Fashion / Style

Tom Ford Shows His Human Side — the 5 Biggest Takeaways From New York Fashion Week’s Unconventional Pandemic Edition

More Smiles and More Real Vulnerability

BY // 09.18.20

No crowds. A handful of celebrities. And only occasional bursts of excitement. In normal times, the latest edition of New York Fashion Week, which ended Thursday, would be considered a disappointment.

But in the midst of a pandemic, the biannual fashion extravaganza pulled off a seemingly impossible task, with a smooth-running series of events focusing on a smattering of live shows under strict health conditions and a large number of designer videos — labeled “digital activations” — that showcased the state of American fashion right now.

Perhaps Tom Ford, chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, summed it up best. When he began working on his spring/summer 2021 collection six months ago the United States was in lockdown and he was in a state of despair.

“I had been wearing the same dirty jeans, jeans shirt, tee shirt and trainers for weeks. I had not left the house in months. I was irritated when I had a Zoom meeting because it meant washing my hair and perhaps trimming my beard,” Ford explained in his program notes. “At that time, the thought of designing a collection seemed frivolous when so many important and disturbing things were happening in our world.

“Our stores were all closed and fashion itself just seemed like an extravagance. It was hard to focus, to concentrate, and to be inspired.”

Tom Ford spring 2021 womens wear collection at New York Fashion Week
Tom Ford satin slacks and oversized V-neck sweaters.(Photo courtesy of Tom Ford)

Ford considered skipping the spring/summer 2021 season altogether.

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“After all when no one can go out of their house, who needs new clothes?” Ford mused. “If you can’t go to the office, why do you need a new suit? If there is not a dinner or a party to go to, why would you need a new dress? And heels seemed absurd altogether. I mean why would one walk around their apartment in a new pair of heels or sit and homeschool their kids in a pair of jeweled platforms? I felt that honestly fashion should simply go into hibernation for a year.”

But as the lockdown eased slightly, Ford found he was making more of an effort to get dressed and noticed his friends were too, even if his female pals where choosing a caftan or simple dress with flats while the men selected a clean shirt and pants.

So he got to work and created a vibrant, colorful collection of casual clothing for men and women that, in my opinion, is one of his best efforts in a long time. Ford eschewed a runway show and simply release photos of the collection. But even so, its high energy shines through.

“That is what this collection is for me: the hope of a happier time. Still a somewhat casual moment as it relates to fashion but a time in which we need clothes that make us smile. Clothes that make us feel good,” Ford explained.

While designers who participated in this fashion week worked under adverse conditions, trapped at home without access to mills in Italy that normally provide fabrics and with only virtual ways to communicate with pattern makers, sewers and other workers, they managed to produce a range of interesting, sometimes thought-provoking, looks signaling that in the world of fashion, life, indeed, goes on.

Here are five big Fashion Week takeaways:

Live Shows Mean Buzz, While Videos Challenge

Even though New York Fashion Week has taken a rap in recent years for being increasingly irrelevant in today’s social media world, this edition proved there’s still a place for a live show. The handful of live shows this go-around brought outsized attention and a sense of excitement that a video just can’t match.

Jason Wu opened fashion week with a bang atop a SoHo rooftop filled with jungle-like plants from Lowe’s and a boardwalk over a sandy terrain, in front of only 36 masked spectators. Even so, the show garnered a lot of buzz, particularly after Pose star Indya Moore walked the runway in an long orange dress with eyelet cutouts at the hemline.

Christian Siriano closed fashion week Thursday at his Connecticut home, where he presented an extended collection around his outdoor pool before a masked, socially distant audience of 80 people, including Pose star Billy Porter in a glittery head-to-toe black outfit.

Siriano’s escapist collection ranges from plaid suits with matching hats and face masks to gigantic tulle ball skirts with bustiers and a slinky black jersey gown emblazoned with the word “Vote” all over. Models’ shoes were provided by Sarah Jessica Parker’s collection, since Siriano was not able to import shoes from Italy as he normally does.

Visibly pregnant supermodel Coco Rocha, a close friend of Siriano’s, closed the show in a ruffled red mullet gown and matching wide-brimmed hat. At the end, she jumped into the pool and swam around, emulating a character in the classic 1980s movie, Troop Beverly  Hills, which Siriano said was one of the films he watched during quarantine that inspired the collection.

In between these shows, most designers used their slots on the fashion calendar to show slickly produced videos that either debuted their collections or talked about their brands. The videos varied in quality, length, and subject matter.

Among the most effective were Ulla Johnson, who staged a full-scale fashion show (without an audience) on Roosevelt Island and captured the magic of New York; Maria Moscone , who spoke about the challenges of creating a collection away from her native Italy;  Tanya Taylor, who focused on how easy it is to register to vote, with cameos by Hillary Clinton, Mindy Kaling, and Michelle Kwan; and Christian Cowan, who partnered with Lil Nas X on a unisex ready-to-wear collection benefitting Atlanta’s black queer community.

Houston-born designer Cesar Galindo, who now lives in New York, took part in the most provocative video, dressing stars  from the adult entertainment company Brazzers for a short film directed by Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple. Fashion designers The Blonds and Patricia Fields also took part in the project.

On the Runway: Look Casual

It makes sense than pandemic fashion would focus on casual looks because who is going to get dressed up right now?

Wu, who normally features intricately designed evening gowns and smart day dresses, instead highlighted a casual collection of loose-fitting long dresses, flowing pants with pockets, and colorful print and striped tops. Wu said the collection was inspired by “my home away from home, Tulum,” but it can just as easily be worn around the house during pandemic times.

Badgley Mischka is known for glamour gowns, and designers Mark Badgley and James Mishka did throw in a few showstoppers in the collection, which was filmed outdoors at a New York estate. But the bulk of the collections consisted of silky loungewear and flowing caftans more suited for casual settings.

Badgley Mischka at New York Fashion Week
Badgley Mischka red and pink glamour gown. (Photo courtesy of Badgley Mischka)

Caftans in leopard prints and bright colors were also a centerpiece of Ford’s womenswear collection, which also included pastel satin pants, oversized sweaters, floral dresses and jackets, leopard print pants and zebra print tops.

Ford’s menswear looks were just as eye-catching, with robes, shirts and pants in wild florals, hooded rain slickers in fuchsia and lime green, leopard print sweatpants and buttery leather jackets in a variety of shades.

“The last thing I want to see are serious clothes,” Ford said in a video that accompanied the photos. “I think we need an escape, we want to smile. I know what’s going on in our world right now doesn’t make us want to smile, but I think the customer is going to walk into the store in spring and they’re going to respond to the clothes that make them feel happy, the clothes that make them feel secure.”

Jump To It

Also in evidence on the runway are flashy jumpsuits for men and women. Danish designer Christian Juul Nielsen showcased men’s jumpsuits in gold and teal shades for his new menswear label Aknvas while Alice + Olivia designer Stacey Bendet updated the classic jumpsuit for women in a sleek sunshine yellow version with cutouts at the waist and a green halter alternative with bell bottom pants. Ford also jumped into the mix with an animal print jumpsuit with a plunging neckline.

Flower Power

Long before the pandemic, bright floral patterned clothing has been popular with consumers and designers are hoping that trend continues. A number of designers featured lovely florals for next spring. Marchesa returned to fashion week with smart day dresses and evening gowns in a brushstroke floral pattern, while Tadashi Shoji, Ulla Johnson, Badgley Mischka, Anna Sui, Ford and Thakoon showcased floral dresses in a range of styles from tiny flower patterns to oversized blooms.

Homespun Values

We’re all looking for comfort right now, so it’s not surprising that a number of designers incorporated a homespun feeling into their collections.

Anna Sui even labeled her collection “Heartland” and opened it with a closeup of a fresh-baked cherry pie. Youthful models in flowy apron-inspired pinafore dresses, quilted jackets, embellished sweatshirts and patterned shorts were photographed in front of a dollhouse painted in the colors of the collection. The homespun ensembles were accessorized with crocheted purses, bucket hats and fringe Teva sandals.

Tristan Detwiler, designer of the hip Los Angeles menswear STAN, debuted a line of great-looking jackets, hoodies and coats made from patchwork quilts in a sustainable way.

Veronica Beard designers Veronica Swanson Beard and Veronica Miele Beard said they focused on a nature-inspired theme to create a sense of calm during this period of chaos. They labeled the collection “Wildflowers” and filmed the collection in a New York Hudson Valley field.

The collection includes vintage floral-print wrap dresses and blouses, light-wash denim, classic snap-front chambray shirts with shoulder pads, and nylon half-zip track jackets with retro Chevron color blocking.

“With a shift in perspective, we designed Spring ’21 around the new normal, placing the same emphasis on the little moments as we do for the big,” the designers explained in program notes. “Wildflowers is a collection that takes you from Monday to Sunday, from WFH to wanderlust, with the hope of brighter days ahead.”

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