Ever since the Covid-19 lockdowns lifted in 2021, when people began to emerge from social isolation and the fashion system started to work again, we’ve been asking the same question: What do we wear? The world was different; we were different. Staring into your closet was like staring into a foreign land.
First, the answer was continuity: comfort clothes, elastic waists, sneakers, leggings. Then there were predictions that the Roaring ’20s would return in all their glittering, befeathered glamour. Then that started to seem premature, because … well, the war in Ukraine. And it turned out that Covid wasn’t exactly over. Then everyone threw up their hands and said, “It’s a mess!”
So was fashion, and that’s pretty much where things stood.
But as the New York shows drew to a close this week, a different answer emerged: a hybrid look for a hybrid world. A style that isn’t armored or swaddled, decorative or in denial, but instead connects pragmatism to polish, building a bridge that is also enabling. In a good way. Imagine a world where you could have your structure and freedom too.
It’s one where the sleeves of a no-nonsense suit jacket might be sliced open (free the forearm!), and the jacket then worn over an elaborately ruched jersey minidress, like a little amethyst cloud, as at Tory Burch — who has finally fully escaped her dependence on Lee Radziwill to lead the way (fast, in flat shoes and maybe that dress with flying saucer hems) toward whatever is coming next.
A Trend Takes Flight
“It was time for a new direction,” Joseph Altuzarra said before a show that traded his usual executive shibori silhouette for one that had come slightly undone. Sheer slip skirts came pre-crinkled via metallic thread, bra tops peeked out from under trapeze coats, and cotton dresses slipped off the shoulders to show the straps beneath. The idea was right, but his new direction looked a lot like Prada’s old direction, which was a problem.
Michael Kors said it a different way: “No one needs more tight melton pencil skirts.” Hard to argue with that. Instead he offered a collection that was heavy on the light — Empire-waist dresses with leotard tops and airy skirts caught with tough leather belts at the breast; Jane Birkin-era lace caftans — without being flimsy. In fact, “light” might have been the mantra of the week. Brandon Maxwell ended his show with an elegant black gown caught up on one shoulder with a metallic knot, the skirt featuring a dove in midflight.
At Gabriela Hearst, there was lightness in the chiffon inserts hidden between the pleats of an otherwise no-nonsense cotton trench and in the tiny glass beads handwoven into a crocheted fishnet dress. Lightness at Carolina Herrera, in a straight sequined skirt sliced up the back and paired with a black shirt, and in a lemon yellow skirt constructed from four layers of tulle but no crinolines.
“I found myself at fittings taking off a ruffle or eliminating a seam,” Wes Gordon, the creative director of Herrera, said before the show, the goal being what he called “minimalism with soul” (minimalism being a relative term in the Herrera world). Which is a fairly good explanation of where this may be going and why it’s appealing. Also, perhaps, why there are so many echoes of the ’90s around, like sonar pings from a distant land.
Then There Was Mud
“Soul” is one of those terms that can sound hokey when it comes to clothing — clothes do not have souls, duh — but actually means the way garments can serve as wormholes to memories that are the building blocks of a life, so wearing them becomes a choice filled with meaning.
That’s what makes Raul Lopez’s work at Luar — a chaotic mix of raised-shoulder tension, suits rent open at the thighs and after-dark slink caught between communities — so resonant. It’s what powers the patched-together mix of shredded denim and sequins, lace and frayed suiting of Ev Bravado and Tela D’Amore at Who Decides War. And it’s what complicates the narrative at Elena Velez, who set up a mud pit in Brooklyn the better to illustrate a didactic manifesto about “antiheroines” and the need for “resistance to a monolithic cultural paradigm.”
That translated into a primal scream of a collection in rough-cut toiles, so the seams of a trench and a corseted minidress bristled outward, as if the clothes themselves were raising their hackles. (Ms. Velez has been yelling into the void for a while now, sometimes about the hands that would feed her.) At the end the show predictably deteriorated into a wrestling match, dragging everyone down into the swamp. It wasn’t necessary. Nor was the silly proclamation.
Ms. Velez’s point had already been made as effectively as possible by a single accessory: a stiletto shoe, the spike heel jammed into the sole of a Nike slide (Nike having sponsored the show), forcing the woman who wore it to watch each step she took, casting her progression in terror.
Yet under all the mud, progress was there. So was a really great bomber jacket.
The Best Show in New York
Still, no designer did more to crystallize the way forward than Willy Chavarria, whose genderless suiting deserves to redefine New York fashion. It doesn’t just break boundaries between cultural traditions, the street and the skyscraper, and old stereotypes of who can wear what when. It erases them completely.
See jackets with sharp shoulders and widened, jutting lapels; waists nipped in by a single button and paired with pleated trousers cut like the swishiest skirt; see sweeping overcoats adorned with an explosive crimson rose. See tuxedos where the culottes are actually basketball shorts; choirboy collars as stiff and soaring as those of a high court judge; hammered bronze and silver sequins matched with sweats or T-shirts; and the most dramatic taffeta opera cloaks over ratty old tighty whities.
The result is both a grand gesture and an easy one. A sweatshirt came with the slogan “Grupo Nuevo Vision por Vida,” or “New Group Vision for Life.” Mr. Chavarria actually offered one. At this point, who doesn’t need that?