- The global pandemic has interrupted supply chains and slashed consumer spending, sending the fashion industry into a tailspin. But this fall, Anna Wintour, The Met, and the corporate sponsors of NYFW have promised a renaissance.
- Some designers like Vaquera offered “democratic” standing space, but with few DIY catwalks and over a year without IRL events, the runways and after parties were as desirable and exclusive as ever (ticket packages for the uninvited range from $2,500-$30,000).
- In an era when fashion happens online, in-person events appear wasteful and unnecessarily complex, especially if you aren't desperate for human interaction.
The last time I attended New York Fashion Week, whiffs of a dangerous virus, along with rising awareness of the industry’s toxic impact on the planet, made it seem like the market was on the verge of collapse. Since then, the global pandemic has interrupted supply chains and slashed consumer spending, sending the fashion industry into a tailspin. But this fall, Anna Wintour, The Met, and the corporate sponsors of NYFW have promised a renaissance. Not unlike Joe Biden’s nationalist campaign to “Build Back Better,” the 2021 American-themed Met Gala (dress code: American Independence), was strategically scheduled for the day after NYFW in an effort to bring big business and big designers back to New York, all while showcasing the diversity within the American fashion industry.
On the surface, it worked. The inclusion of undersung designers like Andre Walker in part one of the Met exhibition: “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion'' seemed to promote inclusivity and create space for the rise of up-and-coming designers at NYFW, like the namesake brand of Calvin Klein creative director Willy Chavarria. While the return of Altuzarra to New York after four years of showing in Paris signalled a comeback for the city’s creative industries. Still, the luxury-backed Met Gala and the afterpay-sponsored events at New York Fashion Week are first and foremost corporate endeavors. And while the events bring jobs into the city (this year New York State subsidized three “iconic” venues for the shows), it’s ultimately big businesses and the wealthy who stand to benefit from the events.
But what about the actual shows? Some designers like Vaquera offered “democratic” standing space, but with few DIY catwalks and over a year without IRL events, the runways and after parties were as desirable and exclusive as ever (ticket packages for the uninvited range from $2,500-$30,000). With endless swarms of it-girls sandwiched together outside of overbooked parties and shows, most of the acquaintances and colleagues I ran into throughout the week seemed leery of the extracurricular events, and were even more disappointed by the clothes. Why? My theory is that most fashion people are too inundated with images online to be able to enjoy the collections in person (it's hard to impress anyone these days, on the runway or off). That, combined with post-Covid social anxiety, and the logistical inconvenience of dealing with masks, vax cards, and rising Uber prices has made it so that many people would rather deal with fashion online than IRL, especially when the detail shots on vogue.com are often more insightful than watching models breeze down a runway (they seem to be walking faster than usual this season). Put simply: in an era when fashion happens online, in-person events appear wasteful and unnecessarily complex, especially if you aren't desperate for human interaction.
I still love going to fashion shows, regardless of whether or not I like the collections. But I can’t help but feel like fashion week is becoming an antiquated event, or turning into something different altogether. In an over-the-top display of post-Covid excitement, incessant cheers from friends and fans at runway shows made them feel more like sporting events than sales pitches for luxury clothes. This, along with the trend of musical performances on the runway (Dorian Electra sang at Collina Strada, as did Ian Isiah and Onyx Collective at Maryam Nassir Zadeh), made it seem like New York Fashion Week returned from its hiatus as a vessel for branded entertainment. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. In an industry that relies on creative storytelling for its success, the more entertaining a show is, the better—especially in the age of social media.
On Saturday at Luar, the brainchild of Hood By Air cofounder Raul Lopez, a studio space in Brooklyn was filled with friends, family, and fashion editors to celebrate the designer’s comeback. After a three-year hiatus, Lopez brought grown and sexy corporate glamor to the runway with Mugler-esque tailoring, subtly flared trousers, and custom leather accessories. Compared to the brightly colored Y2K-inspired looks I saw throughout the week, calming shades of brown, camel, and lilac created a contemporary pallet cleanser—reminding show-goers that one doesn’t have to dress outrageously to look hot (though the dominating Tiktok trends would have you think so). The show ended with a screaming audience and a standing ovation (the first I've seen at fashion week), as deadpan models stomped down the runway to the sound of Lil Kim rapping: “money, power, and respect,” on repeat. A win for Luar and the New York fashion scene.
The next day, Telfar staged a conceptual press conference to announce a new duffle bag and the launch of Telfar TV, an Apple TV app that enables the brand’s community network to share content and shop the “Bushwick Birkin” using PR codes that appear during programming. According to Telfar’s creative director Babak Radboy, the platform will enable the brand to “sell bags and clothes, not human beings,” a reference to the data exploitation rampant on social media—and the most sincerely optimistic concept I came across all week. Later that night, Tom Ford closed out NYFW as usual. Only this time bright colors, sequins, and opulent fabrics were punctuated by a golden finale. According to a press release written by Ford himself, these out-there looks offered a much-needed symbol of hope for the fashion industry. But to the average consumer, the garments were just another tacky display of wealth—designer status symbols that were as American as apple pie.
Around the same time as the Tom Ford show, I closed out my fashion week on a makeshift runway in Tribeca’s Cortlandt Alley. For Vaquera, a crowd of young overdressed people, interspersed with familiar editors from Vogue, lined the street to be blasted by floodlights, tinsel, and an unbearably loud 80s-themed soundtrack by Physical Therapy. The highlight of the collection (another ode to New York), was a gown that looked like it was constructed from garbage bags. The dress was a seemingly ironic take on this year’s Met Gala theme, and it worked to remind the audience that we're all just rats in the big city, trying to fulfill our own American dream.