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It’s not just about what you wear. From focusing on nature to clothes as wellness — and of course, female empowerment — designers are all about how clothes make you feel. At least, that’s how they’re positioning it.

I never wanted an environment where people walk into our store and feel anything but happiness,” said Stacey Bendet, designer of Alice + Olivia, at her presentation today. “You really want clothes to be a part of the wellness movement; you want how you look to be a part of how you feel.”

Meanwhile, designer Gilles Mendel of J. Mendel opted to use crystals, a popular wellness product, as inspiration for his collection’s color palette at today’s presentation. “I fell in love with the idea of geo crystals, and I worked with embroideries that felt more [in line] with crystals. That was very unique for my company because I’m not as intensely involved with embroideries,” said Mendel.

Seoul-born, New York-based designer Moon Choi, whose namesake label launched in 2017, based her fall collection on hard textures, warped edges and straight lines. “[It’s] a study in comfort. Each piece has been designed to envelop its wearer in a protective layer of warmth, confidence and ease,” stated the show notes. Showcasing both men’s and women’s wear allowed the brand to highlight the fluidity of its pieces. The idea was to evoke a sense of being held in equal measure, according to Moon Choi.

A sense of equality was present elsewhere, as well. Shows became more inclusive of people of color and body types (Veronica Beard just debuted extended sizes, for example), promoting feelings of belonging rather than being hamstrung by one’s own body. Closely related, many designers also messaged female empowerment. Brands like Zimmermann, J. Mendel and Dennis Basso all based their collections, shown today, on strong female figures.

For Zimmermann, a woman named Nancy Wake served as inspiration — she was a World War II Australian spy known as “White Mouse,” who became an important figure in the French resistance. The brand’s designers were attracted to the idea of a woman who was feminine, skillful and selfless. J. Mendel wanted to highlight that its red-carpet gowns and feminine silhouettes support and provide confidence to the wearer. And at Dennis Basso, a similar sense of female empowerment was present. The collection was inspired by the concept of a New York City girl.

“I think women around the world all have a desire to be a New York City woman. This allows her to experiment with fashion from high to low, with a feeling of freedom, strength and independence,” read the show notes.

3 Questions With … Designer Gilles Mendel of J. Mendel

Recently, a lot of design houses have chosen not to use fur. As a fur atelier founded in 1870, are big changes ahead?
I think everything goes from one extreme to another. But nothing has really changed for me; we continue to do what we do, and we have fans who follow us for that. But there is room: My daughter is launching a collection [through brand Maison Atia] of faux fur in a few days. That is my legacy, whereas she is expressing something of her own generation, and I think it is great.

What are some changes you are seeing in the industry?
We’re coming back to a more classic feeling. We are living in a world where we want to protect our planet, and I find people are more and more conscious about what they wear and [trying] not to be so wasteful. In some ways, as much as I feel like I am old-world, I have become more relevant these days. You can buy something from me that may be a little more expensive, but it checks all the boxes because I’m not wasteful. [My line] is more sustainable, and people are more appreciative of that.

Do you still feel there is a purpose behind NYFW?
Yes, definitely. There are two types of collections [ready-to-wear and couture], and I do more of the couture-style collections, and we are getting really good value [in responses] these days. We are definitely seeing a comeback and more relevancy.


“I keep looking at the girl to the left because she looks like she’s going to faint.” — a publicist speaking about a model who appeared to be overheated at the Alice + Olivia presentation


Later this evening, Anna Sui will host a runway show. It falls one day before a retrospective exhibit of the designer’s work, which is called “The World of Anna Sui” and opens at the Museum of Arts and Design on Columbus Circle, and runs through Feb. 23, 2020.

This article is part of our series on New York Fashion Week. For more NYFW coverage delivered daily to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletter.