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A fashion week throwback, for good or ill
New York Fashion Week may officially begin today, but this week has already seen a flurry of events, parties and news from the world of high fashion. Alexander Wang made his big comeback to both warm reception and cold hostility, depending on who you asked. Brands like L’Agence and Christian Siriano held other off-calendar shows, and Viktor & Rolf hosted a Thursday afterparty to celebrate the new face of the brand, Emily Ratajkowski. And, off the runway, Balenciaga’s Demna gave his first interview since the brand’s massive scandal last year, promising to focus less on provocation and more on clothes.
The official calendar is as booming as ever, with Kate Spade kicking off the first day, as usual, along with brands like Rodarte, Jonathan Simkhai, Prabal Gurung and Collina Strada. Like September’s NYFW, it felt like a pre-pandemic fashion week.
But not all the throwbacks to old times were good. Nadia Boujarwah, CEO of Dia & Co, said she’s seeing less size diversity on the runways, a regression after recent years of designers embracing the idea of hiring models who aren’t stick-thin.
“I’m curious to see if the brands stick with [diversity] or if they’ve decided they’re over it,” she said. “Some shows don’t feel like 2023, but rather 1993.”
That was certainly the case at the Alexander Wang show on Wednesday. While the casting of that show was admirably diverse in skin color and ethnicity, there was only one body type on display: the classic tall, thin model that fashion has loved for decades.
Boujarwah was in New York to announce that the famed Belgian designer Diane von Furstenburg is going to begin selling extended sizing on Dia’s platform. It’s an ironic twist that Alexander Wang — young and hip — replicated the size-homogenous imagery of fashion’s past, while Diane von Furstenburg — a fashion veteran who’s been designing since the ’70s — looked to its future.
DVF herself said that she’s always thinking about the future of her brand. She feels that now, amid massive industry disruptions, is a perfect time to try something new, versus look to the past.
“Since 2019, we’ve all had a bit of a reset,” Von Furstenburg said. “During Covid, a lot changed. Our company is a lot smaller than it was. And I realized how important the legacy of the brand is.”
To be on trend, but not trendy
At the L’Agence show held at the Bowery Hotel, the California-by-way-of-Paris brand hosted a raucous event in the packed upstairs bar. Attendees were packed shoulder-to-shoulder to see the brand’s ’90s rock-inspired clothes modeled by the likes of Nicky Hilton and Shanina Shaik.
In the quieter outdoor area, I spoke with L’Agence’s CEO and creative director Jeff Rudes about the delicate balance between reacting to trends and trying to create them. Rudes said he wants his brand to be on trend but not trendy, a subtle but important distinction. The former suggests that you’re aware of what’s out there and popular, reacting or not reacting to it with intention, while the latter suggests a brand that just recreates what already exists, à la fast fashion.
“If I see something on a runway and I like it — I like the cut or the color — I can’t just recreate it,” Rudes said. “I have to think about my customer and what works for her. So maybe I do a spaghetti strap dress, but I change the length so it hits mid-calf. We have to reinterpret what we see out there so it works for our customer.”
Rudes said he often observes street fashion in cities like Tokyo or London to get a sense of what’s out there, giving the example of extreme wide leg-pants being a common sight in the fashion neighborhoods of Tokyo as something he reinterpreted for this season’s show. Asia will continue to be an inspiration as the brand prepares to open an office in Seoul soon. From there, it will begin to build a more robust audience in Korea, China and Japan, on top of its existing Hong Kong business.
Tara Rudes-Dann, L’Agence’s fashion director, said she is always looking at the data, including what’s selling and which categories are growing. But when it comes time to actually design, the numbers become less relevant than the design sense the team has honed over the years.
“It always starts with inspiration,” Rudes-Dann said.
At the Kate Spade show held at the Whitney Museum, the brand’s CEO, Liz Fraser, made a similar point about the balance between sticking to a brand’s roots and heritage and staying current. The Kate Spade show saw the debut of a refreshed take on some of the brand’s iconic pieces, including a new version of the Sam Icon bag and a new signature color developed with Pantone dubbed Kate Spade green.
“It’s so hard when you have a heritage as rich as ours — you want to stay true to the DNA, but push forward,” Fraser said. “This collection is obviously identifiable with Kate, but it’s very forward-thinking.”
Big overcoats in bright spring colors were everywhere on Friday. Get the look by shopping the styles below.