The Collision of Fantasy and Reality at NYFW

At its best, fashion straddles fantasy (what we want to be true) and reality (what is true). You can’t ignore reality if you want to invent something that’s relevant, but when we’re dealing in an art form, you also can’t concede to reality so completely that what gets created feels unbearably normal either. Fashion should improve reality. This means different things to different people, but as a baseline concept—that’s it. Good fashion improves reality. And nothing is more real than the routine of your life.

Area Spring/Summer 2020

On Saturday afternoon, I attended the Area show at Spring Studios after spending an hour with my kids. I waited outside among fellow attendees who were dressed in crystal body chains styled over neon t-shirts and bike shorts or patent leather mini skirts that seem impossible to walk in but pretty cool for a photo. I was wearing a navy jacket as a top and black Nike shorts and a pair of old Celine sandals — it could not have shouted “I don’t get it” much louder. But I didn’t think twice about putting on this outfit because I’d worn it the week before and I felt great when I did that, so I just did it again. No frills, no fuss—this is style in the age of parenthood, or separate from that, in the age of recognizing that your perspective does not inform, or run parallel to, the youth zeitgeist.

I know this to be true because the crystal body chains and neon t-shirts and all those bike shorts—those are the garments of the moment, and no one is serving them with as strong a point of view as Area. Its relevancy feels akin to Proenza Schouler or Alexander Wang c. 2011 in that their vision of fantasy is distinct. Area’s is like textbook camp. They’re taking back tacky, and making it cool, it’s all out gaudy but with a less celebratory undertone. To celebrate just for the hell of it, irresponsibly and opulently in 2019 would be to subvert reality.

Area Spring/Summer 2020

But to improve it? Turn up the crystal facial beards and rhinestone ties, slap a louder than life printed suit on your person and—for the love of God—get a neoprene belt that looks like cascading dreadlocks to sweep the floor so that as you walk, your trail follows. You almost can’t help but lift your phone to take a photo. But I wouldn’t call these social-media clothes, at least not as the sum of their parts. They are just, simply, of the time.

Compare this to what came four hours later at Ralph Lauren’s takeover of 48 Wall Street, the former Bank of New York building, and you’re on another end of the fantasy spectrum. Behind the closed doors of the erected-for-one-night-only, Ralph’s Club, camera flashes flickered while glasses of chilled champagne shimmered like diamonds on the ears of socialites as they (the champagne, not socialites) traveled table-to-table on silver trays. Guests were escorted to their seats and invited to nosh on spiced nuts and smoky potato chips while an emcee welcomed everyone to the greatest night of their lives.

Ralph Lauren Fall 2019 Ready-to-Wear

And then the models started to walk across the marble floor, through the maze of tables where old-guard editors sat, wearing a panoply of well fit tuxedo suits and body hugging gowns and sweaters with bears on them — the standard fare for Ralph Lauren and towards the end of the presentation, there was a collective exhale that came from every single table. It was so palpable you could see it fogging up the crystal glasses.

Ralph got a standing ovation. It wasn’t because of the clothes. They were classic Ralph, and that made them just fine, but they — we — clapped because of the night, because he invited us into his world, an earnest version of reality for a man who has proven that a lifestyle can scale and in doing all of this, he has let us suspend time. And reality. At Ralph’s Club that night, he did it again.

Ralph Lauren Fall 2019 Ready-to-Wear

Or maybe it was just me clapping for that reason. I stood there dressed in a black sequined jacket and elegant white pants with borrowed diamonds in my ears, remembering my Nike shorts, crestfallen on the floor of my bathroom on Grand Street. I looked around at all the people I so badly wanted to impress when I was the new guard and they were the old guard and possibly wondering to themselves who the hell I was, when they’d stopped informing the youth zeitgeist, declaring they don’t get it.

I’m not sure where that leaves me right now, but I think I like it.

Feature Photo via Getty Images, Photos via Vogue Runway.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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