New York Fashion Week Fall 2019 Review – From Sublime to the Ridiculous!

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New York Fashion Week has morphed so noticeably from its inception in 1993 that it is almost unrecognizable to seasoned industry insiders who were there from the start. Just ask Fern Mallis, the woman who created NYFW in the first place. She remarked last September that she had not heard of 99% of the designers whose invites she was receiving. This season, Fern was given a ‘Standing Room” seat assignment at Nihl’s menswear fashion show. The press team was obviously so young and unseasoned; they hadn’t a clue who SHE was.  There was a time way back when, that New York Fashion Week was ruled by big brands; the big gun designers were not only household names, they needed only one name to identify themselves.

Boy have things changed; there is a new generation of talent, many of whom are still unknown to all but plugged in fashion insiders. Names like Sies Marjan, Sandy Liang, Marina Moscone, Brock Collection, Vaquera, Chromat, Dirty Pineapple, Self- Portrait, R-13, Gypsy Sport, and Khaite which was founded in 2017, and instantly became a fashion insider’s go to label owing to Catherine Holstein’s innate ability to reinvent and elevate pragmatic wardrobe basics, often with a military undertone. Catherine staged her first formal runway show inside St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn this season and used the opportunity to present her new line of capacious bags, belts, and great looking boots (I couldn’t help but seeing vestiges of Phoebe Philo).

Marc Jacobs Photo: The Impression

Leading the pack is Eckhuas Latta. This design team which is part of a new generation of designers working at the intersection of fashion and art had what was widely considered to be a breakout collection this season. They may have been the subject of an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art, “Echkaus Latta: Possessed” which ran through last October, but they are not yet known to the masses (although that is sure to change in the future). Fall 2019 was wonderfully unconventional, eccentric, gender bending, and highly inventive; which makes it thoroughly modern and relevant.

Of course, the biggest surprise moment of the week, and a show that had everyone talking, was the debut presentation of Tokyo based costume designer Tomo Koizumi who never even studied fashion design. His 3-D collection of poufy “loofah” like designs was shown in a rainbow of mouthwatering color combinations; something that was seen on other runways but none as dramatic as his. Tomo was fortunate to have Marc Jacobs and super stylist Katie Grand, who discovered him on the internet, as guardian angels. The show was held in the basement of Marc Jacobs’ store on Madison Avenue and 60th street and Pat McGrath did the dramatic makeup. Not a bad way to start and yes, it was sublime.

Michael Kors Photo:

But, forgetting all the new, young blood, you can’t count the ‘big guns’ like Marc Jacobs out. The designer once again put the exclamation mark on the week with an exceptionally well done and ebullient show at the Park Avenue Armory that spoke volumes (literally) about an elegant, couture like respect for the past (with plenty of nods to his hero Yves Saint Laurent) but at the same time, was far more controlled, and pared down than in the past. The models were given a completely natural look courtesy Pat McGrath and the only accessories other than the footwear were Stephen Jones’ small caps (some with feathers) and the ankle socks and glittery hose. This should make the hosiery market happy.

This was a decidedly dressed up collection of daywear and eveningwear and Marc has clearly moved on from his beloved Grunge; there was nary a flat, Doc Marten boot in sight, though vestiges were found on other runways this past week. Instead there were high heeled boots (some laced up), classic pumps and sandals, almost all shown with the aforementioned hosiery. There were fabulous oversized woolen coats and sweeping capes, face framing high ruffled collars (a huge trend this week), wide legged trouser pants (some were part of natty suits), shredded tulle dresses, and an explosion of feathers, many of which are destined for the Red Carpet. The ageless Christy Turlington in that ‘Black Swan’ worthy black feathered gown? Sublime!

Michael Kors Photo:

And then there was Michael, who has expanded his empire, renamed it Capri Holdings (the vacation island of Capri is his favorite place in the world which should tell you something). He is still going strong, happy and smiling, and he wants everyone to do this same (and dance!). His upbeat, crowd pleasing show, held at 10 a.m. at Cipriani Wall Street (a venue more synonymous with black tie evening soirees) on the last day of NYFW could have been called “The Last Days of Disco”.

It was an homage to his days at Studio 54 in the 70’s and a real mash up; it literally had everything AND the kitchen sink (sort of like looking back at Michael’s greatest hits all in one show). It was an over the top hodgepodge, accessorized to the hilt, and there was so much going on (maribou, fringe, feathers, metallics, snakeskin, patchwork leather, natty menswear fabrics, sleeping bag coats); you did not know where to look. Ridiculously flashy, down to the Barry Manilow finale. Yup, but it worked.

Ralph Lauren 
Photo: Landon Nordeman for The New York Times

Ralph, the elder statesman who celebrated his 50th anniversary in September, continues to create the sort of classic, refined, luxurious American sportswear that appeals to many women. He transformed the main floor of his magnificent Beaux-Arts mansion at 888 Madison Avenue into Ralph’s Café where guests enjoyed coffee and pastry while taking in his spring 2019 collection. It was an elegant study in black, white, and gold (lots of gold!) and an emphasis on tailoring, military and nautical touches, and languid dresses. Actually, it was so ridiculously refined and so perfect in that every hair in place Upper East Side sort of way, I actually wished it was a little more disheveled and messed up lol.

Photo: The Impression

Ralph’s civilized, rarified world could not be more diametrically opposed to that of Telfar Clemens. Telfar’s gritty and chaotic “Country” themed fashion show cum concert was held at Irving Plaza (which was turned into a mosh pit). Models did not walk a runway but literally fell into the jam packed audience and crowd surfed. Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Or is the other way around? I guess that’s all subjective lol. In any case, this dichotomy perfect illustrates the yin yang of fashion. Right now, there is a palpable push and pull between the young and the old, the old and the new, the conventional and unconventional, the traditional and untraditional (you can’t get more untraditional than Telfar, Chromat or Gypsy Sport for that matter).

There has been a lot of talk about the demise of NYFW, especially after Thom Browne decamped to Paris a few seasons ago. Raf Simons’ departure from Calvin Klein at the end of last year did not help, nor the fact that Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss was a no show this season, or that Rodarte held their terrific show on the West Coast. But there were still worthy collections, high moments, and interesting things happening on the runways and presentations. There may be many changes afoot with regards to NYFW but what has definitely not changed is that it is a mixed bag with different points of view and approaches; a week filled with ups and downs. Of course, that is all subjective, no?

Proenza Schouler
Photo: The Impression

Almost everything at The Row fits the bill in my opinion but this season that would specifically be their focus on the waist. As the late L’Wren Scott once observed. “Men understand it as long as it has a waist”.

In a season of stellar outerwear, the graphic ivory and black trench at Proenza Schouler stood out. It’s a keeper!

I can’t help but get that warm and fuzzy feeling from Vera Wang’s charcoal gray faux fur coat that fully reverses to a lining of enormous silver paillettes.

I was similarly taken by Tom Ford’s luscious faux furs (coats and hats) which were shown in unexpected colors like pale lilac. And the designer’s velvet strong shouldered jackets, turtlenecks, and satin trousers in luscious orchid like colors (red, pink, purple) float my boat.

I love the way Brock Collections’ lace up boots in floral brocade and nubby tweed matched the ensembles they were shown with.

Jeremy Scott’s collection of bold black and white designs (in collaboration with artist Aleksandra Mir), was inspired by the never ending tabloid news. His clever solution of how to deal with the horrors and harsh reality of tabloid news? Instead of reading about it, wear it!

Greta Constantine’s long sleeved silver sequined bodysuit layered beneath a raffia gown is definitely not for everyone. Designers Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong were inspired by Dubai this season thus everything was voluminous, covered up, modest, and uber glamorous.

I loved the inventive way Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta transformed beaded pieces (most commonly found as car and taxi seat covers) into something almost couture like. It was a brilliant artisanal touch.

Their collaboration with Uggs was similarly brilliant. The design duo worked together with Uggs on a collection of footwear (which includes an interesting hybrid of a court pump and a mule), and two cozy coats. They managed to take something that was once considered to be the ultimate faux pas (Uggs) and transform it into something quite chic. Who are you calling “Ugg”ly now?

Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Or in this case, the other way around!

Click here for our New York Fashion Week Spring/Summer & Fall/Winter Reports going back to 2003 written by Marilyn Kirschner and others by Bernadine Morris.

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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