The United States of Stuff

NEW YORK – An interesting thing about designer Kim Jones’ work is that it’s increasingly become a vehicle for showcasing other designers and brands, from his groundbreaking collaboration with Supreme at Louis Vuitton, to his Dior Jordans, to Fendi x Skims and the assembly of Fendi and Versace. At Fendi’s show celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Baguette bag, which took place on the first night of New York Fashion Week, it not only exhausted every possible way to showcase the now-iconic accessory – including small satin versions sewn into socks – but also a marketing platform for Fendi-parent LVMH’s American brands Marc Jacobs and Tiffany, asking Jacobs to design a vignette and color several of the looks in Tiffany’s signature egg blue.

“That was fire,” said one Italian woman as the crush of well-wishers pushed their way backstage after the show. “Fire” or not, it was an unwarranted commercial effort: an excess of branding and merchandising. And of course Fendi chose New York Fashion Week for such a project. The designers here have always seemed more interested in selling products than communicating new ideas.

Right now, the United States is also a land of opportunity for the global fashion business, as Europe continues to suffer from high inflation and an energy crisis, and China appears to be stuck in a pattern of never-ending Covid lockdowns. The U.S. economy may well slip into recession, but for now, luxury sales are holding strong — and not just for big labels.

This season’s newcomers included two direct-to-consumer brands designed by The Row alumni. Gigi Hadid’s Guest in Residence cashmere collection, whose design director Sijeo Kim spent time at Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen’s New York-based luxury brand Theory and Helmut Lang, has received early buzz not just for lively silhouettes and its color palette, but for its affordable prices. (“It almost seems like it’s not expensive enough,” said one observer of the $225 crew neck and $195 ribbed polo.)

Then there’s Fforme, designed by Paul Helbers, who once headed men’s at Louis Vuitton, Martin Margiela and The Row. It’s an interesting experiment. The co-founders of the brand are Laura Vazquez, a marketer and fashion executive with decades of experience in all kinds of (mostly) American brands, and Nina Khosla, a Silicon Valley product designer whose father, Vinod Khosla, is the co-founder of Sun. Microsystems and founder of venture capital firm Khosla Ventures. With Helbers, they spent the last year developing Fforme, a sculptural, modular wardrobe that creatively uses folds and drapes in hopes of delivering something that looks new and rich, with prices to match. (A double-faced cashmere coat is $7,500; a draped T-shirt is $500.)

While their price point and audience may diverge, both ventures will have to work smart to convince consumers that there is a need for their products in a market filled with so much.

At Proenza Schouler, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez took a sexier, more vibrant direction, partly inspired by an exploration of Hernandez’s Cuban heritage. Ruffled bubble skirts and cascading flares had a glamor for the time, but on this occasion the sum was not greater than its parts. It looked like the designers didn’t quite get where they wanted to go.

Joseph Altuzarra, on the other hand, has a clear sense of where he’s headed, further settling into that vibrant, nomadic feel of recent seasons, most excitingly through a series of explosive Shibori pieces hand-tied and dyed in Japan. But while McCollough and Hernandez are turning ideas around a little too quickly right now, Altuzarra needs to step forward next season to open up the franchise.

It’s a tricky balance, one that Jason Wu got right more than usual with his latest collection, which was light and airy, with crazy dresses and sparkly, carefree short ensembles.

Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta continue to impress, bringing a raw elegance to their pieces, including raw-edged knits and wool trousers with drawstrings hanging low at the waist. While it’s hard to tell the extent of their ambitions – they seem determined to do things on their own terms – it would be interesting to see what they could do with more resources or taking on another brand.

Francesco Risso is a contemporary of Eckhaus Latta who had this opportunity with Marni, where he managed to attract a younger customer with shaggy sweaters and camp shirts. On Saturday night, she staged a catwalk show in an underpass of the Brooklyn Bridge, complete with a live orchestra, Madonna on the front row, and a collection of deconstructed swimsuits and off-shoulders literally inspired by sunsets. Risso said his appearance at New York Fashion Week was long overdue and that he would like to do a series of shows outside of Milan as a way to activate different cities. But under Risso, Marni has yet to explode. Perhaps this new approach will help change that.

There’s an argument that many designers who show at New York Fashion Week really shouldn’t, because they don’t offer anything new. But this is America, where anyone with money and a few work permits can do whatever they want. And sometimes, that’s a good thing. Victor Glemaud knits certainly don’t need to be marketed on a catwalk, and yet watching roller skaters glide in them on the Rockefeller Center rink was a treat. Their antics helped draw attention to his still narrow but expanding universe, which this season was inspired by American sportswear designers such as Geoffrey Beene and Stephen Burrows.

Tibi Spring/Summer 2023 Show 36.

Founder Amy Smilovic’s reinvention of Tibi is well documented. But the work she has done since the pandemic to develop a personal relationship with her customer, both online and off, is remarkable. Case in point: On a recent trip to the Tibi store in SoHo, a sales rep used rubber bands to artfully raise the hems of a pair of extra-long pants, explaining that “designer Amy” doesn’t recommend shortening pants. but instead of rearranging them.

At her show, one of New York Fashion Week’s biggest so far, held at Essex Street Market on Saturday night, a woman walked by in a pair of Smilovic’s silk cargo pants, pulled together exactly as the salesman had suggested. There were more cargo pants in the hallway, but it didn’t really matter. What mattered was the audience: the dozens upon dozens of customers who were invited via Instagram and came wearing her clothes.

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