For much of last year, the fashion industry’s most contentious issue was whether to move to a See Now Buy Now model, in which February’s shows would showcase spring fashion, rather than autumn. What innocent days those seem now. By the time this New York fashion week started, there was only one timestamp that mattered. This was Trump’s US, season one.
When the White House is publicly squabbling with Nordstrom on the first day of the catwalk season, there is no escaping that shopping is a political act. In this mini-universe, the powerful front row seats are still occupied by Hillary’s people – Anna Wintour, Sarah Jessica Parker, even Huma Abedin – and this week was an opportunity for this New York to present a different US to the world, which it did.
I liked Prabal Gurung’s T-shirt printed with “NEVERTHELESS SHE PERSISTED”, and the sweaters at Public School with “Make America New York”. Wintour, Diane von Furstenberg and other grandees wore Fashion Stands With Planned Parenthood badges, and Jonathan Simkhai handed out T-shirts printed “FEMINIST AF”.
But hard-hearted though it feels to criticise public displays of well-meaning sentiment, some of the “statements” were frustratingly wan. Slogans such as Christian Siriano’s “People Are People” and the omnipresent white bandanas that symbolise “the common bonds of humankind” are hardly the firepower of a revolution. Compared with the brilliant placards that have been a highlight of the past month, catching the mood of the hour in phrases sharp or silly or hilarious or poignant, these T-shirts seem a little limp. And one glance at the president’s Twitter feed makes it alarmingly clear that, as well as the political and moral battles at hand, there is a clear and urgent need to fight against the dumbing down of the US. From We Shall Overcome to Saturday Night Live, being smart is an important weapon right now.
The thing is, slogan T-shirts are not fashion week’s strong suit. The most interesting collection of the opening days of New York fashion week had a point of view on the US, but it was an abstract one that wouldn’t make for any good placards. This was an intriguing time for Raf Simons to make his Calvin Klein debut , a highly charged moment to interpret what one of the all-time great US brands stands for in 2017. Calvin Klein used to party at Studio 54 with Bianca Jagger, but what makes his a boldface name is that it transcends insider New York to stand for teenage bedrooms and suburban shopping malls. It is both Marky Mark’s US, as well as Andy Warhol’s Manhattan.
That Simons would have the Warhol side of Calvin Klein down was never in doubt – he had already issued an ad campaign with jeans-wearing models posing against contemporary art backdrops – but he made a confident case for the Marky Mark side, too. These were elegant clothes that channelled cheesy Americana.
There was double-denim and red-white-and-blue. There were Elvis shirt pockets, cowboy boots, taxi-yellow, trousers with sporty stripes.
I hadn’t been fully on board with Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown as the first face of the brand – I mean, I love Eleven, obviously, but she’s 12 and these are clothes for adults – but it made more sense in the context of a collection that celebrated the Stranger Things age of US pop culture.
There is a nostalgia for the Spielberg era in all its primary-coloured, skateboards-and-Dunkin’-Donuts glory – the US that Simons grew up watching – which today feels like a powerful and potent image of Americana, a portrait of a country at ease with itself, in contrast with the divided US of today.
Alexander Wang is a designer who knows how to channel his city’s energy into a show in a way few New York labels achieve. (Paris, the more sedate city, is much stronger on experiential catwalk moments than NYC, oddly.) After a couple of quiet seasons, his show in Harlem was an upswing for his brand . Strong tailoring, fabulous high-waisted black leather trousers and on-point styling (the polo neck under the shirt is next winter’s polo neck under slip dress, FYI) was gorgeously staged in a dilapidated theatre.
(Although as the New York editors I shared the subway back downtown with noted, it seemed a miss to stage a show in Harlem and not have more diverse casting than this mostly white line-up.)
Some designers were thinking about this moment in terms of what it means for women, rather than for the US. It is too early in the season to pronounce trends, but an emerging look is towards a fluid, elegant silhouette – a midi skirt, knee-high boots, a lithe hip-length sweater or a statement jacket – which feels womanly in a very grown-up, quietly in-control way. Victoria Beckham encapsulated this perfectly. The power of Beckham’s catwalk is how she makes silhouettes and ideas that can seem callow or abstract elsewhere look warm-blooded, sexy, and modern.
There was a synergy in shape between Beckham and Diane von Furstenberg, where Jonathan Saunders’ second collection as creative director was a treat . The basenote of female emancipation that has defined the DvF brand since the 1970s is more relevant than ever in 2017, but the above-the-knee dress has given way to a longer, leaner line.
A leopard-print midi-length wrap dress was styled over sharp trousers – at the very same moment that Emma Stone was doing a “drouser” on the Bafta red carpet, funnily enough. Coincidence? I am not sure there is such a thing, in fashion. Coincidence is being in the right place at the right time. At fashion week, that is everything. Because without a sense of time and place, fashion isn’t fashion, it’s just clothes.