Angst About Paris at New York Fashion Week – The New Yorker

When a number of New York’s most prominent fashion designers decided to
abandon the city’s fall Fashion Week in favor of those happening in
Paris, their defections were not well received here. New York’s industry
is struggling with a shrinking garment district and worryingly slow
retail sales, but the city has arguably tried harder than Paris to
nurture young talent with free show spaces, mentoring, and enthusiastic
promotion. The defecting labels—which include Rodarte, Proenza Schouler,
Altuzarra, and Thom Browne—gave varying reasons along a similar theme
for their decisions: they wanted to seek new markets and benefit from
the elegance and sophistication of Paris, the most glamorous and
competitive of the world’s fashion capitals. Another reason—that New
York Fashion Week has sometimes been tainted by a trade-show
atmosphere—was generally left unsaid.

Paris, at its haute-couture, men’s, and women’s prêt-à-porter weeks,
produces the conceptual looks that magazine editors dream of. New York
designers, by contrast, make clothes that lots and lots of women wear.
As this season’s New York Fashion Week, which started last Wednesday,
has revealed, the key to retaining New York’s relevance might just be to
double down on its most American qualities. Chic yoga pants or swell
tailored jackets are nothing to be ashamed of. Many women want great
designer clothes that fit well and won’t scare their colleagues.

And yet showing such outfits on the runway requires a knack. On Tom
Ford’s runway last Wednesday night, at the Park Avenue Amory, one of the
most talked-about looks was a pair of sparkly long-sleeved shirts. My
daughter, my mother, and I could wear them over slacks or a skirt
without raising an eyebrow. Ford sent his models down the catwalk with
nothing on underneath but panties and stiletto heels. (In the fashion
business, they call that savvy editorializing.) His collection crossed
the sporty track and yoga clothing that the moms at his son’s Los
Angeles elementary school wear at morning drop-off and the red-carpet
looks those same moms wear on certain nights out. Ford, who has spent
the better part of his career showing collections for Gucci, Yves Saint
Laurent, and other deluxe brands in Paris, Milan, and London, plans to
stick with New York for his eponymous label. When, after his show, I
mentioned the upstarts’ departure for Paris, his response was a friendly
but dismissive yawn. “I like them,” he said, perched on the arm of a
vinyl couch. “I hope they have a good time there.”

Fashion Week social events require showmanship, too, and New York
designers often surpass their European rivals in creating the kinds of
brazen off-the-runway moments that stand out on social media. At Ford’s
after-party, burgers and drinks were served by bare-chested waiters in
running shorts, tube socks, and sneakers, whom the designer had
personally auditioned. (“I said, ‘Take your shirt off. Turn around.
O.K.,’ ” Ford told me.) Guests channelled Studio 54. A female model
danced with her shirt entirely unzipped, to reveal her bare breasts; the
actor Liev Schreiber made a beeline in the other direction; Rande Gerber
and Cindy Crawford walked around the pink-lit venue arm in arm. Chaka
Khan waved a large fan emblazoned with her name.

On Friday afternoon, the New York-based designer Jason Wu invited his
guests to South Street Seaport, where he offered up a collection of
tailored looks with sexy cutouts—less office wear than off-hours, or
something for the executive’s wife, perhaps. Wu, an immigrant born and
raised in Taiwan who moved to Canada for elementary school, dismissed
the idea of moving to Paris. “I spent my whole life trying to get here,”
he said. “I’m not going anywhere.” Backstage, amid fittings for his
show, Wu recalled dressing Michelle Obama for President Obama’s first
Inauguration, which launched his label to global notice. “America has
afforded me all these opportunities. I don’t think this could have
happened anywhere else,” he said.

Like many American designers, Wu has been accused of being “too
commercial.” (It’s hard to imagine the insult stinging in industries
such as technology or aerospace, where no one questions that the point
is to sell stuff.) Wu remains undeterred. Last year, he launched a sporty
second line—named Grey, for his favorite color—to dress his female
clients on weekends and errand runs. He plans to promote it this fall by
taking over the lobby of Cadillac’s New York headquarters, on Hudson
Street, for several weeks, covering the space entirely in gray and
selling gray-colored products that he likes, including Sharpies,
LeSportsac bags, and Behr paint.

Tying a fashion brand to pedestrian products requires a deft touch. New
York shows sponsored by the sports- and talent-management company IMG
have sometimes had a hucksterish quality, with pitches for sponsors’
energy drinks, nail polish, and even beer taking place as fashion
editors race to their seats. Yet American designers also understand the
necessity of careful cross-promotion, which, when deployed with finesse,
can give a helping hand to upstarts, some of whom will grow up to be the
next Jason Wu.

Olga Osminkina-Jones, PepsiCo’s global vice-president of hydration, was
on hand this week to sponsor a presentation for three young
fashion-design graduates. At Pier 59, on the West Side, she handed out
bottles of electrolyte-enhanced LifeWtr, each decorated with a print
from one of the designers, who had been selected by the Council of
Fashion Designers of America. “Partners like the C.F.D.A. are priceless
to us,” Osminkina-Jones said, explaining that the imprimatur of art and
fashion is what will set LifeWtr apart from other water brands. “Others
also have electrolytes and are pH-balanced for taste, but we’re the only
ones who have this.”

Many of New York’s veteran designers are simply ignoring the angst
around Paris. Donna Karan, who now owns the luxury life-style brand
Urban Zen, and is no longer associated with her formerly eponymous label
or DKNY, has lately eschewed runway shows altogether. On Thursday, she
opened up a cavernous space with deep couches next to her Greenwich
Street store. The collection was inspired by the Orient Express—because,
she said, she likes to travel. She was curled on a couch, observing her
model, who wore soft suède wrapped jackets and stretchy leggings. There
was nothing in the collection that one couldn’t wear for a full sun
salutation, except, perhaps, a tailored silk-lined tuxedo jacket with
tails, which was already for sale next door, for $2,895. “Everything
goes with everything else,” Karan told me. “I think you’ll like it. I
designed it entirely for myself.”


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