Why Wasn’t NYFW Inspiring This Season?

I usually know that fashion is working if I leave a runway presentation inspired to take action—say something new, wear something new, try something new. It can feel like a mid-morning espresso shot: fleeting but thrilling and highly stimulating. By the end of fashion week, my brain is usually so high on these new ideas, so ready to try something different and enlivened by the language of clothes that when I walk into my closet, it’s as if the garments flock to my body and make the ensembles themselves. We are intimately reacquainted, skating in lockstep as if Madge and Edgar Syers. But yesterday, on the final morning of fashion week, after I cycled through six bad outfits in order to land on one I’ve worn 100 times before, nearly causing me to miss my first show, I was sure: Fashion Week in New York has lost its shine.

This is obviously an opinion of pure subjective proportion, but the barometer of fashion’s efficacy implies the invention of something new and yet day after day the staleness grows more tedious. Blame the sparse schedule, that offered enough time between shows to eat a civil meal but not enough to sink my teeth into anything else going on in my life, or get out of monkey brain mode for long enough to think a good thought.

This isn’t to say there weren’t distinct sparks of indelible spirit: Christopher John Rogers’ rejection of clothes that satisfy the complete range of female experience in the favor of zeroing in on Occasion Clothes, capital O, capital C.

The Row FW RTW 2020

At The Row, ski hoods and monochrome gloves accompanied the signature baggy suiting of the brand’s ongoing novel: How to Build a Trend-Proof Wardrobe (though I’ll note that their pursuit to avoid the trends has effectively become the trend, and that can generate a murky pool of misunderstanding among the brand’s most loyal followers).

For every zebra print that reminded me of the Saint Laurent of yore at Khaite, I was pleasantly challenged by an unlikely silhouette: the tapered trousers, the corresponding silk scarf-print blouse–the collection was a case study in the tension that occurs at the precipice of restraint; not quite pared back, nor balls to walls. If there are two kinds of designers out there, those who make looks and those who make clothes, the latter camp is better off and Catherine Holstein’s very good at it.

Khaite FW RTW 2020

I got to Michael Kors right on time in the outfit I’d worn 100 times before and just as Orville Peck took the stage in his gold fringe mask and suede fringe jacket to sing a song to add a beat to the clack-clacks of models in billowing plaid coats and rich wool capes and riding pants and boots, there it was, on the crest of this scene straight out of Town & Country: the mid-morning espresso shot. There’s a dependability about the luxurious, American sensibility of Michael Kors and this season, perhaps more concisely than in seasons past, he nailed it.

Michael Kors FW RTW 2020

Outfit ideas poured into my prefrontal cortex as I contemplated the hypothetical references to a horse farm on the English countryside or Richard Gere circa Unfaithful, inspecting produce at Soho’s departed Dean & Deluca supermarket and tried to figure out why.

Marc Jacobs FW RTW 2020

And after the crescendo of the season: Marc Jacobs, I think I got it. Guests of his show sat in groups of 3 or 4 at small wooden tables, rounded and innocuous, topped with paltry tea lights, in the middle of the Park Avenue Armory. I tried to make out whether models would come from here or there, so looked for Anna Wintour — the front-row compass. (They would come from Park Avenue.) Then it got really quiet and out came Karole Armitage, American dancer and choreographer, famously known as the “punk ballerina” of the 80s. In the show notes, Marc Jacobs wrote, “It is the style in which different people dress at the various stages, ages and times in their lives, for all manner of occasions and moments, that endlessly provokes my love of fashion and the possibilities of what can be.”

Marc Jacobs FW RTW 2020

Dozens of dancers appeared in Marc Jacobs, moving in grand gesture among the hordes of models who walked in woolen jackets that matched mini dresses and headkerchiefs; cardigans and pencil skirts; peter pan collars and shrunken sweaters, full-length trousers and kitten heels—but wait, it’s getting hotter! A lamé swing coat and knit underwear? Rosettes and elbow-length gloves? Trapeze gowns? Miley Cyrus? Miley Cyrus! And couture! The theatrics of it all! Later in the notes, Jacobs wrote, “Karole’s choreography brings the cultural influences of today into conversation with a past New York I will forever love, not for longing of time passed, but more moments that are timeless in reference.”

Marc Jacobs FW RTW 2020

I believe we’re in the early stages of an era that Hedi Slimane catapulted to fame with his breakout French Bourgeois collection for Celine in 2018. That is where he asserted that the preeminent trend would not be to reinterpret and make new what has come before but rather to recreate it, preserving precisely what it was. The clothes of Marc Jacobs—and Michael Kors that morning for that matter—count because they’re loyal, inspired by themselves and “timeless in reference” and in practice. You can picture them on all sorts of real people, doing all sorts of things.

I swear to you that after Marc’s show, every single guest left grinning ear to ear assured that the shine of New York still sparkles in the rarefied pockets of fashion, where it seems that those inspired by themselves motivate us to be the same.

Photos via Vogue Runway and Getty Images.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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