How can fashion represent America in 2017? And which fashion is that going to be?
Marc Jacobs’ show during New York City’s fashion week was inspired by hip-hop. Jacobs saw the documentary “Hip-hop Evolution” and it made him nostalgic for his high school years, when rap was emerging as popular music, a new fashion aesthetic was being created and the definition of Americana was shifting.
His stripped-down production began when a single model began her walk across the cracked wooden floor of the Park Avenue Armory. There was no elaborate set design. In fact, there was no set at all. And there was no music. The models walked in silence, without even the soft clicks of cameras because the photographers were asked to wait outside to capture the models as they emerged.
It was a gorgeous and wondrous 10 minutes.
That’s how long it took for the women to saunter down the runway with their woven coats with furry collars, their gold sequined minis, flared trousers, throwback sweatsuits, huge platform boots, giant gold hoop earrings and Stephen Jones-designed takes on Kangol caps.
It was a diverse cast of models walking in this show with its late ’70s/early ’80s retro vibe. The designs evoked a stylish, city girl look from the time before hip-hop turned ghetto fabulous and triggered an arms race for Gucci and Louis Vuitton. There was more style back then than fashion — at least the kind that came with fancy French and Italian labels.
The collection didn’t reproduce the clothes of the era. Jacobs isn’t doing hip-hop, per se. This was that time period as seen through the eyes of Jacobs, a New York City kid attending the High School of Art and Design. It was his memory, both accurate and false.
Or, as he put it in the show notes, “an acknowledgment and gesture of my respect for the polish and consideration applied to fashion from a generation that will forever be the foundation of youth culture street style.”
There was beauty and sophistication in this collection. There was humor. The collection wasn’t a caricature. And it wasn’t mocking. If anything, it struck a note of awe.
Jacobs’ collection was deeply American in a manner that felt vibrant and particularly relevant. Hip-hop, after all, was nurtured in urban centers. It spoke of ingenuity, ambition, protest and confidence. Now, of course, it is a global language — one that speaks just as profoundly to immigrants in the suburbs of Paris as it does to ambitious, middle-class young men recording mixtapes.
Ralph Lauren, with its enormous cultural footprint, speaks of a different vision of America. There is nothing messy, tumultuous, tacky or ugly in his version.
He presented the collection in his Madison Avenue store, where the walls were covered in thousands of white orchids and the sound of chirping birds greeted guests. The collection was filled with ethereal caftans, sparkling gold dresses, motocross leather leggings, distressed leather jackets and evening gowns with geometric cutouts.
The collection was tasteful and restrained. Some of it was beautiful, especially a simple, gold silk caftan-style evening gown. But much of it was flat. Cold. Rote. The clothes could have been from five years ago. In part, that is because Lauren is a classicist. He works within a vocabulary that he established decades ago. It defines his brand; it has built his legacy; it’s what customers understand. But Lauren has not used that powerful vocabulary to speak to the moment, to the right-now.
The clothes weren’t fanciful enough to be transporting. And they weren’t real enough to be soulful. They seemed detached. Do people wear leather motocross pants? Does a woman want silk britches? Maybe. But it will take some convincing, and Lauren doesn’t make much of a case. It is as though his name on the label should be convincing enough.
Clothes don’t have to have a message. They don’t need to come with a story attached. But what gives them a vibrancy are the details and flourishes from a designer who is forever curious.
Sophie Theallet created a collection of printed dresses and multi-textured evening gowns that through their silhouettes and proportions are meant to serve as a kind of protective armor. She also included embellishments of bees — a symbol of femininity, Theallet said during a presentation at her showroom. And so the abundance of bees “represents an army of women.”
Other designers created collections that elevated the needs of professional women. Victoria Beckham offered beautiful printed dresses and tailored blazers. And Gabriela Hearst, in her first formal show, exhibited a keen eye for a sleek overcoat and the kind of woolen separates that a woman could wear into the boardroom. Narciso Rodriguez offered distinct ideas on female power dressing, too. He likes lean trousers in black or bold colors paired with streamlined leather tops. J.Crew showed a quirky mix of Fair Isle sweaters over pleated skirts and crinolines, as well as full trousers and dramatics blouses — all of it on nonprofessional models.
If there was any thread that connected the collections for fall, it was the question of what it means to be an American designer. How do you speak your mind? How do you represent America in this moment? For fall 2017, Seventh Avenue reflected the times. And still managed to give us fashion.