At New York Fashion Week, Sunday was full of surprises

Non-models on the catwalk, inclusive sizing, new shoes, old fabrics reinvented, sneaker love in overdrive – Tracy Reese, Hood by Air, DVF, Victoria Beckham and Alexander Wang rewrite fashion formulas

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 September, 2016, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 September, 2016, 5:36pm

The fifth day of New York Fashion Week saw a parade of unusual models in shows that weren’t like traditional catwalk shows at all. These were among the highlights:

Tracy Reese: flowers, grass, breezes – and inclusive sizing

The weather gods smiled on Tracy Reese. The designer had been “freaking out all week”, she says, imagining that a hurricane might pass through and ruin her fashion presentation in an idyllic, grassy sanctuary – actually a cemetery, but with crypts underground – in Manhattan’s East Village.

“But we woke up to this magical day, so everything worked out,” she says. “This collection just wanted to be outside, with a breeze and some gorgeous flowers and trees.”

Besides the venue, there was another special quality to Reese’s show on Sunday afternoon at the Marble Cemetery: more than half the models were not actually models. “Philanthropists, advocates, musicians, dancers, singers,” Reese says, describing her cast. She had cast a wide net, and ended up using more so-called “real women” (not that models aren’t) than professionals.

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A number of designers are paying lip service these days to the idea of inclusive sizing – recognising diversity in the shapes and sizes of women. But at Fashion Week, that tends to mean maybe one or two plus-sized models in a show, if any.

“We wanted to really go a little deeper,” Reese says. “At first I thought it would be half and half, but the women looked so great in the clothes, and brought so much to it … whether it was a full-sized figure or a more mature figure or a girl that’s just blossoming into womanhood. There were so many different ways to see the collection, and I loved what each woman brought to the clothing. And so the balance just shifted. We had about 20 non-models and 10 models.”

Reese isn’t just doing it for show; she has already announced that some of her designs in this new collection will be available in larger sizes than they were before.

Reese also spoke wistfully about one particular fan of hers: Michelle Obama, who has worn her designs a number of times, and is a major booster of the fashion industry in general.

“It’s been an amazing eight years,” Reese says. “We’re definitely going to cry salty tears when that term is up.”

Inspired by youth culture at Hood by Air

Shayne Oliver, the soft-spoken provocateur behind Hood by Air, teamed with a porn video site and declared “Never trust a church girl” on the back of one look during a show that upped the ante for cool kids.

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Deconstructing traditional suiting, interpreting, elongating, exaggerating more common streetwear, putting models in shoes with two fronts – one ahead and one behind – and setting it all to a grinding soundtrack barely covers it.

Not your usual models, and some not models at all, walked with hair heavily greased. Some dragged duffel bags and one played with a cellphone as Rick Ross, Jaden Smith, Whoopi Goldberg, Jussie Smollett, and Naomi Campbell looked on from the front row. Rihanna performed in a Hood by Air piece at the MTV Video Music Awards recently.

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It’s all in a day’s work for Oliver, who says in a backstage interview that he’s trying to avoid falling into the trap of “kitsch”, preferring instead to focus on “representing a larger group of ideas”.

And his cause? “I’m doing things for youth on a large scale,” he says. “My inspiration comes from youth culture and sort of a need to evolve things via the youth.”

When is a show not a show? DVF takes a different road

Jonathan Saunders, the newly appointed heir presumptive to DVF, paid homage to the brand’s heritage while showcasing his own vision during an intimate presentation on Sunday.

The Scottish designer took the reins as DVF’s chief creative officer in May, but makes it clear he’s not necessarily filling Diane von Furstenberg’s shoes.

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“It’s just different shoes, you know? It’s not like I’m replacing her in any way. It’s just a different chapter for the company,” Saunders says, insisting von Furstenberg is still very much the cornerstone of the brand.

Von Furstenberg, a Fashion Week staple, was not on hand for Saunders’ debut presentation at a sparse industrial space in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

The signature wrap dress appeared throughout with fresh silhouettes and asymmetrical hemlines, including a structured kimono, a silky romper and a colour-blocked scarf dress. Sometimes the wrap was simply implied through cuts and movement on plunging blouses and sequined, layered frocks.

“I think at the end of the day the customer is interested in clothes and I’m hoping we’re entering into a chapter where all of the nonsense doesn’t matter as much as having something that you just feel fabulous in,” Saunders says.

Victoria Beckham bends tradition

The one sound you usually never hear at a fashion show, with its pounding music and high-decibel chatter, is silence. But just before the Victoria Beckham show on Sunday, at 10.28am, the room fell silent in observance of the 15th anniversary of 9/11.

The only sound was the clicking of cameras, as the designer’s husband and oldest son – ex-soccer player David Beckham, and Brooklyn Beckham – stood in remembrance, along with Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

Then came the fashion, with Beckham focusing this season on innovations in traditional fabrics such as velvet, lace and satin. Specifically, the collection was about “taking traditional fabrics … and washing them, and crushing them, and pleating them, and smocking them – to really make them feel new and fresh”, Beckham said backstage. Especially prominent was velvet – a particularly light version of a fabric most people associate with the colder winter months.

Many of the ensembles Beckham sent down the catwalk came with their own matching fabric handbags. A number of the outfits also featured bra tops, a new element that she says gave a very feminine flavour to the collection.

But enough about the clothes. Will Beckham be dressing the new British prime minister, Theresa May, one reporter asks? “We’ll see,” she says coyly, implying that she had at least thought about it. “She has a great body and she likes dresses that are quite fitted,” Beckham says. “So I think there’s lots in the collection that she would like.”

A surprise finale – and new partnership – at Alexander Wang

Alexander Wang is, by his own description, a total sneaker head. He once even designed a whole clothing collection around them, with dresses, tops and handbags emulating his favourite shoes, like the classic white-and-green Adidas Stan Smith.

Now, Wang has taken his sneaker love to a new level, partnering with Adidas Originals for a line of apparel and footwear that seeks, in his words, to “disrupt” the famous Adidas look while still preserving its familiarity. One example: rotating the well-known trefoil logo upside down. Another: “deconstructing” the Adidas sneaker. Also, the entire collection is unisex: tops, bottoms, shoes.

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Wang introduced the new line as a surprise finale to his Fashion Week catwalk show on Saturday night, in a huge space on a Hudson River pier. After modelling creations from Wang’s own label, models rushed backstage to change into new Adidas garb, while a 90-second film teased the new collection.

Then they marched onto the catwalk, more than 70 of them, all clad in black, as the crowd – which included Madonna and Nicki Minaj – craned their necks and snapped endless photos. It was, Wang says, “the biggest show we’ve ever done”.

In designing the new line, the key challenge was to change up the Adidas look so it feels fresh – but not to the point that it’s unrecognisable, Wang says.

“It was really about saying, how do we take something and shake it up a little, disrupt it, but at the same time not change it so much where it doesn’t feel right.”