There are two dressing aspirations on the runway. One is wrapped neatly (and I do mean neatly) in the pursuit of looking grown up, the other is more concerned with chasing youth. This is the balance (and triumph) of New York fashion — and neither is better than the other, but when a designer can acknowledge both sides and truly nail the balance (see: Marc Jacobs), they become icons of American style.
Sunday’s show line up presented three cases for growing up. Rosetta Getty was the first — I heard it described as “absolutely major.” I prefer “relaxed uptightness living harmoniously inside of the tension that arises between such disparate states of being.” There was also Tory Burch — with its jumbo sleeves and puddling hemlines and one particular sequined caftan primed for nothing more spectacular that hosting a party at home. Imagine if you needed a wardrobe for just the parties you hosted at home. For some (me), that is the aspiration for growing up.
And there was Tibi, too, purveyor of cool things you wear when you know who you are, have accepted it, now celebrate it and just need to get on with your day. The brand is familiar enough in the way it presents a good, reliable suit, or knit, or mid-length airy dress (no doubt the solution to wearing nightgowns-as-dresses in the winter), but refreshingly unexpected with its flip-flops and dickie/belt/sweater hybrids and the way some blazers can actually be dresses if you just belt them and slap on tights. This — the familiarity — is what we forget when we scream, “Give me new!” What we’re asking for, really, is what we’re already proud to know, just souped up and repackaged, and that’s what Tibi delivers.
On the side I have always wanted to be on, but am graduating away from — that of chasing youth — Sandy Liang is probably one of the cooler people in fashion. I walked into her presentation yesterday and, amid the deluge of checker-print pants and dad sneakers and fleeces that she made trendy, I wasn’t sure who was a model, who was a co-worker, who were friends and who was just there to hang out, which is probably the point — that’s what creating a world looks like. Eckhaus Latta, Maryam Nassir Zadeh and Vaquera, who will show later this week, are also tuned into this young-is-cool frequency. I’ve recently had my eye on a menswear designer (though what does that even mean these days?) John Elliott, who has descended from this camp, too.
But between the black and the white — the grown up and the yet-to-grow-up — is the grey area where magic happens. Where sparks of light become stars and our jaws drop and we can’t unsee a newfangled tension that is neither one nor the other. It burgeons elsewhere curiously, outside any finite line, forming around it the third archetype. On Saturday it came from Area, on Thursday it was Khaite. Yesterday I saw it from Sies Marjan.
It’s hard to pinpoint what defines this archetype, but one element is clear: It is fueled by purpose. It marries genuine necessity to frivolity, which in my opinion should be the number one fall/winter goal for a designer to achieve. When it’s cold, the way we think about and therefore wear clothing is inherently different because there is a more urgent and pressing necessity to survive in them. Sometimes this is taken so literally that all the joy is stripped from getting dressed, other times it is ignored altogether and, let me tell you from experience, the purported joy is not worth the discomfort.
But when a designer can tap into this contrast and actually design into a necessity in a way that is beautiful to look at — multi-color wrap dresses styled over wool pants! ruffle confections with turtlenecks! the velvet scarf! those colors! — you’re left with an unspoken zing. That’s not to say all interpretations of this spectrum aren’t crucial (without them we’ve got nothing), but those who can hold both ends in opposition yet side by side — the complicated and the over-simplified, the necessary and the feckless, the youth and the maturity? They’re the ones who make you think: New York fashion is alive again.
Feature photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images; Runway photos via Vogue Runway.