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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Amid political uncertainty, New York Fashion Week was a celebration of diversity

New York Fashion Week has, for the second season running, thrown up endless looks and outfits that have an unbalanced, veering-this-way-and-that quality, complete with asymmetric neck and hemlines

Victoria Beckham wowed with a palette of soft ice-cream tones. AFP
Victoria Beckham wowed with a palette of soft ice-cream tones. AFP

I consider myself quite a worldly person. I have travelled extensively and lived an international type of lifestyle. I have braved street food and can muster enough foreign words to get by in different countries. I can remove spiders from the bath all by myself, and used to attend “Free Nelson Mandela” rallies.

And, I recycle. So when I boarded my Etihad Airways flight bound for New York Fashion Week, all set for 16 hours of royal treatment, I was a little surprised to discover that the passenger sitting next to me was a Donald Trump supporter – I’d never met one before.

As it turned out, this was a fitting precursor to the runway shows I was about to see. There is no doubting that these are uncertain, unsettling times in the United States, and this manifested itself on the catwalks of New York.

After arriving in the Big Apple and diving straight into the glorious mania that is fashion week, with all its racing around, endless delayed starts and sore feet, it quickly became clear that while my friend in business class thinks Trump is great, the New York fashion set may not be of the same opinion.

Often derided for being little more than fluff, I have learnt that fashion can often serve as a barometer for the public mood. For example, short hems are often seen to signal optimism, while long skirts are a sign that it’s time to hunker down and batten the hatches.

Therefore, it may not be a coincidence, given the current political uncertainty surrounding the unpredictable firebrand that is president Trump, that New York Fashion Week has, for the second season running, thrown up endless looks and outfits that have an unbalanced, veering-this-way-and-that quality, complete with asymmetric neck and hemlines.

Bold accessories at Tory Burch. AFP
Bold accessories at Tory Burch. AFP

Tory Burch and Jason Wu both offered beautifully lopsided collections, and although Burch’s Grecian hippy take on the maxi dress differed from Wu’s uber masculine shirting, the message of both was clear – uncertainty abounds.

Over at Victoria Beckham, the crowd was charmed by the delicious ice-cream colour palette, and the designer favoured transparent fabrics for shirts and coverings. With so many fabric choices on offer, that a designer should settle on one that is see-through may well have been a message that, amid so much confusion, a little transparency goes a long way.

A more obvious political slant was evident at Prabal Gurung, who kicked off his show with the slogan: “Grant me the strength to change the things I cannot accept". For the finale, he donned a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “resist with heart”.

Designer Prabal Gurung makes a point with his choice of T-shirt. Joe Penney / Reuters
Designer Prabal Gurung makes a point with his choice of T-shirt. Joe Penney / Reuters

Just as big fashion houses LVMH and Kering finally vowed to stamp out the use of underweight models, New York used the spring/summer 2018 runway to celebrate women of all shapes and sizes. Possibly a backlash to what many regard as a chauvinistic White House, New York embraced models of every possible dress size and skin tone. Plus-size models paraded beside dark-skinned girls, alongside size 6 Caucasian, mixed-race and Asian women, with a few boys thrown in for good measure.

Hair was pale blonde, braided, shaved and afro, and it all looked amazing. For the first time, the runways of NYFW actually mirrored the diversity on the streets outside. And the nicest thing? Every time a plus-size model hit the runway, be it at Christian Siriano or Tadashi Shoji’s shows, the crowd cheered and yelled its support.

New York is renowned for its fashion presence. Courtesy Joe Penney / Reuters
New York is renowned for its fashion presence. Courtesy Joe Penney / Reuters

Diversity was also a focus for pop superstar Rihanna, who showed her Fenty collection – riding high on the launch of her Fenty Beauty collection, which offers an astonishing range of foundations for every skin tone. The only brand to offer such a comprehensive range, this singer-turned-fashion icon has put the big make-up brands, (and their refusal to cater to any skin tone other than Caucasian) to shame.

Although I did not get a chance to attend her fashion show (which was the expected riot of colour and sex appeal that good manners prohibit me from discussing further), I can attest first-hand that her foundation range for darker skins – and we are talking 20 different shades – completely sold out as soon as it went on sale. It seems bad girl RiRi’s habit of shaking things up has just extended to the cosmetics world.

Of course, the week was over-shadowed by the sad passing of one of the industry’s pioneers, Pierre Bergé, business partner of Yves Saint Laurent. Credited as the person who kept Saint Laurent together in the midst of the designer’s battle with depression, Bergé’s death will of course be more acutely felt in Paris, but is a major loss for the fashion industry as a whole.

Although press from around the world seems a little obsessed with the fact that some labels have left New York this season in favour of showing in Paris or Milan, the mood at NYFW was still buoyant and upbeat. Queues to get into the shows were just as long, and the parties and pop-up shops just as packed. If there has been a mass exodus from New York, it wasn’t apparent.

NYFW has been a bubbling cauldron of energy and raw emotions. Sometimes refined, other times barely contained, the city that never sleeps is still very much alive. Far from being thrown off-course by a few departing designers, instead it seems to be doing what it does best: supporting new talents and railing against the rest of America.

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Read more:

London Fashion Week enjoys boost from big brands

Street style at New York Fashion Week

Designer Julien Macdonald on partnering with Etihad for new short film

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