Why Was NYFW Trendless This Season?

Michael Kors Spring 2020

A trend begins when multiple designers tune into the same frequency and make stuff based on it. In the past, we have seen this mind meld on display at fashion week, but this season, I can barely identify a single new trend. There are some uniform styling tendencies creeping in at different junctures: dresses and tunics over pants at Sies Marjan, Tibi, Deveaux (Tommy Ton’s new brand), The Row, Gabriela—I could go on. There are pashminas (scarfs worn as capes, essentially) and polka dots and robe jackets— that is, long coats applied not as functional outerwear, but as significant improvements to your everyday look.

Pyer Moss Spring 2020
Pyer Moss Spring/Summer 2020

But on the macro-scale, the trends beyond those we’ve seen recycled, upcycled, downcycled, and sidewayscycled for the last 3 or 4 or 5 seasons, are no longer debuting at runway shows.

This, a reflection of the changing purpose of fashion week, is just one way in which the dust is beginning to settle on the question of what fashion week is supposed to do. What’s coming up in the place of these trends are cults, camps, groups— whatever you want to call them— created by the designers. And among these designers, now I know: there is a new guard, a middle guard, and an old guard.

Rosie Assoulin Spring 2020
Rosie Assoulin Spring/Summer 2020

The new guard, see: Area, Sandy Liang, or Pyer Moss, are taking back tacky and making it cool; they’re owning larger-than-life, or at least larger-than-my-life, gaudiness that exists intentionally, with purpose, not as a feckless nod to ostentation. They’re (see: Chromat, Collina Strada, Telfar, Eckhaus Latta) aligning themselves with cause, with design as a platform to encourage the morals and principles of an active cohort of opinions that span a spectrum of those who reject the historical way in which the fashion industry has attempted to ignore reality in favor of delusional reverie. It is, dare I say, a new American Dream.

The Row Spring 2020
The Row Spring/Summer 2020

The middle guard, on the other hand— think Staud or Tibi or even Rosie Assoulin, who design most prominently for a millennial customer—demand, perhaps unwittingly, wearability and clickability from their own clothes. You’ve got to be able to live the full range of your life in these garments and the designers know that because they do it. These are also the brands who have come up during the murkiest part of the transition from old dream to new dream and as a result, have been impacted by the era of social media and street style and camera flashes and the immortalization of what you wear as who you are. At best, that comes off as clothes that are wearable first, shareable second. At worst, there is no focus because of the straddle between new and old. A complete loss of any dream.

Gabriela Hearst Spring 2020
Gabriela Hearst Spring/Summer 2020

And within the old guard, which could use a better name, are designers like Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen for The Row or Gabriela Hearst for her eponymous label. The clothes are far enough removed from the new guard that you might think they’re being designed for different planets, but the designers don’t ignore the new altogether. Gabriela Hearst, for example, is using her platform to herald environmental change: her show yesterday was carbon neutral, the first of its kind in fashion.

They don’t ignore the middle either—The Row showed a legitimate wardrobe for Spring 2020. Expensive basics walked a runway that could have been a grocery store aisle (artisanal), or a city sidewalk (in a posh neighborhood), or a party (at The Met), for a woman who cares about how she looks but doesn’t give a shit if her peers care too. It’s less fashion, more quality, but because it does not ignore trends, it’s still fashion.

Proenza Schouler Spring 2020
Proenza Schouler Spring/Summer 2020

I’m not really sure where to deposit Proenza Schouler among these echelons. The brand defined the zeitgeist in the early 2010s, and because of the investment-related changes in control, Proenza Schouler has also experienced a public display of highs and lows. But in the last three or so years, they’ve hit a new stride—a simultaneous recognition of who they are and a confidence about it. If I could summarize last night’s presentation in a sentence, I’d call it 80s, baby, but make it fashion—no! Make it Proenza. A category unto itself for the people sitting in that room.

Michael Kors Spring 2020
Michael Kors Spring/Summer 2020

Meanwhile, this morning, Michael Kors showed a classic tale of Kors-ian American sportswear entrenched in slight, literal references to punk culture (see: studs on topsiders) to the tune of a young choir singing such classics as “American Pie” and “Love Train.” I loved the clothing—I would wear so much of it. The styling is good, the identity is singular. There’s an air of Ralph Lauren about Michael Kors in the way he consistently designs within a cohesive world that’s insulated from our current rollercoaster reality. There’s an unrelenting pursuit of an oomph, some kind of glamour. It’s not so unlike what the new guard is up to, but the work of that guard feels less like a vision and more like a translation, or working through, of what it feels like to be alive right now. In this respect, the lack of consensus in the form of trends isn’t surprising, instead, we’re watching the new guard negotiate a new American Dream in real time, sloughing off older models that seem to be dying, or may already be dead.

Photos via Vogue Runway.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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