During New York Fashion Week, insiders often gripe about the commercialization of the Lincoln Center shows. While it’s true that walking into the official Fashion Week venue feels like navigating a sprawling trade show, having to dodge the hired beauties who hand out Maybelline eye shadow, magazines, and snacks hardly counts as a hardship.
The companies that latch onto the glamorous coattails of the garment trade aren’t parasites. They’re underwriting the excessive costs of mounting a fashion show. That support might offend the sensibility of editors who think shows in a sweaty grotto are somehow purer than those in a pleasantly air-conditioned venue, but it’s hardly damaging the nature of fashion.
Yet the subtext of the complaints is that the corporate sponsors make the New York collections more banal by some kind of mass-market osmosis. The distaste for Lincoln Center often sounds like a repudiation of American fashion in general. After all, American fashion, rooted in New York City, has always had a wide embrace. And a democratic approach to style allowed the industry to grow and profit in a way that its French counterpart did not. The brands that show in Lincoln Center are not interested in rewriting the definition of fashion by taking subversive stances on femininity, beauty, or power. Mostly they just strive to make clothes that are pretty and fun and, in a few cases, relatively affordable.
Tory Burch and J.Crew both presented collections at Lincoln Center. Burch's inspiration came from the French Riviera of the sixties. Her models walked along a runway built to resemble the swirling waters of a pool, wearing dresses embroidered with botanical prints, perforated leather tops, and slim jeans enlivened with scarf prints. No heavy intellectual lifting required; nothing on that runway was going to make anyone re-consider the morality of capitalism versus inherited wealth.
The more modestly priced J.Crew women’s collection, under the guidance of Jenna Lyons, looked like a close cousin to the Tory Burch collection. It, too, focused on simple shapes, fun prints, and nonchalant layers. Pointing out the similarity between the two collections is not meant as a criticism, but rather an observation: American fashion's common vocabulary is rooted in pragmatism. The most successful American brands have tapped into that vocabulary, welcoming an enormous population of women into their fold. Those women are better dressed because of it.
And frankly, most American women don’t want their fashion lives to get any more complicated than J. Crew. Indeed, it’s telling that some of the best selling brands at high-end, national stores, according to one retailer, are lines such as The Row and 3.1 Phillip Lim. They come in at vastly different price points, but both of them excel at delivering the right amount of fashion for the dollar.
When Michael Kors put his spring 2014 collection on the runway at Lincoln Center, it almost made one sigh with relief. Sometimes, American designers work so hard to convince their audience – and perhaps, themselves – that they are just as creative as those folks in Paris, that just looking at their collections is a tense and exhausting exercise.
Kors’s collection of short-sleeve jackets with tucked shoulders, pleated skirts, and sweeping trousers felt delightfully American. He described the collection as being about “summer romance,” and the easy silhouettes did conjure an uncomplicated, visceral joy. Why do we make everything so hard when it comes to fashion? The creative process can be grueling enough, why slather on the misery of cynicism, crankiness, and clothes that require an instruction manual?
Meanwhile, neither Oscar de la Renta nor Proenza Schouler’s Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough presented their collections in Lincoln Center. De la Renta used his own headquarters on West 42nd Street, while Hernandez and McCollough chose the unfinished second floor of a building on West 55th Street. Nonetheless, both collections made the clothes look effortless.
De la Renta’s collection hit its stride with its fanciful cocktail and evening dresses with tiered skirts, necklines embellished with chunky crystals, tank dresses cut from tablecloth lace, and party dresses in which floral appliques were layered atop sparkling embroidery. These dresses had a simple goal: Make women look classically, memorably beautiful. Not groundbreaking, but still an irresistible fantasy.
Hernandez and McCollough were more adventurous, with their maxi silhouettes and elephant pant legs. Many of the touches called to mind the work of the groundbreaking American designer Bonnie Cashin, who popularized the use of turnkey closures and employed long, sporty lines. Hernandez and McCollough continue to concoct fabrics that play tricks on the eye, with one tailored coat looking like it had been given a delicate sponge bath in pale coral watercolor. Everything about their collection, from the towering stacked platform heels, to the skirts that stretched far beyond the knees, read like a bold, hyperbolic statement on the runway while not being alienated from real city streets.
Reed Krakoff, who recently announced that he and his co-investors had closed on the purchase of his signature business from Coach, has an exquisite understanding of the American aesthetic. With a stint at Tommy Hilfiger, before helping to transform Coach into a billion-dollar company, Krakoff is steeped in preppy style, the founding tenants of American sportswear as defined by Cashin — who designed for Coach — and the lucrative sweet spot between the luxury and mass markets. His own collection continues to evolve into one that espouses minimalist lines, splashes of color, city seriousness, and … something. That missing, unidentified emotional something that will ultimately define the brand. His spring collection of barely there dresses, crisscrossing skirts, and sleeveless trenchcoat dresses was filled with pretty lines. Its pale peach color palette, with bursts of neon lime, veered from wan to jarring; a pleasant collection that lacked personality.
All of these designers are exceedingly comfortable with the American-ness in their work. Whether it is simplicity or pragmatism, sweetness or joy, the clothes speak with a common vocabulary. Each designer, of course, says something unique. Some are more eloquent. Some are fancier in their expression. But they are all speaking the same language.BEGIN SLIDESHOW
Most Viewed Stories
Karl Lagerfeld Calls Out Meryl Streep for Canceling an Order for a Chanel Dress
Taylor Swift Is Not Going to Be Happy About This New Friendship
Rereading The Handmaid’s Tale, One Month Into the Trump Era
It Sure Looks Like Diane Kruger Is Dating Norman Reedus Now
Woman Framed by Ex-Boyfriend’s Wife in Craigslist ‘Rape Fantasy’ Plot Speaks Out
Why Did Everyone Act Like I Was Crazy When I Decided to Have a Baby in My 20s?
Sports Illustrated’s New Curvy Model on Fitness, Staying Healthy, and Embracing Her Body
Someone Paid $2,000 to Provide Us With This Terrible Billboard
Witches Are Planning to Hex Trump This Friday
Ask Polly: I Overshared My Way Out of a Boyfriend!
The Cut’s Latest Fashion FeaturesCiara's Wedding Dress Was Too Big for the Chapel
To be fair, it was a 13 foot-long dress.You and Rihanna Will Both Want to Invest in Dior’s New Bag
It's got something for everyone.Polo Shirts Have Turned Their Back on Ryan Lochte
Along with his other major sponsors.Ryan Lochte Will No Longer Be Paid to Wear Tiny Bathing Suits
Speedo remains committed to transparency.Laura Brown Is the New Editor-in-Chief of InStyle
After 11 years at Harper’s Bazaar.Tyra Banks Is Going to Teach a Class on Smizing at Stanford
"If I see somebody not paying attention, I’m gonna call on them."This Floating Pier Is the Most Zen Installation Ever
Walking on water in Italy.Nation Is Appalled by Matt Lauer’s Nude Ankles During Ryan Lochte Interview
What’s the opposite of “Jeah”?8 People at the Life of Pablo Pop-up Explain Why Kanye West Is a God
"I mean, Kanye West is just Kanye West. There's not more or less you can say about Kanye West. He's just Mr. West!"A T-shirt Is Enough
Simplicity, versatility, and cool. What more could you want?
She took a perfect pencil dive off a 30-foot yacht.American Apparel Is Being Sued by Former Workers
As the company considers putting itself up for sale.A Gendered History of the Tailored Suit
From Marlon Brando to Coco Chanel.How Zendaya Developed Such Great Style at the Young Age of 19
The star's best looks from Disney to now.Proof That If You’re Chic Enough, a Little Federal Investigation Doesn’t Matter
Is this the best they could do?5,300-Year-Old Mummified Iceman Probably Would’ve Been a Street-Style Star
He had several different looks and was “pretty picky.”J.Crew Has Identified 226 Shades of Pink
Even more than there are shades of gray.Gigi and Bella Hadid Merch Is Now Somehow a Thing That Is Happening
Today in Hadidiana.Gird Your Loins for the Return of Yeezy to New York Fashion Week
The season approaches.This Indie Brand Had a Great Response to Ivanka Trump
When she bought one of their cuffs, they donated the proceeds to the Clinton campaign.