So to New York Fashion Week, the first event of the pandemic-doused world that may provide at least the inkling of an answer to the questions that have bloomed around fashion since stores first closed their doors and factories shut down.
Will this time of crisis create any real lasting change in an antiquated system? And what will we actually wear?
Judging by the opening days of fashion week, even in its truncated, almost all digital hybrid form - even with shows that were actually just charming conversations (Carolina Herrera, modeling her new quarantine-white hair, chatting with her successor, Wes Gordon) or shows that were satirical takes on home shopping (the Edie Parker Shopping Network by Brett Heyman starring Lisa Rinna using the collection of fruity acrylic handbags to make fun of her own “Real Housewives” history with Ziplocs of pills) - the answer is a qualified yes.
The early news was made not by clothes, but by the winners of the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards, aka, the Oscars of fashion in the United States. Of the four designers of the year, three are Black, for the first time in the awards’ history: Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss, who won for menswear; Telfar Clemens of Telfar, who won for accessories; and Christopher John Rogers, who was named the top emerging designer. (Gabriela Hearst won for womenswear.)
That this happened when the industry has been torn and confronted by its own history of racism can seem too little, too late, especially given that Jean-Raymond, Clemens and Rogers are familiar names in the nominee categories and that other talented Black designers are still waiting for their turn at the table. But it’s a start.
And while the absence of all of the winners from the current fashion week, along with most of the big international names (Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, Oscar de la Renta, Marc Jacobs), may at first seem a sign of disaster, it also opened the door for smaller, independent brands to rise to the fore - both new names and ones that have been, perhaps, too long overlooked.
Hello, Hanako Maeda, whose Adeam collection marries Zen, workwear and multifunctionality with meditation and a certain forward momentum. Nice to see you, Alabama Chanin, and your organic, locally sourced haute homespun not-quite-basics again, splashed as they are with the ghosts of flowers past.
Once under the radar, they are now in the spotlight. And while those left showing aren’t exactly rejecting the whole sweatpants-and-PJs swamp so many of us have been wallowing in, they aren’t embracing it either.
Comfort is officially a core value. But there’s nothing casual about it. Athleisure is getting dressed up.
Think that’s an oxymoron? Think about Rodarte, where Kate and Laura Mulleavy offered up a look book of pastoral fantasy fashion football: rose-festooned, ribbed-hem silk sweatpants and sweatshirts; handkerchief print pajama suits, peignoirs and negligee dresses.
Indeed, PJs have largely ceded space to nighties (it’s a step forward): See Anna Sui’s signature filigree housedresses, best paired with graphic chore jackets, and the Tulum-meets-TriBeCa striped caftans and elastic-waist cotton picnic frocks of Jason Wu’s contemporary line - one of the handful of collections shown live and in socially distanced person this week.
Or think about the sculptural minimalism of Maria Cornejo’s Zero + Maria Cornejo line, with its egg-shaped day dresses, oversize athletic shorts and slouchy-chic jumpsuits. Or the shirred stretch sheaths (the evening equivalent of leggings for the body) and the nubby, enveloping knits of Khaite, whose designer, Catherine Holstein, supplemented her digital presentation with a home ambience kit, including a scented candle, record and fabric swatches for a multisensory DIY dress experience.
The point being to take the hallmarks of the garments that have been our refuge for the past few months, but make them fashion, the better to ease re-entry into the world when (and if) it comes.
Which is why the simultaneous bicoastal guerrilla happenings in New York and Los Angeles engineered by Tara Subkoff for Imitation of Christ, in her second collection after a seven-year fashion hiatus, were so on point.
Filmed on a group of California skater girls doing their thing with gusto in a park while wearing IOC’s trademark upcycled “glamorous activewear” - T-shirts, sports jerseys and jeans spliced with vintage ruffles and tea dresses - the line was created in collaboration with three young designers.
Then the video was projected in New York onto the side of a building at Bowery and Houston as an opera singer serenaded the rare passerby (in Los Angeles the skaters performed live) and the clothes were sold on the RealReal at the same time, with part of the proceeds going to Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future. The presentation took the confusion and longing for meaning of the current moment and made it cloth.
It’s a statement of faith.