Who Needs Big Brands When You Have Ella Emhoff, Bowen Yang and an

Cradled by the four-day cadence of computer-lived New York Fashion Week, it was easy to miss the curly-haired, bespectacled model in the baggy black pantsuit strolling through the Parrish Art Museum in the Hamptons, the one of the stylish, arty inhabitants of the Proenza Schouler fall 2021 collection video.

But wait. Stifle that yawn. Squint and fold again. Not only at the level of the jacket closed by a single white button at the level of the sternum and cleverly structured to suggest, in its line and its twisted attitude, the smell of a cutaway; not just the hard, butter-soft leather coat she wears moments later; but to the woman herself. Is it … maybe … yes …

Ella Emhoff, the 21-year-old daughter-in-law of newly formed knitwear designer and model Kamala Harris, makes her first runway appearance less than a month after garnering worldwide attention for the premiere times during President Biden’s inauguration.

Suddenly the shows, which felt increasingly constricted within the confines of the small screen, came back to focus.

Was it a gadget, to capture attention in a confused world? Maybe a little bit. (It worked.) But it also served as a reminder of what fashion week is meant to be.

And it’s? “This new moment in American history,” Lazaro Hernandez, co-designer and co-founder of Proenza Schouler, said via Zoom the day before the video’s reveal. “A return to intelligence and values. And that’s also what we wanted to show with this collection. This …”

“That,” her partner Jack McCollough sounded, “we are on the brink of a new era.”

Welcome to New York Fashion Week, The Transition. Most of the big names, those in households that attract foreign publishers and retailers to the city, were absent. Even most of the little breakout names were gone, all appearing on unofficial dates so spread out that “New York Fashion Week” was repositioned as part of “American Collections,” a floating concept that exists all year round. . .

It would have been easy, if not tempting, to dismiss the whole digital exercise as a dying allegiance to an old way. But among those who held on and seized the day (s), there were glimmers of something: challenge, optimism, faith in the future. Accordingly, a better name for the event could have been the one suggested by Mr. Hernandez: “the liminal collections”.

Those created to bridge the gap between the isolated reality of working from home that was and the world that will be.

See, for example, the formidable bar lifter from a collection by Proenza Schouler, which combined tactile details – macrame and crochet inserts, silk fringes, dip-dyed hems, sheepskin slippers – with a deliberately twisted seam in jersey, wool and leather. There was also easy layering, so it was sort of off-center and unexpected. What appeared to be layers of wrap dresses and skirts was in fact one piece of clothing; jackets could be cinched or not pinched at the back to pull the sides here and there; and the effect was both cocooning and peekaboo, like a body emerging from a chrysalis in the open air.

Or see the equally tactile and thoughtful work of Gabriela Hearst, also traversing the fine line between snuggled materiality and finely honed construction. Shot in a cavernous Brooklyn warehouse, the collection was inspired by the 12th century nun Saint Hildegard of Bingen and dedicated to the idea of ​​”hope” and a “future without apathy.”

That’s what the designer said, anyway, on a backstage Zoom tour through cream twist dresses encrusted with a black leather corset at the waist or a champagne silk version of the even, cut with a touch of black lace, and trenches tied with big knots at the waist. shoulders rather than military epaulettes. They weren’t quite plowshares swords, but you could understand. Especially paired with fluted cashmere skirts and matching sweaters studded with three-dimensional flowers based on designs by Ms. Hearst’s 12-year-old daughter. This time it’s personal.

Batsheva Hay, whose work has become increasingly eclectic, mixing her postmodern meadow dresses with rocking crushed velvet, has even photographed friends and models like Amy Fine Collins in their kitchens, with kitchen utensils, quiches and washing machines. Not bad, but fully dressed and dreaming of a place to go.

Prabal Gurung captured the mood when he asked his models – men and women dancing in a floral polka dot explosion of red, pink, black and white flared pants, flared pants, flamenco skirts and more. Dress odes to past parties – what they loved about New York.

“I always feel like I’m walking into a movie when I’m in New York,” one said. “New York gives me hope,” said another. Plus, “New York gives me energy.” It was, Mr. Gurung said, a love letter to the city and the spirit he believed would return.

Speaking of hearts: Imitation of Christ showcased two in its video – giant, virtual 3D human hearts pulsing in time around models from the funk ‘n’ flapper collection of beaded streetwear Deco designer Tara Subkoff, a reference to Covid-19 and what supports us. In the end, they burst into bloom, and what was unsettling turned into a moment of grace. Which can be the happy ending we all hope for.

New York – today’s city – was sort of a guideline in a number of shows. Jason Wu has put his easy-to-digest sportswear and silk shmattes against the walls of a fantastic general store full of real fruits and vegetables. (They were then donated to City Harvest.) Ulla Johnson sent her parade of artful knits and earth-toned dresses with striking sleeves through the vastness of the marble floors of Lincoln Center’s public spaces. Rather than signifying emptiness, the effect was to suggest that one day these rooms would be full again. And so, there was something to wear.

For sheer exuberance, however, it was hard not to smile at Libertine’s neoclassical patchwork of dancing brocades, khaki emblazoned with poetry, and shooting star costumes, traced by silver lines. Or the animorphs of Collina Strada: revalued adornments in the form of T-shirt dresses with huge saddlebags on the hips and various pastel prints separate into creatures that are sometimes seen in nature. The point is, this is a season of metamorphosis. We might as well pass it.

Christian Cowan summed it all up in his short film starring Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman from “Saturday Night Live” playing versions of themselves smashing, wearing tracksuits, in a high profile party of fabulous feathers. , studded and glitter in the (otherwise empty) Pierre Hotel. At the end of the skit, as the pair stumble out of the building, now dressed in grape-colored sequined pajamas (Mr. Yang) and lilac crystal top, zip-up miniskirt, and faux fur (Mrs. Fineman), they meet a confused fan who is surprised by their new look. Do they play a role? she asks.

The answer, they whisper, is simple: “This is who we are now.”

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