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Fashion in the shadow of September 11




A ghostly mansion inside The Shed: Boxwood hedges and parched urns filled an ersatz French-style garden built in the performance space of Hudson Yards, the elaborate real estate development built on the Far West Side of Manhattan just before the Covid-19 hit and which has stood as a sort of empty monument to the prepandemic dreams of greatness and greed of the past two years.

Dotted among the faded greenery were 20 frozen figures, each encased in a rose bush shell. In the center was the frame of a bookcase, populated by two wingback chairs, a refreshing bottle of champagne, and a pair of bachelors in gray flannel dresses padded in exaggerated early 20th-century S-shapes. Two men riding penny farthings appeared, wearing mesh horse heads and short suits, all in gray. Then the statues stood up as one, let down their coats and began to walk. That’s how Thom Brownes’ show began, his first in New York since leaving the city for Paris Fashion Week in 2017.

For two decades now, there has been something surreal about attending a fashion show (or many fashion shows) on September 11th. of the moment except on the podium, filled with dreams and the future. It is both shocking and disruptive; positive proof, it often seems, of the vain egocentrism of the industry.

Yet fashion and 9/11 are irrevocably linked, because of time and history, the attack taking place just at the start of New York Fashion Week, and because the events that moment sparked have shaped what followed. Literally, when it comes to clothes, and the needs and emotions they meet. Not that most designers put it that way, exactly.

Instead, Mr Browne, speaking from a microphone in the dark, asked the audience to take a moment of silence before his show to recognize the importance of the date. Then he checked the name of a 1962 JG Ballard short story titled The Garden of Time and unveiled a three-act collection.

First, his trademark ode to the four pieces of the gray suit (waistcoat, jacket, pants, skirt) in fine stripes, Prince of Wales checks and seersucker, remixing the jumpsuit for each look, like the twist of a Rubiks Cube. Then, a meditation on proportions and the power of subtraction, layering austere tunics with mismatched sleeves (sometimes by sewing one to the body, making it worryingly still) on long skirts.

And finally, a rainbow of what looked like the simplest T-shirt dresses screen-printed to mimic the drapery of Greek and Roman statuary and worn, once again, by living statues, both male and female. (although on Mr. Brownes’ trail, as on many this week, the genre is irrelevant). Only the dresses turned out to be not printed at all, but rather trompe-l’oeil masterpieces constructed from layers and layers of tulle, each containing pieced together and hand-applied shadows, such as a topographic memory map.

There was an elegiac quality to the work, with its digs into mid-century American idioms. Amid the somewhat frenetic optimism of returning to the shows in person, it resonated.

Mr. Browne was not the only designer whose work seemed imbued with nostalgia and a sense of the past.

(He wasn’t the only one influenced by the Mets Costume Institute’s emphasis on Americana, either. At Coach, Stuart Vevers took inspiration from Bonnie Cashin, Coach’s first designer, in an sadly tasteless mix. inspired by oversized anoraks skate clothing over baggy shorts and little kitsch logo t-shirts celebrating New York consumer landmarks. It wasn’t made better by the screening of the Coach TV fashion film with Chaka Khan, among others.)

Jason Wu has stained dried flowers in casual dresses and parted in the best job he has done over the seasons. Kate and Laura Mulleavy put on their Rodarte show in the sculpture-adorned courtyard of the Westbeth Artists Housing complex, with black-and-white slip-on dresses trailing lace fronds that caught so much in the breeze, bright fringe dresses in constant movement and mushroom printed silks rolled up behind to lift like parachutes in the wind (plus a stunning black cape embroidered with a glittery image of an alien, complete with a UFO).

In the end, the models appeared barefoot, in matching silk dresses in cream tones, from ivory to gold to seashell pink, like a multitude of earth angels. Or a cult, depending on your point of view.

Yet no one grasps the feeling of dislocation and denouement and then turns it into a source of strength better than Eckhaus Latta’s Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta. They deploy the comfort of ribbed knits like a rug that can be pulled out from under you; drop suspenders and simulate expectations of what constitutes pants or a dress; sprinkle snaps along the curved seams of stretch tops and pants; then un-pop the poppers in unexpected places to expose a thigh here, an armpit there, confronting and celebrating the sheer flesh of it all.

People want to show off their bodies, says Michael Kors, which is another way of thinking about the question of corporeality as a way of asserting one’s presence in the world. Mr. Kors just does it with a lot of decorum and an air of spectacle rather than EDM. Shown at Tavern on the Green, to accompany Broadway star Ariana DeBose live, the Mr. Korss collection was full of dropped necklines and exposed waists, circular lace skirts and bra tops. Indeed, the exposed belly becomes one of the trends of the week. (Brandon Maxwell adopted it as well, replacing shirts with bikinis under pants designed for a pink and green picnic party).

So, moreover, are shows staged in restaurants; see subversively sweet Batshevas Priscilla Presley moire and velvet party girls at Serendipity 3, and Anna Am a tropical tourist, luau mash-up in Indochina. Vichy as well and, in a welcome development, the presence of models with different capacities on the track.

And while Thom Browne may be the dean of fashion dramaturgy, Rachel Comey had her own production. Avoiding her usual friends at a family dinner theater, she enlisted choreographer Beth Gill for a 20th anniversary performance, a swarming melee of individuals running, kissing, engaging in clothing swaps, casting chairs office, undressing and otherwise interacting in looks that included graphic print dresses, sleek black jumpsuits, glittering culottes and artful artist blouses. It was messy, confusing and frustrating (Where to watch first? What did I just miss?) And pretty awesome.

Because it really did look like life. In the best possible way.




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