New York: Designers wistful for when America was good and not just great
today Sep 10, 2017
A series of runway shows in the opening three days clearly looked back to more optimistic times when the nation believed far more in the future and its role to amuse and enlighten the world. Far from buying into President Trump’s call to Make America Great Again, creators in New York seemed painfully aware that their nation’s reputation had taken a battering internationally due to its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change and Trump’s America First foreign policy.
Consider Adam Selman, who referenced America’s most famous female artist Georgia O’Keeffe. He based his collection on the painter’s famed gingham shirt – while at the same time injecting plenty of oomph. Instead of the prim button-down preferred by O’Keeffe, Selman sent out romper shorts and ankle-grazing shirts worn open over red satin bras to reveal lots of flesh. Plus, his Seventies style airbrushed denim recalled the self-confidence of an era often referred to as The Me Decade.
“I’m sick of hearing - Down with America,” Selman told critics backstage.
Kate Spade New York held the season’s wittiest presentation deep in the bowls of Grand Central Station, inside a famous NYC institution, the Oyster Bar. Editors quaffed glasses of lemon Bellinis and fresh tangy oysters, as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band – flown in from New Orleans – marched through the crowds. Kate Spade New York’s creative director Deborah Lloyd referenced New Orleans, or as it is known, The Big Easy, to capture an insouciant mood – layered floral dresses, spruce black and white gingham looks, worn by models sporting baseball caps reading "Work It". “I wanted to capture an American spirit,” said Lloyd, ironically before a weekend when Hurricane Irma made the entire country recall the last great tempest, Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed much of New Orleans.
Or, take the weekend’s best young designer show – Creatures of the Wind - which referenced Sixties counter culture, when the idea of revolutionary change excited an entire generation. Elsewhere, a longing for wacky glamour was apparent at Christian Cowan, the new hipster talent who showed in famed Noho restaurant Indochine. Cowan clearly yearned for the giddy optimism of the Seventies and much of his collection looked like it had been sourced out of Trash & Vaudeville – that’s the legendary East Village vintage thrift store, which attired Glam Rock rockstars in a mixture of Victorian style, cabaret theatrics and Space Age imagery.
Hence, Cowan tops had Tudor sleeves; his trench coats came in metallic silver and his fantastic black and white pant suit was made in a fabulous horror movie print. Cowan clearly knows his fashion history and the most memorable look in this witty show – a pink tweed pant suit ensemble, albeit composed of hot pants, chaps, bra and matching sombrero – was a crazy take on Coco Chanel, worn by a model that escorted a Pekinese dog on a pink leash.
At Brandon Maxwell, grand Fifties Hollywood ruled, the Texan talent clearly yearning for a more polite era, light years away from the crass racism of today’s politics in America.
It’s true that the key show of the season, Calvin Klein, was all about the dark side of the American dream – from the rodeo to the rock concert. However, Raf Simons – a Belgian, let’s not forget – resolutely looked to the future, reinventing fashion codes in a bold display.
And the season also included that other great American tradition – protest. On Fifth Avenue – the city’s most famous street – a group from the Animal Defenders International managed to close down the Banana Republic presentation. Their objection? Not anything in the collection, but the fact that Banana Republic’s brand ambassador is American beauty Olivia Palermo – who is known for prominently wearing fur.
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