Coach, LaQuan Smith, and calendar newcomer Cucculelli Shaheen prove New York has something for everyone.
They don't call it a melting pot for nothin'. While it's not perfect, compared to other American cities, New York has a way of running pretty with its various cultural ecosystems because New Yorkers are jammed together on this tiny island. Tolerance of differences is vital. Fashion is no different. On the official day 4 of NYFW, three brands—Coach, LaQuan Smith, and Cucculelli Shaheen—prove we can all blend nicely.
Coach is a big brand and is used to doing things in a big way. The leather goods giant has close to 1000 stores globally, recorded $4.9 billion in net sales for 2022, and usually puts on an extravagant fashion show using a cinematic-worthy set complete with celeb models. (Lil' Nas X, has been a brand face since 2022 and walked last season, this time, he sat front row). The designer did an about-face for the Fall/Winter 2023 collection and runway, surprising his audience with a different Coach experience.
"Five months ago, we were in this space," the designer told FashionNetwork.com and other journalists backstage post-show. He was referring to the main exhibition space of the Park Avenue Armory, which housed his massive 'on the waterfront’-themed set for Spring 2023, this season he chose an intimate approach by showing in the building's majestic wood-paneled corridors, which date to 1881.
"I wanted something more real and grounded, it didn't feel right. It was a deliberate move away from that escapist mood. I want everyone to be close to the fabric textures and figure-hugging pieces, to see the movement which was important, especially with the light chiffon dresses," he continued adding that he liked the idea of mixing the youthful energy of his street-cast models with the historical space.
It was a clever move that worked, as the bleacher seating last season was too far away to witness the craftsmanship in Coach wares. This collection focused on Vevers' 90s New York nostalgia (think Grunge re-do) and how the current generation interprets it. To that end, leather jackets and shearlings were cropped and paired with long five-pocket denim and leather skirts or hot pants. The closer-to-the-body cuts and bias-cut dresses with fabric scraps as frilly décor were sexier than Vevers' previous outings.
Several of the looks, such as a patchwork trench—exhibit A of Coach's upcycling initiatives as its uses leather scraps—or the aforementioned short looks, were mirror images on male and female physiques. "I do love a twinning moment," laughed Vevers, the father of toddler-aged twins.
"Garments are all-gender today, they have been during different moments in fashion and history, but today, the number of people who embrace it is different, and I wanted to acknowledge that," he said.
Playfulness came through via a series of small bags with Nineties-era double strap handles in novelty shapes such as hearts, stars, fish, dogs, lips, flowers, and a classic Coach archive style just big enough for today's phones. Superman, Mickey Mouse, IHeartNY, and Rexy the Dinosaur on the chest of the knits were also fun. An oversized leather tote purely functioned to demonstrate Coach's artisanal qualities.
These designs encompassed Vevers' nostalgia, a recurring theme, specifically for his arrival as a design assistant in New York for the first time in 1996. At the same time, he insists he isn't looking back.
"This new generation responds to that time too. The collection re-evaluates Coach's story, design language, and what I did these past ten years for the next generation. I am eternally fascinated by that, and I think it is crucial to represent our story in a new context and not become a formula. I move forward and challenge myself."
LaQuan Smith also looked to another period, the Eighties excess and the glamourous life of those high times, the complete opposite of Grunge. High atop Manhattan at the famous Rainbow Room, Smith showed his latter-day version of that over-the-top fabulous era.
Always one for a dramatic entrance, Smith utilized the double staircase of the iconic bar in the sky to open the show. The first model appeared in a reworked tuxedo cum minidress mimicking a Dynasty scene which was piped in as voiceover by throwing a coat over the banister, seemingly in the banishment of a cheating partner. Marching down the stairs, the newly empowered woman stormed the runway, boss lady briefcase in hand.
Backstage post-show Smith dissected his theatrical show. I took references from Dynasty but also from James Bond girls. This idea of a sexy, sophisticated woman with a sense of nostalgia reinforces what the LaQuan Smith woman looks and feels like. She is a working woman, she is a boss, and I wanted to provide sex appeal in all aspects of her life," he said.
To that end, the task was complete with a plethora of tailored options that came in satins and cozy wool suiting and flannels.
"The company has grown, and I broadened my product categories. I love outerwear; I love designing coats, shearlings, and jackets," he confessed, adding, "I relied heavily on tailoring, construction, and craftsmanship for this collection using sharp suiting and clean-cut lines that carve out the body," Smith said noting his clothes have been picked up by Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodmen.
Smith did make a case for his outerwear and daywear, especially the dramatic-shouldered toppers. Lean trousers and the reworked tuxedos offered a cropped jacket with front 'tails,' pants with the illusion of a cummerbund, and a daringly low white tux suit worn with a crisscross top bikini underneath. Jordan Dunn, smirking at a cat call from an audience member, wore a white satin jacket and skirt tux destined to be on repeat order for Smith.
His signature body cutouts that require knives for hips came in a darker color palette of purple, olive, and taupe and recalled ultra-suede, the wonder fabric of days of yore. A stunner black feather and beaded fringe halter-style evening dress was poised for the Red Carpet while its matching tuxedo jacket and satin short companion beckoned the likes of Harry Styles.
Soon though, it seems such a look wouldn't have to be borrowed from the LaQuan Smith woman. The designer showed several men's looks on the runway with lots of satin evening ensembles that added a genuine yearning for Saturday Night Fever days. The Bay Ridge disco seen might not return, but Smith hinted we might see more of that.
"I was honored to design for Lenny Kravitz for the CFDA Awards, so I thought, 'why not give it a try? There is a demographic out there," he said, noting his men's offerings will be exclusively sold on the brand's website.
Smith wasn't the only designer adding a bit of glamour to New York nights. Husband and wife designers Anthony Cucculelli and Anna Rose Shaheen know their way around a crystal bead or two on a glamourous gown. The duo founded their evening wear-centric brand in 2016 and made a name for themselves by reinventing crystal-beaded, sequined, and paillette-heavy gowns for a different population and generation.
"She is a strong, independent, unconventional woman; she is more downtown," said Shaheen.
"We try to put ourselves into the design. That is what we have learned as designers; to infuse ourselves into the collection," said Cucculelli, adding, "we pass Webster Hall every morning on our walk and thought we wanted to do something here."
It was a great choice to convey their brand message in their second runway outing (the first time listed on the CFDA calendar). The spot was as edgy as the woman they channeled. The styles ranged from fully beaded to embellished fabrics. Incredibly cool for the former was a long sleeve silver sequin gown with side cutouts, a simple white sequin slinky long halter dress, and fringe styles that offered an evening take on the Western theme. As a gown alternative, they offered styles with beaded pants; a sheer black style and a heavily beaded three-piece suit was executed to perfection and channeled the late Paco Rabanne in a sense.
A seasonal sunburst theme was imagined in all-over and intricate embroidered patches in a collection that demonstrated the level of craftsmanship for which the brand has earned a reputation.
"We are into astrology and celestial themes, so that is where sunburst comes from. The rays dégradé from the center to the end, almost looking illuminated," said Shaheen of the custom beading done in India.
Planetary themes are signature for the brand, and they are known for their constellation dress customized to commemorate a wedding, for example.
"We take an accurate sky map on the day and time of her wedding, and we map it according to their zodiac sign," said Cucculelli
Speaking of stars, Breanna Barbara and her band rocked the runway with a live, laser-light-filled performance. Cucculelli said, "It would have been sad to show here without her or a live band."
It set the tone perfectly for dresses that look right at home at a swanky rock star's party on Mulholland Drive or a Red Carpet on Hollywood Boulevard below.
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