Fashion can provide a welcome respite from reality but it can also be a comment on the times. From February 9th – 16th, New York Fashion Week designers mostly went for the latter, deciding that the current chaos of the United States is too dire to ignore. From big time labels to emerging talents, many collections were visualizations of the various reactions to an increasingly divisive political atmosphere. Some shows came from a place of anger or fear while others chose to highlight unity and optimism for the future. Of course, there were also a few escapist exceptions. Here are The Untitled Magazine’s picks for the most impactful shows of fashion week.
In the weeks leading up to NYFW the talk of the town was Raf Simons’ and his debut collection for Calvin Klein. On February 10th, Simons didn’t disappoint with his artist vision of the mega brand – a topsy turvy version of Americana, in fact one dress seemed to be made from a United States flag. On a runway surrounded by Sterling Ruby artwork, cowboy inspired lapels soon gave way to a parade of coats encased in plastic – a material well-known in American households and in our celebrity’s faces. Simons paid homage to classic Calvin Klein roots with a few head-to-toe denim ensembles and varsity sweaters that oozed sex appeal, not just in fit but also fabric. While sleeves were classic raglan with stripes, the bodies of knit tops were made from a see-thru fleshy fabric that allowed a voyeuristic view of the wearer’s torso. Nudity has long been a European establishment but it has only become de rigueur in the U.S. since the recent “Free the Nipple” movement. Perhaps Simons’ was making reference to this or maybe he was just commenting on the American “look at me” mentality. Either way, his Calvin collection came off as an embrace of this country, despite it’s current condition.
Jeremy Scott is usually known for his revelrous collections – full of tongue-in-cheek pop culture references and overstated themes – but on February 10th the designer’s mood concerning the current state of affairs was more mad than madcap. Neon colors, metallics, fringe and fishnets stayed true to Scott’s aesthetic but his usual idol worship was meant to provoke thought instead of Instagram likes. Models donned garments with images of Jesus, Mary, Marie Antoinette, and Michael Jackson – perhaps a comment on false idols? The most telling look on the runway was the final look which featured a sequined top adorned with “As Seen On TV.” If that wasn’t enough of a signal that Scott had Trump on the mind then his staff’s t-shirts said it all – printed on each one was the phone number of a congressman.
It wouldn’t be fashion week without an Alexander Wang party. On the night of February 11th, the designer hosted his runway show in a decrepit building in Harlem, the once storied RKO Hamilton Theater. Wang combined his runway collection with a celebration and made it clear that there would be no boisterous event to follow the show. Wristbands and shirts donned the words “NO AFTER-PARTY.” One could take this to mean that Wang has decided to go into a more serious direction but that notion was soon thrown away by the presence of flowing free beer and pounding music. It seems more likely that Wang has decided that a fashion presentation and a hedonistic affair are one in the same. While the collection of leggings, overcoats and slinky dresses could be interpreted as the perfect NYC party outfits perhaps Wang is making his own statement about the times. His mostly black palette would seem quite somber if not debuted in such a raucous setting. Maybe he is suggesting that his guests should enjoy the present. Once you step outside of Wang world, the rest of the country is definitely not in party mode.
February 13th was an action packed day. For Proenza Schouler fans based in New York it was bittersweet ending. The downtown favorites will be showing future collections during haute couture week in Paris so this was their last Manhattan runway show until further notice. The designer duo ended their NYFW run on a high note. Inspired by the “thinking women” in their lives, looks featured strong primary colors and metallics in slashed silhouettes. It doesn’t matter their location – Jake McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez will always make the perfect clothes for the artsy and edgy NYC power women.
On the same day that Proenza Schouler gave their New York goodbyes, Mara Hoffman opened a new chapter in her brand. Her fall runway show was a testament to strong women and collaboration. It opened with a speech by Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, and Bob Bland – the four women who organized the Women’s March. It then launched into a contemporary dance performance that meshed with a traditional runway presentation.
The clothes themselves also made a political statement. In her last two collections Hoffman has ditched the brilliantly busy printed kaftans that recently defined her for a switch into the subtle. The collection featured mostly monochrome looks in sensible but sexy silhouettes. The designer changed the brand in order to have a more sustainable production process – the few prints shown were spare and digital, a process that uses less waste than screen-printing. While the clothes have changed immensely, one thing remains the same – Mara Hoffman garments will always be highly covetable objects.
Christian Siriano has made his name designing clothes for women of all shapes and sizes and his February 11th collection added a political layer to that mission. Fur lined coats, metallics, and lush velvets went along with his desire for “everyone out to there to take twenty minutes to just dream” but he brought things back to earth with one of his final looks – a t-shirt that echoed the pulsing Depeche Mode soundtrack, stating “People Are People.”
Oscar De La Renta
Ever since it was announced that Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia would take over at Oscar de la Renta, anticipation has been building for their debut collection for the famed label. The New York fashion world was awash in controversy surrounding the December announcement as Ms.Kim was still under a non-compete clause from Carolina Herrera when she took the position at de la Renta. However the designer pair’s first foray as creative directors of the brand was not nearly as contenionable as that situation. The collection mixed traditional de la Renta signatures – evening gowns and embellishments with modern pops of neon and matching top and pant sets.
If you were only to look at the clothes on the runway, Jonathan Simkhai’s collection would not seem be concerned with current events – many looks channeled 19th-century Spain with beautiful boleros and over-the-top embellishments while others went for old Hollywood glamour – fur stoles and sparkling even gowns. However the designers political affiliations were very clear to show attendees. “Feminist AF” tees dotted front row seats with notes that expressed the brand’s support for Planned Parenthood and a pledge to donate $5 per seat to the organization. The shirts are available for sale online for $95 and all proceeds go to PP.
Three days after Raf Simons showed his adoration of Americana, German designer Philipp Plein gave his own love letter to the big apple. His February 13th debut of his #pleinlovesny collection marked his NYFW birth and was indeed as NYC as could be. Brooklyn rap king Nas opened the show with a performance before rockers, The Kills, played a set while models walked down the runway. The appearance of Nas wasn’t the last hip-hop homage in the show. Rappers of the moment – Young Thug, Desiigner, and Fetty Wap – were among those who rocked the collection which included gender non-specific street wear with mink coats and evening dresses thrown in. For the grand finale, 2 Live Crew performed songs from their infamous album, Banned in the USA.
In a week where outlandish sets were replaced by outspoken political statements Moncler was the exception to the rule. On Valentines Day the ski brand gave fashion week attendees a snowy fantasy to fall in love with. Models in outwear to suit every personality walked through a winter wonderland complete with snow and…chandeliers.
Rapper Kanye West delivered a dialed down presentation and personality on February 15th for season five of Yeezy. His show took place at Pier 59, a fashion week ready location and unlike previous seasons he did not play his own music during the show. While the clothes continued the “thrifted for the young and beautiful” aesthetic of previous Yeezy collections, there was one major fashion development – real pants! Leggings of yesteryear were traded in for baggy jeans tucked into pants. Ye made no wild speeches or proclamations, in fact he didn’t even come out to greet the audience. The biggest words of the show were the locales printed amongst the looks – “Calabasas,” “Lost Hills,” “Agoura,” and “93102.” All referred to ritzy California spots that have become refuge for the new brigade of celebrities and “Lost Hills” is the rumored name of a collaboration album with Drake. Last winter, West had an on-stage breakdown that was widely thought to be a result of the pressures of the limelight so perhaps his use of these star-heavy locations in the hills are a meditation on fame or maybe West just knows that people always want the unattainable. Can’t live in a Hollywood hot spot? At least you can rock a sweatshirt that helps you pretend.
Small Labels, Big Messages
Younger labels also had something to say about the political climate. Public School’s FW Collection was a comment on borders – both physical and mental ones. Models walked the runway to a Twin Shadow redux of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” Shirts said it all, one was marked with words “Make America New York” (also echoed on an accessory made recently notorious – the red hat) while another was plastered with a photograph of Michael Jordan, the touchstone figure of American achievement. Other looks were a revamp on American classics – a Clueless style plaid look was literally unzipped, velour tracksuits were remixed, and basketball jerseys became draped mini dresses. Brooklyn label, Chromat, continued it’s celebration of diversity with an added contemporary comment on refuge and protection. The brand collaborated with a Utah wilderness brand and sent garments made of life rafts down the runway. Over at Gypsy Sport, Rio Uribe added young people that he met at anti-Trump protests to his usual rainbow army of models. On Monday, Libertine’s Johnson Hartig showcased a whirlwind of world fashion. Gypsy prints and acid ravers made a case for borderless fashion and a final plea to party before the planet is ruined.