Fashion / Style

New York Fashion Week Hangs by a Thread in Revamped Format

A Shrunken Show, Major Shopping Changes and Home Critics Force Designers to Get Creative

BY // 02.15.21

New York Fashion Week is dead, long live New York Fashion Week!

It may be a bit of an exaggeration to declare that the semiannual rollout of the latest in American fashion in America’s fashion capital is finished. But New York Fashion Week sure seems to be hanging by a thread as it faces pandemic restrictions that have made live runway shows a near impossibility, a plethora of social media outlets that allow anyone to become a fashion critic from home, and changing methods of shopping.

And that’s not all bad.

Trying times are forcing designers to think outside the box, with some new ways of doing things. A noticeably shrunken down New York Fashion Week kicked off Sunday in a revamped format that included such off-the-wall digital offerings as a military-style boot camp class led by AARMY  online fitness guru Akin Akman and an electronic music mix with a fashion party vibe (but without the people) as model and DJ Mona Matsuoka spun tunes in a empty room following the NYFW debut of French-Japanese brand Maison Kitsuné.

Acclaimed designer Jason Wu — one of the few to show his collection live before a small audience — turned the setting into a farmers market with thousands of grocery items, fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers, and an old-time Coca Cola machine (Coke was one of the sponsors). Afterwards, the edibles were donated to City Harvest, a New York food bank. Wu said he has been cooking a great deal more during the pandemic and has tried out 150 food recipes for his @MrWuEats food diary on Instagram.

Jason Wu FW21
Jason Wu pleated print dress and dark coat. (Photo courtesy of Jason Wu)

The in-person, socially distant runway show at “Wu’s General Store” showcased the designer’s fall contemporary collection of oversized woven sweaters and skirts, print dresses, tweed pants, tie blouses, coats with artisanal detail and heart pendant jewelry — but, alas, no kitchen aprons.

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However, Wu’s collection featured a red print dress emblazoned with the Coca-C0la logo in several languages and a bow blouse imprinted with the classic Coke bottle. He is also offering a red hoodie with the Coca-Cola logo emblazoned in Chinese as part of a series of limited-edition casual T-shirts, hoodies, and loungewear pieces from five designers (the other four are AARMY, Rodarte, Prabal Gurung, and La Quan Smith) during New York Fashion Week, with a different designer featured each day. (The items are available at NYFW.com).

No Name and Big Name Designers

The shortened five-day fashion week schedule has morphed into a showcase for new brands and up-and-coming designers, although a smattering of name designers, including Tom Ford, Naeem Khan, Rodarte, Badgley Mischka, Veronica Beard, Bibhu Mohapatra and Proenza Schouler will unveil their fall collections in digital presentations.

But it’s not over after that. More designer shows will continue to roll out in the coming months as part of the new American Collections Calendar from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The CFDA has expanded the fashion calendar far outside the confines of New York Fashion Week to publicize designers as they show their collections just about any time that works for them.

“While the CFDA will continue to encourage American designers to show in New York during New York Fashion Week, we recognize the need for some to broaden their global visibility,” CFDA CEO Tom Ford said in a statement. “The events of the past year have only highlighted the need for flexibility within the fashion system.”

Thus, the Carolina Herrera fall collection will be unveiled February 23, while Christian Siriano will wait until February 25 to show his latest collection, and the new Oscar de la Renta collection will debut on March 2. Such stalwarts as Tory Burch, Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren are expected to show their fall collections later in the spring, closer to the time that the clothing will be shipped to stores.

“Fashion is in a really rough place. People are not shopping anymore, there are no events, no parties, there is nothing to buy for necessarily,” Siriano told Women’s Wear Daily. “The biggest thing to figure out is how do we get people excited about clothes again?”

An Accessible Fashion Week

On the positive side, all of the new collections are available for anyone to watch online at the appointed hour or anytime they want. Fashionistas can view most shows on the New York Fashion Week website, the CFCA’s Runway360 website, or on their favorite designer’s website or Instagram page.

Even in its truncated form, there’s still a lot for the fashion faithful to see in the next few days. On Sunday, the lineup also included new collections from Markarian, the fashion label that created Dr. Jill Biden’s sparkling blue inauguration coat and dress, and buzzy fashion brands Imitation of Christ and Monse. Monday is devoted to a full day of menswear collections, dubbed “New York Men’s Day.”

On other days, such noted designers as Gabriella Hearst, Kevan Hall, Rosetta Getty, Tanya Taylor and Erin Beatty, creator of the sustainable line Rentrayage, are returning to NYFW after taking a hiatus or showing overseas last season.

Several new fashion brands are also attracting attention. Among those on this week’s calendar are Maisie Wilen, designed by Maisie Schloss, the first recipient of Kanye West’s fashion incubator grant; No Sesso, a creative collective led by Pierre Davis, who became the first trans woman to show on the official schedule in 2019; and Maison Atia, a faux-fur label by Gilles Mendel’s daughter Chloe Mendel.

Despite its woes, New York Fashion Week still gets people talking about the latest trends, and already observers are seeing the push and pull between comfortable stay-at-home wearables (for now) and the return of special event frocks (for hopefully the not-too-distant future).

Wu emphasized elevated American sportswear, featuring comfy separates that can be worn at home or at the supermarket. Markarian creative director Alexandra O’Neill peppered her brand’s fall collection with homey silk pajamas trimmed in Swarovski crystals, sustainable recycled cashmere knits (one with an attached shawl to throw over your shoulders), and shirtdresses that look like robes, along with a cocktail dress with “firework” crystal embellishments for that rare special occasion outing.

Known for creating party clothes, Tadashi Shoji mixed in medieval motifs for his fall collection and photographed them in a post-apocalyptic setting, so his clients can channel their inner warrior during this time of turmoil. His cocktail dresses and gowns feature metallic colors of burnished bronze and glittering silver, armor-like embroidery, embellished necklines that curl up around the neck, and textured fabrics with structured sleeves and dramatic pleating.

“This season, I wanted to design pieces that inspire a sense of protection, a collection that reflects our strength — a strength so palpable you could rap your knuckles on it, and it would sound like steel. We carry our strength with us. So why not showcase it?” Shoji said. “Make it sexy. Make it sparkle. Celebrate it!”

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