Fashion / Style

New York Fashion Week Attempts a Flashy Comeback — and Christian Siriano Leads the Way to the Delight of Major Front Row Celebs

Live From New York

BY // 09.08.21

NEW YORK — As New York Fashion Week gears up for a post-pandemic future with five days of live, in-person, by-invitation-only runway shows mixed with digital livestreams and look books, everything — and nothing — has changed.

To an observer from another planet with no knowledge of COVID and its aftermath, the showcase of American fashion looks like it always did, with a jammed calendar of shows  — 91 in all.

The roster includes such brand-name American designers as Brandon Maxwell, Tory Burch, Tom Ford, Michael Kors, Jason Wu, Carolina Herrera, Naeem Khan and Veronica Beard. Along with newcomers Markarian, the little-known fashion label that shot to fame when designer Alexandra O’Neill dressed first lady Jill Biden for the inauguration, and Sergio Hudson, who designed the much-talked about pantsuit that former first lady Michelle Obama wore on inauguration day.

The New York state of mind is reflected in the choice of flashy venues for fashion shows all across the city. Markarian is taking over the famed Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller for its first New York Fashion Week runway show while designer LaQuan Smith has snared the Empire State Building to stage the first ever runway show in the famed landmark. Tory Burch is closing off a street near her new SoHo store for a lavish outdoor runway show.

Lil’ Kim and Kristen Chenoweth at Christian Siriano runway show
Lil’ Kim, left, and Kristin Chenoweth were on the front row at the Christian Siriano runway show. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Christian Siriano)

To add a little extra spice, European brands Moschino and Peter Dundas are debuting their latest collections in New York instead of Milan or Paris, joining American designers Joseph Altuzarra and Thom Browne, who are returning to New York after showing collections in Paris in previous seasons before COVID halted live shows early last year.

The buzzy Met Gala will close out the week, to coincide with the opening of  part one of an exhibition on American fashion at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute. The gala’s youthful co-chairs include Timothée Chalamet, Billie Eilish, Amanda Gorman and tennis star Naomi Osaka.

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Popular designer Christian Siriano got a jump on the action with a full-scale runway show Tuesday — one day before New York Fashion Week officially began. Before a pared-down audience of 300 — including an eclectic front row which included Katie Holmes, Busy Phillips, Kristen Chenoweth, Alicia Silverstone, Lil’ Kim and Aquaria, the season 10 winner of Ru Paul’s Drag Race — Siriano sent out a body-positive collection of wildly colorful creations in the ornate surroundings of Gotham Hall.

“The old photographs of my grandmother on holiday in Positano wearing her apricot orange dress inspired an Italian coastal collection filled with color and joy,” Siriano explains in his program notes.

The over-the-top vacation looks range from a lime green satin dress with matching hat to fitted print suits, orange dresses with slits in strategic places, and  flowing tulle skirts with fitted bra tops. Siriano also featured evening wear in his signature sculpted shapes and voluminous styles.

Siriano’s World

Models of various shapes and sizes roamed the runway — Siriano has long championed non-traditional models and for this collection curvy model Precious Lee opened and closed the show — while Welsh singer Marina Diamandis performed a number of life-affirming songs, asserting “You don’t have to be like everybody else,” which matched the mood of the evening.

Christian Siriano spring summer 2022 collection at New York Fashion Week
Christian Siriano lime green gown with voluminous shape. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Christian Siriano)

Behind all the flashy glamour and business-as-usual proceedings, however, the specter of COVID hangs over fashion week. Guests must offer proof of vaccination to enter a show and wear a mask throughout the proceedings. A number of major designers, including Oscar de la Renta, Badgley Mischka and Tadashi Shoji, are continuing to debut their collections in a virtual format.

Even before COVID, an increasing number of designers felt New York Fashion Week was outdated and were looking to other avenues to showcase their collections. While this fashion week appears to have been injected with a burst of energy as many designers are showing live for the first time in 18 months, questions remain about the future of the fashion format.

COVID has exacerbated the decline of brick and mortar stores and highlighted the weaknesses in a system where designs aren’t available to the consumer until months after they are shown in New York. And many wonder how the pandemic has permanently influenced the way we dress and whether designers have failed to pick up on the changes.

Those questions will continue to hover over the fashion world. But for now, New York Fashion Week and its counterparts in London, Milan and Paris are holding their own, particularly as a place to showcase emerging designers.

Dallas fashion designer Hanh Merriman is utilizing New York Fashion Week as the opportunity to debut her new ready-to-wear collection.  The former author of the popular blog Life in Travel has incorporated her experiences traveling the world to design a collection of dresses, tops, pants and outerwear, cut in luxury fabrics with a nod to her Vietnamese culture.

HANH Collection signals a new chapter,” Merriman says in a statement. “These designs are the reflection of my many years as a lover, observer and interpreter of fashion. I’ve always been fascinated by women’s relationship with fashion — what we want to wear and why.

“And how that answer changes over time. This collection is an answer for women in this moment and moving forward.”

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