New York Fashion Week Spring 2019 Ready-to-Wear: Rules Don’t Apply!

Among the many themes and subthemes that kept reappearing during NYFW which ended last Wednesday evening, were strong vibrant color and color blocks, head to toe white, yellow, lace and lingerie touches, fringe, pleats, luxe boho, florals, stripes, choir robe gowns, denim, tailoring, shirt dressing, pantsuits, tie-dye, romanticism, cross-cultural references, prairie looks, trench coats, caftans, pointy-toed pumps, crochet, photo prints, cargo pockets, face art, shifts, volume, oversized, etc. But just listing trends robotically is boring and irrelevant, and anyway, when are these items above ever ‘out’ of style? What is good is good period. It is how things are worn, mixed, and put together that makes it modern and relevant. It’s all about variety, options, and personal preference.

Of course, one significant trend of the week was the plethora of showings by designers who are all but unknown (right now) except to a handful of fashion insiders. Industry veteran Fern Mallis who created NYFW admitted that there were “a thousand names on the calendar” she had never heard of, and when she got an invitation, she often wondered who it was. One such newbie was undoubtedly Jerry Lorenzo’s label Fear of God which focuses on unisex classic American workwear seen through the lens of fashion. You better believe it’s darn scary to start a fashion business these days as the name implies.

 Pyer Moss

Another trend is that Brooklyn has officially replaced Soho and Tribeca as the cool, hip, happening place to show. But not everyone who showed in Brooklyn found such a symbolic venue as Kirby Jean-Raymond. He launched Pyer Moss as a menswear line in 2016, and his shows are always loaded with social commentary (specifically, as it applies to race). He presented his women’s spring 2019 line at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Weeksville, Brooklyn. As one of the first free black communities in the United States, founded in 1838 by an African American man named James Weeks, the location was loaded with rich history and symbolism, and was a perfect setting for Kirby’s beautiful collection presented on men, women, and little children (symbolizing the importance of family). One highlight was the designs featuring the artwork of Derrick Adams, who was commissioned by Kirby to create 10 paintings specifically for the collection.

But perhaps the most important trend, when it comes to fashion and beauty, is that anything and everything goes. There are no rules and no hard and fast dress codes with regards to seasons, occupations, occasions, and especially as it applies to genders, and that was the message that rang loud and clear throughout the week. Remember when you could tell the boys from the girls because they were the ones with the short hair, wearing blue, and the girl was wearing pink and had the long hair? Neither can I!

Women routinely wear men’s suiting, oxfords, and brogues, and men are increasingly donning florals, ruffles, dresses, sequins, heels, carrying handbags and wearing their hair long. In fact, they have become the peacocks. Women are shopping in menswear departments, and men are buying in women’s departments. There were so much wardrobe sharing and so many designs that were gender-bending and gender neutral, that quite frankly, I often did not know if I was looking at a man or a woman. Was it a woman wearing a man’s design, or a man wearing a woman’s design or both? It’s increasingly about his, hers, theirs.

Ralph Lauren

This was exemplified by Ralph Lauren’s Golden Anniversary Collection for fall 2018. It was a real highlight of the week, and much of the fashion, shown on 100 or so models (toddlers, seniors and everything in between) was almost entirely interchangeable. As usual, Ralph once again proved that he is a master of the mix, which is what makes it all modern and relevant.

 Matthew Adams Dolan

Among the labels that showed their women’s line on both sexes was Matthew Adams Dolan who launched in 2017. He was one of the many designers showing last week, who could be considered as under the radar although, given his talent, this is likely to change. His show was a study in functional, practical, unfussy American sportswear, played out in monotone shades of cobalt blue, magenta, fluorescent yellow, purple and green and it was terrific. He said he was inspired by the work of American fashion icon Claire McCardell who is credited with creating American sportswear, though I also saw vestiges of another American designing icon, Bonnie Cashin, who also revolutionized sportswear.

Photo by The New York Times

Monse’s Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia said that menswear retailers have already been buying pieces for customers and that their male friends have been wearing their designs (specifically their twisted takes on men’s shirting, which were inspired by menswear in the first place). So, this season, they actually added a dozen items (oversize knitwear with a nautical bent) that were explicitly made as unisex items. Tibi’s Amy Smilovic said that the men in her office routinely wear her neutral looking tailored clothing and knitwear and while she did not launch menswear this season, there were a handful of guys walking in her runway.

Eckhaus Latta
Photo by Krista Schleuter for The New York Times

The unconventional, versatile sportswear of Eckhaus Latta, designed by Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta has been interchangeable between the sexes from the beginning, particularly their in-demand jeans. Because of the way their design studio is set up in their L.A. store, they say they can literally hear when men are trying on women’s clothes and vice versa, which gives them a pretty good idea of what is actually working. Well, something is indeed working for the design duo who are part of a new generation of designers operating at the intersection of fashion and contemporary art. They are the subject of an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art, “Eckhaus Latta: Possessed” which runs through October 8, 2018.

Calvin Klein
Photo by The New York Times

At Calvin Klein, Raf Simons put his scuba suits and scuba suit tops (worn with tanks splashed with the “Jaws” promo picture and used as aprons/cummerbunds that wrapped the hips), oversized blazers, chunky fisherman knits, and graduation caps (inspired by “The Graduate”) on both the men and women. I’ll be honest with you, while I’m a huge fan of Raf’s work which is always interesting and loaded with references and symbolism, this was not one of my most favorite of his collections. His fixation on the movie “Jaws,” and water was not only a bit strange but unfortunately ill-timed. Who wants to see more water right now? Not only has it been a rainy summer, and a rainy fashion week, but just days after the show, Hurricane Florence hit, and as I am writing this, more than 800,000 souls have been without power, and at least 15 deaths have been reported. And as for sharks, I’ve feared them since the movie “Jaws,” and in a case of life imitating art, on Saturday, there was a report of the first fatal shark attack off the coast of Cape Cod in more than 80 years. Too close for comfort from my point of view.

Tom Ford
Photo: The New York Times

Tom Ford played masculine against feminine pairing men’s jackets in silk satin, gutsy zip front biker jackets and blousons made of faux crocodile and leopard printed pony, and oversized trenches, with more delicate lace trimmed slip tops and knee-length skirts with lace slips peeking out from beneath. But there was nothing at all gender neutral about his shoe of choice, a fierce pointy-toed stiletto. For those who wondered whether this signaled the death of comfortable, practical, footwear, try running through an airport in those shoes! And judging from the show attendees, many whom did not teeter around on stilettos but rather, stuck to somewhat comfortable shoes (including sneakers and trainers), they agree that one does not negate the other. It’s all about options and choices and in fact, on most other runways thus far there have been plenty of comfortable options including sneakers, espadrilles, pancake flats, kitten and block heels, flatforms and platforms, and a variety of boots.

There were plenty of designs that were unmistakably feminine rather than gender fluid. Oscar de la Renta’s Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia were inspired by past holidays in Morocco and a future sojourn to India (and Spain of course) among other destinations, but they wisely did not take their references so literally as to make the clothes look costumey. There were some absolutely lovely pieces with an emphasis of course, on evening wear. And while it looked elegant, it had a light, easy, vacation vibe.

Photo by The New York Times

But in some cases, the femininity was quite exaggerated as it was at Rodarte which could not have been more obviously feminine and romantic. It was Kate and Laura Mulleavy’s return to New York after showing in Paris the last two seasons. The 46 piece collection, a marvel of workmanship and construction, belies a commitment to their craft. It was filled with color (only 3 outfits were black) and comprised of full-skirted tulle gowns, ruffles, lace, and satin with a smattering of leather, shown like nowhere else. Los Angeles based floral artist Joseph Free created headpieces made of garlands of real roses that the models wore in their hair. The prettiness was offset by showing in the historic Marble Cemetery on the Lower East Side with a constant drizzle toning things down a bit and adding a supernatural glow.

Marc Jacobs
Photo by The New York Times

There were frills galore at Marc Jacobs’ over the top, extremely frothy, cotton candy-hued collection. Like last season, it harked back to the 80’s, was couture like, and notable for its large proportions, giant Pierrot collars, oversized rosettes, and bows. Marc was once again inspired by his personal design heroes Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. There might have been a smattering of tailored, broad-shouldered jackets, and one fabulous trench, but all in all, the clothes were significantly ultra femme and were made for a great photo op, and for special occasions. If you’re looking for something great to throw on to walk your dog, get a carton of milk, or for all other real-life situations for that matter, you might want to look elsewhere, like Proenza Schouler.

Proenza Schouler
Photo: by The Impression

It was the first show back in New York for Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough after presenting in Paris for two seasons. Inspired by the success of their lower priced sporty line, Proenza Schouler PSWL, the design team was intent on focusing on “real” clothes. What it was lacking in artsy-craftsy (which had become a signature), the duo made up with their urbane, gusty, sportswear. Their pragmatism, no-nonsense approach, mannish jackets, layering, interesting proportions, and a controlled volume called to mind Phoebe Philo when she was at Celine. Coincidentally, German artist Iza Genzken, who created the mannequin installation at the entrance of the show, had a MoMA exhibition five years ago that was sponsored by Celine.

At the heart of the collection were ‘humble’ workwear fabrics like cotton twill (there were some pretty wonderful belted trench coats) and denim, the latter of which was offered up in several appealing incarnations. It was shown dark, bleached out, acid washed, and tie-dyed and included slope shouldered blazers, A-line skirts, halter neck drop-waist dresses, and enormous bags slung over the shoulder. It was all about clothes that celebrated every day rather than special occasions. Of course, I happen to think every day I’m alive is a special occasion lol!

Gabriela Hearst

Clothes for real life; quietly luxurious, exquisitely fabricated wardrobe basics, are the definition of modern, as summed up by Gabriela Hearst.

The Row

Luxurious, timeless wardrobe basics are also at the heart of The Row, whose purity of design never gets old.

Talking about getting old, every season, one color or another is touted as the ‘new’ black. This time it’s yellow, the symbol of sunny, cheery optimism and part of the “C’mon, Get Happy” movement proposed by designers like Michele Smith of Milly, Prabal Gurung, Bandon Maxwell, and Michael Kors all of whom presented ultra-colorful collections. Michael Kors seems to be eternally cheerful (what does the billionaire designer have to fret about? lol). Of course, he appeared at the show’s finale dressed all in black but proudly anointed himself to be ‘fashion’s Xanax.’

Discount Universe

But isn’t it clichéd and oversimplifying things by thinking that just by wearing bright, happy colors and prints you will instantly be happy? Sure, strong color can change one’s mood, but it’s got to be done well for it to be good. I smile whenever I see my 1960’s apple green canvas Bonnie Cashin coat peeking out of my closet. And I will admit that Discount Universe ’s unique and colorful ‘Losing my Mind’ mix leather coat might just make me lose my mind. But I am similarly swept off my feet when I find those perfect pieces in black. And my idea of fashion heaven can also be Gabriela Hearst’s midnight above blue silk and wool pantsuit, or The Row’s pristine floor length white tweed coat for that matter.

FYI, Discount Universe is an Australian company who made their NYFW debut. And no, they are not Australia’s answer to Zara, but an irreverent feminist label designed by Cami James and Nadia Napreychikov with more than 286,000 Instagram followers. Their strikingly colorful, shiny, sparkly collection, accessorized with plush red hotel slippers embroidered in gold with the word, ‘Bitch’ included sequined pieces with provocative feminist slogans like ‘Not for sale,’ ‘Not your baby,’ and some cheekily objectifying the female form. There was one so sexually explicit I will refrain from sharing.

Maybe you stumbled across items this past week that “floats your boat”. If not, there’s always London, Milan, and Paris. And there’s still your own closet. Sometimes the biggest takeaway from the collections, more than the clothes themselves, is a styling trick (a color combination, a proportion, an accessory) that you can apply to what you already have, that changes it all and makes it sing.

Fashion is a powerful tool for self-expression. In the best case scenario, it can be transformative, change one’s mood and the way one feels. But it’s hardly about a one size fits all proposition. Designers can only propose. They give us the raw materials, but the fun part is ruthlessly editing, selecting what works best and personalizing it to make your own. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Touche!

– Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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