, from soft teal to hot pink.

At Area, known for its disco club-kid dresses, designer Piotrek Panszczyk was enamoured with the bulbous silhouettes bedazzled with neon-bright sequins, a sort of inflated version of what he’s done in the past. (His former designer partner, Beckett Fogg, is now focused on the business, he said.) While Area’s fluorescent-lighted, mirrored-wall showroom just north of the fake watch sellers on Canal Street was mesmerising, it would have been fun to see on a catwalk.

Collina Strada’s Hillary Taymour eschewed the traditional runway, too, instead enlisting a cast of friends, including Tommy Dorfman and aughts-it-girl Cory Kennedy — 2007 is back, baby — to star in “The Collinas,” a spoof of “The Hills,” which she debuted at the Angelica Theatre. It was laugh-out-loud funny at times, and served as a perfectly fine way to showcase the collection, which has transformed dramatically over the years since its 2009 launch, from “handbags for hipsters,” sold at then-influential retailers like Oak, into a raver-kid flashback coveted by Gen-Z.

In general, the downtown scene, which felt so vital just a few years ago, needed a zhuzhing. So many new brands sprung from the seeds planted by Eckhaus Latta and then Vaquera, but none hav

e been able to move the story forward. Instead, what you get is a vague version of the past. So much of it looks like what a suburban mom would have worn to her kid’s dance recital circa 1992 — drab colours, drab ideas, zero irony.

At Puppets and Puppets, designer Carly Mark’s velvet floral couch gowns and pilgrim-collar taffeta tops lacked a distinct point of view. Jack Miner and Lily Miesmer, who design the label Interior, need to better articulate their purpose, too. Their fabrics are lush and their presentation at the Waverly Inn, where models sat at tables snacking on plates of frites and sawing into hunks of bloody steak, was perfectly decadent, but it was hard to see a through-line in the clothes. Miner said the brand is becoming known for “special” pieces, but what does the wide-wale corduroy suit have to do with the crinkly metallic gown? Those are the types of questions they’ll need to start answering as they progress.

Maryam Nassir Zadeh, a sort of den mother to many of these kids, was influential long before she started her own line because of the inspired choices she makes when stocking her store. Today, she seems dedicated to transforming her own collection into something more than refined copies of already-great vintage pieces. She hasn’t achieved that yet, but there were a few particularly good looks in here, like a grey sweatpant tucked into scrunchy socks and worn with pumps, and some separates that gently recalled late-nineties Marc Jacobs.

Zadeh has a handle on where things are going, and while the dress might be the thing this season, the trouser, especially one with a lower rise, is gaining steam. She did a nice-looking pair in lipstick pink. At Duncan, the polished-punk line designed by beauty industry exec Michelle Duncan, they were tomato red, with a giant cuff. (Duncan recently recruited former Creatures of the Wind designer Chris Peters to collaborate on the line; it’s a good match.) Sergio Hudson, whose safari-inspired collection made up for in charisma what it lacked in originality, turned them out in saturated pastels.

The big trend, though, wasn’t a silhouette or a shade of purple. So many designers used deadstock fabric, from Joseph Altuzarra to Erin Beatty, who was thrilled to add Italian silk to her upcycled line Rentrayage — it means she can make dozens of units at a time, something that was far more challenging when she was only repurposing old garments. Gabriela Hearst said that sourcing deadstock has become trickier as more brands seek it out, but that “it’s a good problem to have; it means there is less waste.”

Hearst is living her life as if she’s training for a marathon these days: back-and-forth from Paris — where she’s designing Chloé — to New York, where she’s raising three children and continuing to build out her namesake brand. The ultimate luxury this season might have been in a corduroy trench made of recycled cashmere, and the tiny gemstone embedded into the underside of hefty signet rings. The thought and quality are there: Hearst’s challenge is in further differentiating her own line from Chloé — or risk diluting both.

At Coach, Stuart Vevers designed a sort of suburban teenage wasteland, with grungy flannels, shearlings and lace-dolly dresses: one part “Singles,” one part “Reality Bites.” The looks were playful — especially the outerwear that reworked silhouettes introduced by company legend Bonnie Cashin — but not particularly memorable. Tory Burch, who consistently delivers richly coloured collections that don’t always relate from season to season, surprised in a good way with her pointy black flats overlaid with red dots, sequined handkerchief scarves and dropped shoulders. She could have easily dug into the cottagecore craze, with chintzy florals and doily collars, but went the sportier, artsier route instead. A pleasant surprise.

Michael Kors delivered the week’s grand gesture on Tuesday, with a nighttime show at Terminal 5 — a truly awful venue to see live music — and a performance of covers by the pop star Miguel that redeemed the space. Kors’ collection was par for the course — enveloping cashmere, the requisite sequins, a fabulous wool tweed puffer — but it was the attendance of New York City mayor Eric Adams, who accompanied Anna Wintour, that ultimately gave it currency.

On Monday, Adams announced his plans to create 460 new fashion jobs, mostly in manufacturing, in New York City. And then, on Wednesday, New York governor Kathy Hochul announced a $500,000 grant programme to help independent designers stage fashion shows through IMG: details were murky, but what the city needs right now is a little bit of hope.

Does fashion really need New York Fashion Week, though? Over the past half-decade, there’s been a push in the US for brands to operate on their own terms rather than follow the traditional formula. In many cases, this has been good for creativity — and business.

Telfar Clemens, for instance, has proven he doesn’t need Fashion Week to sell his globally popular handbags: he and business partner Babak Radboy were recently guests on the popular NPR podcast “How I Built This,” a marker of a success for American entrepreneurs. And yet, there he was on Wednesday night, hosting a rapt crowd — including newly named Supreme creative director Tremaine Emory — in a theatre on the edge of South Street Seaport, where he rolled footage from Telfar TV, his stylised version of public access television, as well as a flood of looks conceived over the past two years. The stream was enthralling, but the clothes lived up to to the hype. Clemens obviously designed this collection with the same intention he designs his hit bags: each pair of wide-leg jeans, each collegiate sweatsuit, each work chino was exacting. These were kinds of clothes that one should be able to find at, well, The Gap — where Clemens had a deal fall through during the pandemic. Luckily, he made them anyway. Too bad for Gap.

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