Change Is Coming: 13 Talking Points for an Evolving New York Fashion Week
As New York Fashion Week swiftly approaches, one thing is certain: The system is changing. Rodarte is bowing out for Paris, and Proenza Schouler will follow next season. Others have decamped for Los Angeles. But it’s not all negatives. Raf Simons is making his much-anticipated debut at Calvin Klein, at last. Read on to brush up on the season’s big talking points.
1. Is New York Fashion Week optional?
This season’s New York Fashion Week calendar is totally scrambled. Part of the reason for the show-shifting is that a clutch of designers are taking a pass. Rodarte is showing its collection in Paris, and next season, will join Vetements in presenting during the haute couture collections in July. News broke last week that Proenza Schouler, too, will be showing its pre-Spring and Spring ’18 collections in Paris in July, and though Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez will be present and accounted for here in New York this time out, it does seem—what with two of New York Fashion Week’s flagship shows shifting both city and schedule—that the tide is turning toward the establishment of a new, cool-kid Fashion Week in Paris that defers to the evolving demands of retail sales and deliveries.
Meanwhile, other designers are decamping to Los Angeles. Rachel Comey is one: Though she says she’ll be back at New York Fashion Week in future seasons, for Fall ’17, Comey has decided to embrace her West Coast fan base by staging her signature dinner/cabaret/presentation at the Hauser & Wirth gallery in downtown Los Angeles. “We wanted to expand our perspective,” Comey explains, “and experience that L.A. light everyone talks about . . . ”
There are other reasons shows are dropping off the New York Fashion Week schedule. Opening Ceremony’s decision to present their latest looks at the New York City Ballet on January 28 may portend a shift as significant as Rodarte and Proenza Schouler’s move to Paris. For Opening Ceremony honchos Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, the choice to swap runway for stage emerged from a very particular set of circumstances: They were collaborating with New York City Ballet resident choreographer Justin Peck on costumes for his new work, and wound up incorporating those ideas into their Spring ’17 collection. Thus, Leon explained, the choice to make Peck’s ballet the Opening Ceremony “show” seemed the natural conclusion of that process.
But if those conditions were specific to Opening Ceremony, the underlying thinking is not. Increasingly, designers and brands are questioning the purpose of a fashion show, and looking for ways to, as Leon put it, “insert fashion into culture.” If the point of a show is to appeal to consumers, rather than cater to the needs of the fashion industry’s professional class, then why should conventions like the traditional static or catwalk presentation obtain? Perhaps there are other, fresher ways of getting the message out.
2. Speaking of, what does Rag & Bone have planned for its birthday bash?
Rag & Bone is another brand jettisoning the runway this season. In aid of celebrating Rag & Bone’s past, present, and future—the label turns 15 this year—founder Marcus Wainwright is involving longtime friends (including some boldface names) in a Fashion Week kickoff bash on Thursday, February 9, and inviting new Rag fans to take in the exhibition that opens to the public the next day.
“We wanted to create something that would be seen by more than just a handful of guests,” explains Wainwright, when asked what prompted the decision to stage a weekend-long show. “At this 15-year milestone, we felt that replacing our runway show with an exhibition that will also be open to the public felt totally natural, as it allows us to celebrate those who have contributed to our story so far, as well as those who are part of our future.”
3. On the other hand: Is New York Fashion Week more important now than ever?
For every designer giving up his or her place on the Fashion Week calendar, there are several others jostling to claim the space. But many of the new contenders come at Fashion Week from an interesting angle: Brands launching see-now-buy-now business models, and ones who have already earned a strong following via direct-to-consumer sales online, don’t want to participate in Fashion Week because they need buyers and press to mediate for them; they want to participate because they think it’s important to be part of the fashion “conversation.” But New York Fashion Week is an event premised on mediation. The idea, historically, was that press got to review collections well ahead of their arrival in stores, the better to consolidate trends and guide retailers in their ordering. For brands that don’t operate within that system, what does a Fashion Week presentation look like, and what is it for?
Dôen collective cofounders Margaret and Katherine Kleveland see Fashion Week as a means of establishing their brand’s bona fides. Dôen’s online store is notable for the editorial quality of its images, and the clothes for sale there could easily hang on racks beside those of well-known contemporary labels. But as the Klevelands note, being a part of “the pageantry and excitement” of Fashion Week would boost Dôen’s fashion credibility. “And we do feel like it’s important for us to have a personal relationship with the fashion press, and get the chance to meet editors and stylists face-to-face,” Margaret notes. “A Fashion Week presentation allows you to do that. I don’t think you have to invent a new format; it’s just that in our case, the event would be shoppable.”
Mansur Gavriel designers Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel strike a similar chord. The duo, whose bags have become a cult favorite, will be launching their new ready-to-wear on a see-now-buy-now basis, and debuting it formally in a presentation in September. In the meantime, though, they’re teasing the launch with select appointments for editors and buyers—a strategy driven, they say, by the saturation effect of fashion images shared on social media, and one that hearkens back, ironically, to the pre-Internet era when consumers first encountered new collections as they showed up in stores. “For us, it feels more inspiring to view a product and be able to purchase it immediately,” says Mansur, going on to note that, from a business perspective, it also makes more sense to deliver clothes and accessories in the season they were intended for, e.g., putting Fall/Winter apparel on racks in September, rather than July. And Gavriel, for her part, sees the creative advantage of consolidating “all the action and expression into one singular experience.” Mansur and Gavriel are still figuring out the contours of their ready-to-wear launch event next season. In the meantime, consumers will have to do what they used to do: Stay tuned.
4. What does Raf have in store at Calvin Klein?
Raf Simons has already begun to put his stamp on Calvin Klein. Officially appointed chief creative officer in August, Simons’s first big move was to launch Calvin Klein By Appointment, a 14-piece range of made-to-measure looks that will allow Simons to keep the couture muscles he built up in Paris well-exercised now that he’s moved to New York. And, on the evidence of the Raf Simons menswear collection that he sent out earlier this week, which featured riffs on Milton Glaser’s classic I [heart] NY design, and other nods to life in the Big Apple, Simons is finding plenty to inspire him in his new hometown. Will big, brash New York be the key creative touchstone for Simons’s first Calvin Klein collection, as well? That would be fitting: Calvin Klein is, after all, one of this city’s flagship fashion brands. Maybe it’s about time for an homage.
5. Welcome to the resistance. Now, can fashion improve on the “pussy hat”?
We commence this fashion season terrifically inspired by the Women’s March. Whatever your partisan affiliation—Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Socialist, None of the Above, or Other—it’s good to be reminded that no matter who has their hands on the machinery of power, the energy that runs that machine is supplied by The People. An iPhone’s just a bunch of glass and circuits if it’s got no charge. Ditto the government.
So, with that said, we must address the “pussy hat.” The pink, cat-eared fleece or knit cap served a few useful purposes at the worldwide marches on January 21, chief among them creating a sense of solidarity among millions of attendees provoked to protest by wildly varying concerns. (Also, it was cold, and people needed hats.) Thus the “pussy hat” stands to endure as this generation’s key signifying revolutionary accessory, our answer to Che’s iconic beret.
But, you know, must it? We call on designers to come up with some better options. Millinery is fine, but other accouterments could work, too: Maybe someone wants to pick up on the Middle Ages fad, at Nuremberg’s subversive Schembart Carnival, of attendees carrying giant artichokes that concealed fireworks. Or, for inspiration of more recent vintage, why not the civil rights protesters of the 1960s, who wore trenchcoats and kept their hands in their pockets to show they were nonviolent. If not the “pussy hat,” what can be the “power to the people” look of today?
6. Are we going to see more shapes on the runway?
The issue is samples. Fashion casting has been diversifying at a rapid pace these past few seasons, but it’s seemed that the one adaptation hardest for designers to make is to end the tyranny of super-skinniness on the runway. And samples—the one-off garments created for the show, often at the last minute, without any advance knowledge of which model is going to wear what—are largely to blame. That’s the take of IMG booker Mina White, at any rate. White is among the industry insiders who have been leading the charge to bring size diversity to the catwalk, and this season she’s making casting of her “Curve” girls a top priority.
“We decided to start the conversation earlier,” says White, “providing designers and casting directors a ‘Curve’-specific package well in advance of sample production. By working this way, we are giving designers more time to create samples in various sizes—and delivering a call to action that we believe both the fashion community and consumers are eager to embrace.”
Tome’s Ramon Martin and Ryan Lobo are more than eager. The designers note that they’ve long been looking for ways to expand the range of body types on their runway, in keeping with their label’s focus on, as they put it, “the real woman.” They finally managed to cast the voluptuous Marquita Pring in their Spring ’17 show, and are hoping to broaden the array of shapes this time out.
“We just want to show the full diversity of womanhood,” notes Lobo. “I mean, we don’t look at Marquita any differently than we do any other model who walks through our doors for a casting. She brought an outfit to life, and so we wanted her in the show. It was as simple as that.”
“I think,” adds Martin, “it’s easy for designers to use sample sizing as an excuse. And, you know, I only know how we run Tome; I don’t know how anyone else’s business works, so maybe that sizing issue is valid. But for us, it comes down to: Who are we designing these clothes for? We celebrate all women. And so for us,” he continues, “being able to reflect that in our shows, that’s not a challenge—it’s an opportunity.”
7. With Comme des Garçons coming to the Met, will designers catch the avant-garde bug?
Rei Kawakubo’s influence already looms large over the runways. Marc Jacobs, Phoebe Philo, and Thom Browne are just a few of the designers who will readily attest that they look to Comme des Garçons for ideas, distilling Kawakubo’s experiments into their own fashion vernaculars. Now, with Kawakubo set to become only the second living designer, after Yves Saint Laurent in 1983, to get a solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will we be seeing her influence expand?
The answer to that question is: Yes, undoubtedly. But what aspects of Kawakubo’s legacy are up for grabs? According to the curator Andrew Bolton, the Costume Institute’s Comme des Garçons show is focused on “in-betweenness,” i.e., Kawakubo’s efforts, through her designs, to collapse binaries such as East/West and male/female. That’s rich territory, as is Kawakubo’s deconstructive approach, but her oeuvre invites other dialogues, as well. Notably, perhaps no designer has more challenged the fashion industry’s self-conception as a fundamentally commercial enterprise: Comme des Garçons barely advertises, and when it does, its campaigns are likely to feature a still life of a flower or a Pop Art–style comic as opposed to a model wearing current collection clothes; meanwhile, the collections shown on the runway are typically comprised of body-dysmorphic garments that come off more like wearable sculpture than wardrobe-ready garb. At a moment when the fashion biz is premised on speed, with product turning over at an ever-increasing, sensory-overloading pace, perhaps this Comme des Garçons exhibition can serve as a corrective, re-focusing the industry on values of workmanship and conceptual rigor. That’s certainly an influence we’re keen to see.
8. No, but how do you really feel?
Blame social media. Slogan tees are everywhere, hawked by fly-by-night street vendors and luxury designers alike. And though we’ve got no complaint with messages such as “We Should All Be Feminists”—to cite the slogan seen on the Dior runway at Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Spring ’17 debut—it strikes us as odd that fashion, an expressive medium itself, seems to have defaulted to the vernacular of the Tweet or the Instagram caption in order to make its points. If designers have something to say, why not let their clothes do the talking?
Perhaps this oh-so-political moment does call for, well, spelling things out. But even if that’s the case, there are still ways to be playful with text-based message sending. To wit, look no further than the recent Balenciaga menswear show. Demna Gvasalia appropriated the style of the Bernie Sanders campaign logo, and rebranded it, “Balenciaga.” The meaning of that gesture is up for interpretation—perhaps Gvasalia was commenting on the way certain political figures become faddish, or perhaps he was engaging in a conversation about inequality by applying the Bernie font to “strictly for the 1 percenter” clothes. Or perhaps he was just endorsing old-school socialist values. In any case, what was refreshing about the gesture was that it required a response, in the form of thought. And making people think is way more inspiring than telling them what they already ought to be thinking.
9. Will pantsuit nation storm the red carpet?
Speaking of clothes doing the talking . . . The Academy Awards are coming up, and we’d like to offer an observation. There were some great frocks at the Golden Globes, but also a lot of hot messes, and in the meantime, the look that really stole our hearts was the Altuzarra suit worn by Evan Rachel Wood. As Wood commented to reporters that night, she wasn’t protesting dresses, per se, but merely taking a stand against the expectation that a woman attending a glamorous event hasto wear one.
By extension, Wood was taking a stand for the idea that femininity comes in many forms, Golden Globe–nominated actresses are artists, not contestants at the Miss Universe pageant, and in the 21st century in the United States of America, women can look, do, think, and behave however they goddamn please. To which, we say: Hear, hear! And so, with celebrity stylists furiously calling in Oscar looks as we speak, might we gently suggest they steer their clients in the direction of snazzy formal trousers and elegant jumpsuits? Not only would that breathe some new life into red carpet style, but it would be a great—and necessary—show of force.
10. New hangouts: Beekman Hotel, Yves, a new Paul’s at old Sway location, what else?
Let’s face it: For the past few years, New York Fashion Week has been a dead letter as far as nightlife is concerned. The scene has been lacking a clubhouse, that one place where a critical mass of showgoers can congregate to shake off the day’s stress. At long last, though, there are new contenders for that role. The recently opened Beekman Hotel, near City Hall, is the likeliest of the bunch: Expect to see plenty of familiar faces downing nightcaps in the hotel’s inviting first-floor lounge, and start reserving now for dinner bookings at its restaurant Augustine, the latest addition to Keith McNally’s empire of high-class bistros.
If a table at Augustine isn’t available, however, there are a couple other good bets for fashionable eats. Yves, on North Moore Street in Tribeca, is the new restaurant from Akiva Elstein and Matthew Abramcyk, of Smith & Mills and Navy fame, and it boasts top-notch cocktails and generous portions of that all-important Fashion Week food, the French fry. And former El Rey chef Gerardo Gonzalez has decamped to Lalo, housed in the space on Bayard Street in Chinatown formerly occupied by the dearly departed karaoke bar Winnie’s. There’s no singing on the Lalo menu, alas, but if you’re looking to blow off some steam, search no further than Paul’s Casablanca, Paul Sevigny’s new club in the West Soho venue once known (and beloved) as Sway. The current political climate calls for some hedonism—so get on your dancing shoes and plan to stay out late.
11. If all else fails, try crystals.
So, maybe dancing isn’t your thing. Perhaps there’s another way to de-stress during Fashion Week—by taking a cue from the Angelenos and experimenting with some crystal healing. Lauren Spencer King is a Los Angeles–based artist who also teaches meditation workshops that incorporate crystals and other kinds of minerals, and she has several recommendations for stones that she says will tamp down anxiety and rev up vitality. Like other possible but unprovable wellness cures, this one falls into the category “Eh, why not?” Worst-case scenario, you’ve got a few pretty stones jiggling around in your pocket. Here are King’s suggestions:
Pyrite: “I call this the ‘superwoman’ stone,” King says, “because it gives you energy and boosts confidence. If you’re finding yourself in a lot of situations where you feel like people are going to be looking at you, or where you’ve got to bring your A game, pyrite is ideal.”
Purple fluorite: “This one is very centering. If you’ve got a lot of stuff coming at you, holding a piece of purple fluorite will calm your mind, and give you that sense of serenity you have when you’ve just come out of the spa.”
Black tourmaline: According to King, this is the go-to stone if you’re due to be surrounded by negative energy. “If there are a lot of stressed-out people around, you’re picking up on that,” she says, “and black tourmaline can translate that negative energy into positive energy. It’s like it creates a zone of protection.”
Danburite: “This stone makes your inner light shine out,” according to King, “and it’s great to have around when you’re going to sleep, because it will give you sweet dreams.” Also, and perhaps most importantly given this season’s au courant color, Danburite is a lovely shade of pink.
12. Is fashion frightening? (Filmmakers seem to think so.)
Quick question. Is there something inherently terrifying about the fashion industry? We ask, because some kind of subliminal link has emerged between horror flicks and the fashion scene. Remember The Neon Demon, starring Elle Fanning as an up-and-coming model who is—literally—devoured by the competition? Well, that opus is being followed on March 10 by the release of Olivier Assayas’s super-creepy Personal Shopper, wherein Kristen Stewart plays a stylist who communicates with the dead. The movie got booed at Cannes, but we’re still putting tickets on hold for day-one screenings, because, you know, K.Stew. Riding around on a motorcycle. Moping. Hating on her fashion job and talking to the deceased. It’s a must-see.
But to get back to the horror thing, that subliminal link goes both ways. Former Imitation of Christ designer Tara Subkoff’s first film was #Horror. Rodarte sisters Laura and Kate Mulleavy are making their cinematic debut later this year with Woodshock, starring Kirsten Dunst as a woman on a very, very, very bad drug trip. And though Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals was not, technically, a horror film, it was pretty darn horrifying. What gives? Why the bad vibes? And also, as long as this is zeitgeist-ing, here’s a pitch for a fashion-theme horror film: The Surge: Trying to Get an Uber on a Polar Vortex Night in the Middle of Fashion Week. Agghhh!
13. Is anyone going to wear the Marc Jacobs platform?
Luckily for all of us, it seems New York Fashion Week will be escaping the polar vortex curse this year. The forecast calls for relatively balmy temps, and perhaps a light dusting of snow at some point. Which means, of course, that the street stylers will be extra gung ho about showing off Spring ’17 looks. We’ve decided to institute an Olympics gymnastics–style scoring system, awarding points based on degree of difficulty. Pink earns you nothing; everyone will be wearing pink. Balenciaga legging boots and Christopher Kane Crocs both rate high, but the real show-off move will be tottering around all week in Marc Jacobs’s glittery, multi-buckle, sky-high platforms. Let the games begin.