The great American fashion reset

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It’s no surprise that many in the fashion industry – designers and the press in particular – are calling for the return of real, live, physical fashion shows. The genre with benches, catwalks, models, clothes; appointments, dinners, interviews; unvarnished gossip and commentary from the front rows.

Because without all that, New York Fashion Week is pretty boring. At least from where I was sitting, across the Atlantic, huddled in front of a 13-inch PC on a cluttered kitchen table in South London. Sure, it was nice to watch shows — or whatever each creator had released in place of a show — from the comfort of sweatpants. It was also effective. A day of commuting between shows could be condensed into just over an hour, washed down with a glass of wine.

Pre-recorded videos were what was mainly on offer this New York Fashion Week, where most of the big names (Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren) were absent and 95% of the collections were shown online only because of Covid-19. Budgets were obviously tight. Even Tom Ford decided against hosting his usual dinner show, both because of the pandemic and also because he was forced to lay off staff during the crisis.

Tom Ford SS21

Tom Ford SS21

“I thought about skipping this season completely,” Ford confessed in the notes accompanying the lookbooks for his Spring/Summer 2021 men’s and women’s collections. clothes or trim a beard. He binge-watched HGTV. Putting together a fashion collection seemed “frivolous” amid a global pandemic and social unrest gripping America, he wrote. “When no one can leave their house, who needs new clothes? . . . I honestly felt that fashion should just go into hibernation for a year.

But Ford, the consummate professional, got away with it. The clothes he’s dreamed up for spring are sexy, glamorous, fun and pretty loud – nothing like the calm, classic and conservative styles that experts have predicted we’ll invest in during the pandemic and its aftermath. 70s working girl dresses, hibiscus print flares and tie-dye caftans are both glamorous and comfortable wear even when stuck at home. Ford describes them as “clothes that make us smile”.

Rodarte SS21

Rodarte SS21

The same mix of glamor and ease can be found at Rodarte. Designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy released their Spring/Summer collection through an escapist lookbook shot in the California hills. Their 1940s silk dresses, rendered in handkerchief prints and wallpaper flowers with pie-crust collars, felt pastoral and intimate. They were accompanied by luxe pyjamas, bathrobes and oversized sweatshirts – not the typical fare of a Rodarte show or lookbook, and a definite nod to the moment.

Injecting a little escapism into a dark time was the purpose many videos and lookbooks of the week. Imitation of Christ returned to the New York program after a seven-year hiatus with a wonderfully uplifting video featuring teenage skaters wearing sequin sweaters, tie-dye tees and ruffled dresses. They were sold on second-hand site The RealReal with proceeds going to Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future. Ulla Johnson held a stunning fashion show, without an audience, on Roosevelt Island. Carolina Herrera and Wes Gordon, the creative director of her line, sat down for a warm face-to-face to exchange anecdotes and points of view on style.

But beneath these luminous surfaces, designers are recalibrating. While fashion executives in Europe are eager to get back to business as usual, with the same number of collections and shows, many US-based designers I spoke with over the week have stressed the need to reduce, produce fewer samples and solve the problem of fashion overproduction.

Imitation of Christ SS21

Imitation of Christ SS21

“It’s a bit of a callback moment,” says Jason Wu, the favorite Taiwanese-Canadian designer of Michelle Obama and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. He was one of the only designers to hold a physical show, opening New York Fashion Week on the sunny rooftop of Spring Studios in lower Manhattan, which he transformed into a verdant jungle in an ode to his home. -self. in Tulum, Mexico. Thirty-six people attended, mostly family and friends, in masks and seated on stools scattered at a government-regulated distance.

Unlike previous seasons, Wu showed clothes from his more casual and less expensive line, which seemed more relevant at the moment, he says. The collection of easy-to-make striped dresses and kaftans for the holidays was smaller than usual. “We just don’t feel responsible if we overproduce,” he says.

Ulla Johnson SS21

Still from Ulla Johnson’s SS21 digital film

With tight budgets and so few people able to attend, why show at all? “I felt like it was very important that New York be represented in the International Fashion Weeks scheme,” he says. “And I was inspired to do a show; I am like many other people and have been working remotely for a very long time. It just seemed like if we could be responsible and we could be safe, it was nice to have that element again.

A smaller audience also prompted Wu to focus more on the digital experience, which this time included four moving cameras instead of one. The result was transformative. “In many ways, it was a digital fashion show,” he says. “We had to think about the video first. Ninety-nine percent of the views came from this.

Jason Wu SS21

Jason Wu SS21

If there was a silver lining to the constraints of New York Fashion Week, it’s the flashes of digital innovation. Although creators have been streaming live for a decade and online audiences far outnumber people in attendance, for most brands the online experience has remained a secondary consideration. And while most of the videos weren’t exactly exciting – some designers seemed to think a scrolling slideshow was a good idea – others showed a real tendency to push the envelope.

Instead of a show, menswear designer and winner of the 2017 LVMH Special Prize, Kozaburo Akasaka, photographed his studio and transformed it into an interactive space. In a similar experience to the satellite view of Google Maps, viewers could click on objects in the studio to learn more about the brand and access a separate exhibition space to examine its Spring/Summer looks on models. It was fun and unexpected.

Khaite SS21

Khaite S221

Khaite’s Cate Holstein has transformed Khaite.com into an interactive lookbook. Which was an attractive way to showcase the collection of pared-back essentials: the leather jackets, sharp-edged blazers and georgette dresses with the ruched bodices and puffed shoulders that are Khaite’s most recognizable. It also sent 150 lookbooks to press, buyers and its top 30 customers, which included fabric swatches and an augmented reality link that allowed users to view the shoes on their phone in 3D.

“I wouldn’t have done this if I hadn’t thought differently because of the pandemic,” says Holstein. She is nevertheless eager to return to the poster “as soon as we can”.

But perhaps the clearest sign of a transformation in American fashion came during the CFDA Awards. A high-powered affair often described as the Oscars of fashion, this year was announced online by Tom Ford, the designer who is also CFDA chairman. Three of the six main recipients – Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss, who received the award for menswear designer of the year; Telfar Clemens, who won the Accessories award; and Christopher John Rogers, named top emerging designer — were black. Few color designers had won the awards before.

The parades will return after the Covid-19 crisis. But in other ways, American fashion is progressing.

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