Happy NY Fashion Week! Here's What Designers Were Showing 15 Years Ago

It seems as though every New York Fashion Week ushers in a new thinky essay from some industry vet talking about how it all used to be so much better (which I don’t doubt). This season’s missive reminding us that everything sucks now comes from the New York Times’s Guy Trebay.

In “When Fashion Shows Were Fun” (blunt!), the veteran fashion critic describes a 1992 runway show for Anna Sui in which all the supes walked and the audience consisted of “fashion editors and photographers and downtown personalities and drag queens and hangers-on and anyone who had managed to cadge a ticket, all dressed to the nines (or whatever their idea of that was).” While unfettered nostalgia is not becoming, the scene Trebay describes sounds as thrilling an old New York as any, a “more innocent” industry as Kelly Cutrone describes in his piece, and certainly not like what now seems to me like a depressing sterility of going-through-the-motionsness: rich people whose interest in the fact of fashion pales when compared to their thirstiness to land in street style portraits. There’s a sense of innovation—a need for it—that feels missing in New York Fashion Week nowadays, for reasons as certain as the 432 Park Avenue condo tower: everything is so boringly corporate and fucking prim and dictated by an endless, robotic procession of It Shoes and It Bags and It Labels and, god, even It fucking Jeans. Writes Trebay:

“We were so lucky,” the designer Todd Oldham said. He was referring to a time in the ’90s when attending a fashion show became something people were suddenly as excited to do as in an earlier era they might have been at seeing the Stones in concert.

The reasons were many. Show soundtracks then were often as much a surprise as the clothes themselves. The first time anyone ever heard RuPaul’s “Supermodel of the World” was on a Todd Oldham runway. That was about a million drag races ago. Celebrities used to fill the front rows not because they had been paid to but because they were actually excited to see what designers had up their sleeves. “Remember when people at shows used to clap when they liked something?” Mr. Oldham asked. “Remember that?

This is not to say everything sucks now—there are endless creative and unorthodox moments on the runway with young designers like Hood by Air, Eckhaus Latta, and inevitably whomever V-Files hosts. But off the runway, the overall culture of New York Fashion Week is nowhere near as interesting as it should be, or that I grew up hoping it would be. It feels odd and not instinctive to actually want to go to a fete where the cost of a person’s ensemble—as a non-famous attendee!—seems like it’s better valued than the creativity of it. (There are exceptions, of course, and mostly those exceptions are at afterparties.) But, you know, we have the far superior London Fashion Week for that. (RIP Meadham Kirchhoff LFW runways.)

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The era Trebay writes about, the ‘90s, is already well celebrated, and we’re still wearing clothes that reverberate from the era. (Isaac Mizrahi’s Fall 1994 show, as chronicled in iconic fashion doc Unzipped, for instance, remains a platonic ideal of wearable chic.)

But what about the early 2000s, an era which, like all of them, we are doomed to repeat? Feeling the Guy bug for an era that, for a brief, pre-9/11 moment, was hinged on a particular combination of possibility (new millennium!) and fear (Y2K!), we looked at runway shows from 15 years ago (if only to steel ourselves for what we might be asked to wear again soon). Happy NYFW Spring 2016, everyone.

Happy NY Fashion Week! Here's What Designers Were Showing 15 Years Ago

On Anna Sui’s Spring 2001 runway, a rhinestoned cut-out maillot paired with a low-slung belt and matching feathered bracelet; very practical in the water. For Halston and Jill Stuart’s Spring 2001, chic minimalism ruled for telling the world you were a goddamn city gal on the go, listening to Destiny’s Child “Independent Women Part 1” on repeat on your CD Walkman.

Happy NY Fashion Week! Here's What Designers Were Showing 15 Years Ago

A year later at Catherine Malandrino, she saw Spring ‘02 as a distinctly 1940s Broadway affair, stars of her signature extra-feminine separates, while Diane von Furstenberg’s own interpretation of feminine (and feminism) with loose and romantic one pieces, and patterns that are unmistakably Diane.

Happy NY Fashion Week! Here's What Designers Were Showing 15 Years Ago

Bob Mackie’s Vegas/Cher alien, withering you with one glittery look, for Fall 2001. This is very close to what I wear to work everyday in 2015, so I’m excited for its return. Can’t get enough of three-feet headpieces in the office.

Happy NY Fashion Week! Here's What Designers Were Showing 15 Years Ago

Bob!! You know?!

Happy NY Fashion Week! Here's What Designers Were Showing 15 Years Ago

Hello fellas! I am in love with Francis Hendy’s Fall 2001 silver leather suit with chinchilla lapel but my coworkers vehemently disagree. Perhaps they are just put off by the square toe on the loafers? At right, Sean John killed all the animals in the forest to keep warm the bare chests of Puff Daddy’s [sic] Adonises; these silhouettes are already coming back (you can hear their echoes in Hood by Air runways and on Kanye West) but that is partly because they never went away. Faux fur is hotter, though.

Happy NY Fashion Week! Here's What Designers Were Showing 15 Years Ago

For Anne Bowen and House of Field in Fall 2001 and Spring 2002, less was more in that clothes were dumb. Does it seem like a missed opportunity that Pat Field didn’t dress Carrie Bradshaw in that sequined boudoir ensemble on the right, or did she and I missed it? It was a long time ago. Bowen’s furry bride in the middle is a direct ancestor to Rihanna’s CFDA Josephine Baker jawn, albeit with more coverage.

Happy NY Fashion Week! Here's What Designers Were Showing 15 Years Ago

Fall 2001: Gen Art and Margie Tsai knew art was everything as was dressing like a very cool club clown and/or midtown homesteader, but Nanette Lepore was keeping it real on the French shopgirl chic, which now feels appalling.

Happy NY Fashion Week! Here's What Designers Were Showing 15 Years Ago

Just a little later, in Spring 2002, Arkadius was feeling 11th Century Catholic art realness, replacing stupid scarves with blasphemous fashion vestements and comparing the flaming heart of Jesus to a blue strawberry on a cocktail sword. I fucking love this: the first person to wear any of it to NY fashion week this week gets a personal award from myself as yet to be decided.


Contact the author at julianne@jezebel.com.

Images via Getty