The words fashion and aspiration often go hand in hand. Fashion is about constructing a fantasy–creating an outfit, and along with it, a persona that exudes confidence and optimism and joy. This season, designers in New York returned to this fundamental belief, using their collections as a means of escaping the unbearable reality of living through a pandemic.
In a film titled A Fashion Thing, Christian Cowan offers a comedic take on the industry’s aspirational nature. Dropping SNL comedians Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman into the middle of a traditional “fashion film,” Cowan blends the real with the fantasy. A staying-home interpretation of going-out clothing, the collection features an array of glitzy homewear. Like Cowan, most designers took a digital approach to runway this season. Proenza Schouler created a specially crafted website dedicated to their latest collection, while Collina Strada presented a lookbook of gifs showing models morphing into a variety of animal lookalikes. An unexpected exception to the digital calendar, Ulla Johnson staged her biggest show yet at Lincoln Center. The audience-less production represented a glimpse of what Johnson hopes will become our not-too-far-off future. “Who knows, maybe we’ll have our own post–Spanish flu Roaring Twenties moment,” mused Johnson in a Zoom call with Vogue.
With parallels being drawn between the Roaring Twenties and the anticipated post-pandemic revival, designers are injecting glamour into every facet of their collections. Sequins appeared in thirteen collections, from Christian Cowan to Badgley Mischka. Inspired by New York nightlife, Mischka dressed models in embellished gowns, fur coats, and shimmering co-ords for a video shot at the iconic Keens Steakhouse, in tribute to the many shuttered Manhattan restaurants and as a nostalgic reminder of our past social lives. Another impractical but optimistic item highlighted this season is the platform heel. A sharp departure from the slippers most of us have been living in, the sky-high heel appeared at Prabal Gurung, Adeam, and Sukeina.
While the glam revival seems to be upon us, a more practical approach to dressing continues to gain steam. Designing during a pandemic is a balancing act–between comfort and craft, softness and structure, and aesthetic and functionality. Several designers proved their ability to balance their brand’s DNA with the practicality that this cultural moment calls for. The trench coat, a timeless staple, was reimagined this season with new fabrications and details. Jason Wu showcased a black leather fringe trench coat, while Jonathan Simkhai featured a hybrid suede and crochet variation in a versatile bone-white hue. Simkhai also played with the dichotomy between soft and hard by pairing draped knitwear with chunky custom-made hardware.
Fantastical prints at Anna Sui and Zimmermann revealed a key consideration for designers this season: escapism. Star motifs, whimsical silhouettes, and eye-catching accessories, like headbands and printed tights, provide momentary relief from our harsh reality.
Still uncertain about the post-pandemic future, designers in New York took this season as an opportunity to dream of a better one–bringing a sense of exploration and optimism to an industry that has suffered greatly over the past year.
Trench Coat, -7% to LY
Preparing for the weather in Fall/Winter 2021, designers sought to update the rainy day staple in everyone’s closet: the trench coat. From a leather trench on Jason Wu’s runway to billowing sleeves and shoulder details on Gabriela Hearst’s camel coat to Jonathan Simkhai’s monochrome look adorned with feminine, laser cut-outs and Libertine’s block printed coat with embellished sleeves, the elevated trench coat is essential for this season.
Patchwork, +15% to LY
An update to the DIY movement from last year, New York Fashion Week celebrates the craftcore aesthetic with patchwork designs. Both opting for patchwork outerwear, Claudia Li created a geometric, blue and black colorblocked coat with matching bag, while Coach relied on warm camel tones to bring a less structured, less geometric suede coat to life. While Zimmermann used peach and blue pastels to piece together an airy and billowing patchwork dress, Gabriela Hearst contrasted bright colors with a dark navy in her poncho adorned with repeating motifs and patterning.
Sequins, -30% to LY
Designers are looking forward to a time when we can all celebrate again as they bring glamour to the monotonous reality of pandemic living. Full of hot pink, corsetry, and showstopping silhouettes, Prabal Gurung’s collection was a modern interpretation of royal style, while Badgley Mischka’s metallic draping drew inspiration from New York nightlife. With parallels being drawn between the Roaring 20s and the anticipated post-pandemic revival, Naeem Khan presented a collection of shimmering flapper-inspired gowns.
Pleated Skirt, -10% to LY
Designing during a pandemic is a balancing act. Attempting to combine the contrasting aesthetics of comfortable WFH attire and aspirational high fashion, Proenza Schouler and Rosetta Getty kept their collections minimal, focusing on luxury materials and quality craftsmanship. Sukeina’s collection, aptly named “Grace,” was all about finding a balance between the brand’s DNA and the practicality that this cultural moment calls for.
Star Motif, -9% to LY
As we approach the one-year anniversary of COVID-19, designers are finding an escape in the creative process and using clothing as a vehicle for joy and optimism. Fantastical prints at both Anna Sui and Zimmermann provide momentary relief from our harsh reality. Psychedelic prints, bodycon silhouettes, and eye-catching cutouts at Kim Shui consider the inner fantasy life of a party girl, while medieval motifs and dystopian imagery at Tadashi Shoji embody the idea of female strength.
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