New York Fashion Week Fall 2018: In Living Color

NYFW was as decentralized as ever. But while the shows may have been scattered, they were also more scaled down with many designers (Victoria Beckham, Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang among them) opting for fewer guests in order to make it more intimate, and easier to focus on the clothes. They ran concurrently with the continual barrage of sexual misconduct claims, the ongoing Russian investigation and political discord within our government, the human tragedy surrounding the recent senseless school shooting in Florida, and the human drama unfolding at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Seeing all those amazingly talented female athletes was inspirational, and could not have been better timed since women, and female empowerment, are being celebrated. This was best exemplified by the American alpine skier and Olympic gold and silver medalist, Mikaela Shiffrin, whose motto is “A.B.T.T. B” (“Always Be Faster Than the Boys”).  No wonder NYFW seemed to have been overshadowed at times. But while there were forgettable clothes and collections, there were certainly moments that stood out.

Raf Simons’ Collection for Calvin Klein was simply put, like nothing else that was shown  — it’s impossible to even categorize it. It was all about the Belgian born designer’s continual experimentation with American symbolism, his view of American society and democracy, staged as a post-apocalyptic barnyard at the former American Stock Exchange. It was inventive, rule breaking, surprising, and out of the ordinary; exactly what you want from great fashion! With Thom Browne now decamping to Paris and no longer on the New York Fashion Week schedule, we really needed this moment. Bill Cunningham once said, “Fashion is the armor to help get you through the paces of your daily life” and Raf took this a few steps further with clothes as protective layers, seemingly made not just for getting you through the paces of your daily life, but for getting you through any disaster that might come your way (chic Hazmats, anyone?).

Marc Jacobs provided one of the only major fashion moments of the week and he too looked like nobody else this season. Though he did look like his hero, Yves Saint Laurent circa 80’s, but far more exaggerated and over-the-top. Where Calvin Klein was all about Americana, for Marc Jacobs, it was quite couture like and Parisian. It had nothing to do with streetwear/sportswear but rather, a sophisticated, dressed up approach to sportswear. The attention to detail, choice of fabrics and accessories, and the way it was all put together was meticulous. In a season of color and stellar coats, he had some of the best. Was it commercial? No, this was unapologetic runway fashion, but not everything was impossibly voluminous and oversized, and there were some wearable pieces. More importantly, it was inspirational; about the joy of fashion, the joy of dressing and if nothing else, it could serve as a catalyst to help one rethink one’s wardrobe and the beauty of experimenting with different proportions. What’s wrong with enjoying some of your more outsized pieces now and again? It’s another option.

The Row was, as always, sculptural and tailored; luxurious purity personified. Each season, the Olsen twins deliver a line-up of pieces that could be the foundation of an ideal timeless wardrobe; the backbone of a daily uniform (if money were no object).It should also be noted that coats were especially strong here as they have been this season in general. I was not the only one who observed that the monastic, ecclesiastical pieces in black (and black and white) would be ideal for those attending the upcoming Met Gala in celebration of “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Imagination”. Crucifixes optional.

Other Notable Highlights: The dreamy evening wear and moody wintry florals at Oscar de la Renta; Chris Leba for R13’s strong streetwear/sportswear collection combined with an underlying message about protecting the environment; Kerby Jean-Raymond for Pyer Moss’s hip, cool active wear for men and women, his new collaboration with Reebok, and a celebration of the black cowboy’s place in American history.  Derek Lam and Gabriela Hearst’s urban but relaxed elegance: Town & Country personified with a nod to the chic equestrienne spirit (the former with an American slant, the latter, channeling her rich Argentinian heritage).

Coach 1941 by Stuart Vevers’ rough and tumble ‘South Western Gothic’ was appealing (great outerwear); Alexander Wang ’s urban, slick sculpted black leathers were punctuated with edgy silver hardware. And let’s talk about his inspired venue: the former Conde Nast headquarters at 4 Times Square.

I loved the freewheeling spirit and studied nonchalance of Michael Kors and his message that anything goes; all proportions are relevant, all types of shoes work (sneakers, flats, platforms, kitten heels, high heels, ballerinas, sandals, pumps, lugged sole lace up boots, slides, etc.), all patterns can be mixed. It’s all about wearing what you love depending on your mood, your needs, and appropriateness of the occasion. It was meant to look spontaneously put together, not perfect and not planned. If it was just a tad dorky, that was part of the charm, and just a bit uncool? Well, there’s nothing wrong with that either. It was all about Michael’s favorite things.

Looking back at the week, these are some of the things that stood out for me:

1. In Living Color

Sies Marjan

There was a joyful explosion of color on the runways. It’s as though everyone has caught up with brilliant colorist Sander Lak of Sies Marjan whose calling card, since his launch for fall 2016, has been the exceptional way he mixes color. This season, even the lighting in the background of his show brilliantly mirrored the intense ombred palette of the collection.

Narciso Rodriguez

Color can be tricky if it’s not done right, but it was done quite well and in a very sophisticated manner this season (as exemplified by Narciso Rodriguez who just celebrated his 20th anniversary in business). Orange just happened to be one of the stars on the runways and one can say orange is the new black; it works as a neutral and looks great with camel. Fun fact: did you know that orange was Frank Sinatra’s favorite color? ‘Orange’ you glad I told you that?

Millennial pink, which was touted as THE color for spring 2018, was back with a vengeance, whether used alone, mixed with other shades of pink, or contrasted with red or orange. FYI, the upcoming exhibition at the Museum at FIT Curated by Dr. Valerie Steele, director of The Museum at FIT, is Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color . It will explore the changing significance of the color pink over the past three centuries and runs from September 7 – January 5th.

Prabal Gurung

Pink certainly made a statement at Prabal Gurung. In the Nepalese designer’s homeland, pink represents strength and fearlessness, and he wanted to use the hue to empower women and as an antidote to the ‘All Black’ moment at the recent Golden Globes.

Red and pink and every color in the rainbow, was also the story at Milly by Michele Smith, where it made an uplifting, powerful statement about inclusion and positivity. On Monday, February 12, just three days after the designer’s runway show, Michelle Obama’s official portrait was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery (along with that of the former president), and the dress she was wearing was from the Milly 2017 collection. It was made of humble worker’s fabric (couture like but Spartan) and came with a rather accessible price tag. That season, the designer’s collection was meant to evoke “equality, equality in human rights, racial equality, LGBTQ equality”.

But let’s face it, a little bit of color goes a long way. Quite frankly, the more I see color, the more I love black. One thing you can be certain of: the tide will be soon turning and the runways will soon be fading to noir (I can guarantee it). Certainly nothing cleanses the palette quite as effectively as black and white, which never loses its graphic appeal. Thankfully, this timeless combination showed up on many runways this season.

2. The Continued Celebration of Diversity and Inclusion

Eckaus Latta

Models of different sizes, shapes, ages, genders, and ethnicities took the runways, helping to challenge notions about conventional beauty and redefine beauty for the 22nd century. It’s certainly not about an unattainable every-hair-in-place perfection but rather, about embracing and loving one’s flaws and celebrating who you are and what makes you unique, warts and all.

Christian Siriano

Eckhaus Latta, Prabal Gurung, Chromat, Christian Siriano, R13, and Michael Kors were among those designers who were intent on highlighting diversity in their runway shows.

Gypsy Sport

Perhaps the strongest message was to be found on the runway of Rio Uribe’s Gypsy Sport where the message was “wear what you want, forget about societal mores and restraints, and ignore those who seek to body shame”. The star of the show, was a 10 year old self-described drag kid and LBGT activist, named Desmond.

While we’re on the topic of beauty, there’s great news if you hate your hair, are having a bad hair day, or don’t have any hair at all.

At Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs, the models’ hair was almost completely covered thanks to the use of hand knitted baklavas (at the former), and black scarves and chic brimmed black hats by Stephen Jones (at the latter), and they looked amazing!

3. Quilts

Calvin Klein

Raf Simons has long said that art is more important than fashion and his graphic quilted dresses with matching stoles (all illustrative of his ongoing fascination with Americana) could easily hang on the walls of the American Folk Art Museum.

Rosetta Getty’s sequined quilted gown and knitted quilted sweaters could hang right next to them.

4. Relaxed Evening Glamour

Carolina Herrera
Photo: The New York Times  

Why does evening have to mean a traditional ball gown and big jewels? Why not something more relaxed and unexpected? Carolina Herrera’s farewell runway show as a designer before (she will be Global Brand Ambassador and Wes Gordon will take over the design reigns) ended with a parade of colorful ball skirts and contrasting wide belts, paired with her favorite signature piece: a crisp white button down shirt.

Brandon Maxwell

Brandon Maxwell, whose collection specifically focused on relaxed evening glamour, also endorsed crisp white shirts, pairing one with a long narrow embroidered red evening skirt and red cardigan with fur collar), suggested a simple white t shirt as way to downplay a dramatic satin ball skirt, and closed the show with a glittery ball skirt and black hoodie.

5. Leopard

Tom Ford

They say a leopard never changes its spots that that doesn’t mean designers don’t keep trying to change the way leopard looks. This perennial favorite was all over the runways, and while one expects to see traditional leopard coats, jackets, and pocketbooks, what I loved most were the unexpected uses. Tom Ford collaged leopard and snakeskin to fashion a great coat and he recolored leopard (neon green, yellow, orange, red), sometimes beading it, to fit into his 80’s mashup.

Calvin Klein

Raf Simons paired leopard baklavas with graphic oversized menswear patterned coats and different colored plaid skirt suits.


R13’s wonderfully throwaway, sporty takes included a leopard hooded anorak coat with an enormous matching leopard backpack.

6. The Big Bag Theory

Victoria Beckham

This was a season of superb coats AND supersized bags so how about mixing the two and creating something practical and good looking? Apparently Victoria Beckham, (who will mark her 10 years in business with a fashion show in London next season), figured that if you are going to tote your entire life around in a bag, it might as well look sensational and match your coat.

7. Dressing for the Season

There is something undeniably ‘cool’ and modern about ignoring seasons (you know; bare legs, sandals, sheer wispy chiffon slip dresses in the winter). We may be enjoying ridiculously mild weather (the thermometer reached an all-time monthly high of 78 on Wednesday) but have also suffered through snow and the bitter cold, and I am really into clothes that look geared for those impossibly frigid days. Typically wintry clothes that look warm and toasty; clothes to keep you warm, protected from the elements, and fabulously turned out to boot are very appealing! As I previously mentioned, Calvin Klein’s Raf Simons personified this with his protective armor like layers, as did Marc Jacobs, whose models were literally covered in fabric from head to toe. And at Coach 1941 Stuart Vevers emphasized the season (and the protective nature of his gusty shearlings, leathers, quilted woolens and thick denim pieces) with a moody wintry background that mimicked the deep woods, complete with falling leaves on the ground.

Rosie Assoulin

Of course, without doubt, the warmest coats are puffers and sleeping bag coats which are literally ubiquitous on the streets. And they have never looked better or more appealing. This season, standouts included R13’s version in white lined in red shown over a bodysuit and leggings photo printed with trees and branches and Rosie Assoulin’s colorful, painterly, art inspired iterations.

Norma Kamali

Perhaps the most all enveloping and coziest of all is Norma Kamali’s floor sweeping version in pink. Of course, the designer initially put sleeping bags coats on the map.

By the way, not everything that happened during NYFW was a fashion show and as it turns out, one of the best events during that week was the “Norma Kamali Retrospective” at What Goes Around Comes Around, in commemoration of the designer’s half-century in business featuring “collectible art” ranging in price between $750 and $7500.

The iconic award winning designer, who looks decades younger than her 72 years, is the epitome of modern. I love that she is not at all nostalgic, and is always on to the next thing. She wisely resists the urge to wear anything remotely stuck in a time warp. She instead always shows up in chic tailored, timeless, no nonsense pieces that really suit her. Best of all, she is generous with her time and talent. Remarkable!

– 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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