9 Style Lessons From New York Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2020
From razor sharp suiting to seriously great dresses, these are the highlights from NYFW
New York is the first stop on the biannual fashion month calendar — and our first glimpse of what autumn/winter 2020 has in store. Here are the takeaways from the ground.
It’s lonely on the front row
The most talked-about show during New York Fashion Week actually happened in LA. Designer Tom Ford, chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of American — the body in charge of NYFW, as it happens — issued the hottest ticket in Hollywood with an event whose front row rivalled that of the Oscars.
This was, clearly, the whole point: when your USP is celebrity dressing, where else would you be on the eve of the Academy Awards? Though none of his crystal-strewn gowns made it on to the red carpet — those deals are struck months in advance — it was a marketing masterstroke.
He wasn’t the only one playing truant from the NYFW schedule, however. Other brands made their excuses too: Tommy Hilfiger is showing tomorrow in London, while Ralph Lauren will host a special event in April instead, the first time he’s skipped NYFW in more than 50 years. Also missing in action were Joseph Altuzarra, Rosie Assoulin and Jeremy Scott, who have all decamped to Paris, while Kate Spade and Tibi put on small presentations instead.
As a result, the week felt somewhat lacking in energy as well as glamour — though Katie Holmes did her bit, valiantly attending as many shows as she could, single-handedly upping the celeb quotient. We’re practically BFFs now.
It feels like fashion now has to say something or run the risk of seeming irrelevant. In a show season that’s happening alongside Harvey Weinstein’s trial, feminism is a good place to start. And who better to do it than Tory Burch?
A self-made billionaire with a fashion empire to rival Ralph Lauren, she’s also a philanthropist who campaigns passionately for female entrepreneurship. This is the side of her which came to the fore here, perhaps for the first time.
Held in the halls of Sotheby’s, the show was a collaboration with artist Francesca DiMattio, around whose sly, colourful ceramic sculptures — fusing abstract female forms with flowers — models walked.
“She challenges the traditional norms of femininity,” Burch said afterwards. The same could be said of the clothing, which took preconceived ideas of power dressing and subtly subverted them — a grey plaid trouser suit had a soft slope to its shoulders and a gentle nip at its waist, worn with a silk lace blouse and tucked into supple over-the-knee boots, while high-necked Edwardian jackets were teamed with lean pants and those same elongated boots.
“I was thinking about how I would want a woman who I admired to go into a boardroom,” the designer said. She could, of course, be talking about herself.
Burning down the house
There are other kinds of power dressing at play in New York. The houses of Carolina Herrera and Oscar De La Renta have traditionally catered for the woman who wants a skirt suit for lunch at Mortimer’s and a gown for her gala at the Plaza. But luxury has a different face now and both brands are designed by young creatives who get this new world order.
Wes Gordon is just 33 but helms Herrera with a clear, concise eye: this is maximalism by a minimalist, the overblown shapes of his dresses executed in confident colour instead of print. The opening look said it all: a pink chiffon high-neck dress swept the floor beneath a crimson cashmere cape coat, edged in the same pink and belted at the waist like a dressing gown (capes, cape coats and robes also happen to be three of this week’s biggest trends).
Laura Kim, 37, plus partner Fernando Garcia, 32, took to New York’s Public Library for their show — models strode along its marble halls in skirts that stretched the width of a corridor, fuchsia silk brushing the audience’s feet.
Scarlett Johansson wore a gown by the brand to the Oscars, carefully cut to expose the tattoo across her rib cage; such is their modernity. Though the designers’ moodboard was full of images from Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball, the apex of old school glamour, this collection was bold and sculptural — a pair of immaculately cut black cocktail pants worn with a strapless silver sequin top, tied at the waist with velvet ribbon, was lovely in its simplicity.
Don’t look back in anger
The word of the season is sustainability. Michael Kors has been thinking about this a lot. At a preview of his terrific town-and-country, equestrian-inspired collection, he wasn’t talking about carbon neutral shows or fabric upcycling; rather, about buying clothes to keep forever. “My approach to fashion has always been about a sense of timelessness and investment,” he says. “It’s the pride of owning something that lasts.”
With the brand’s 40th anniversary coming up, Kors has been looking back at his own heritage and drawing direct influence from it: a double face beige cashmere cape with a bold stripe of orange and brown at its hem, paired with suede riding boots and worn in the show by Kaia Gerber, was first modelled by Naomi Campbell in 1999, then worn by Joan Didion in a famous Tina Barney photograph. Which rather proves his point about longevity.
There were plenty of pieces here which looked like future heirlooms: grey cashmere sweatshirts, more delicious capes, tailored tweed suiting and a very, very desirable black sequin smock dress that had a wool polo neck underneath. “The best clothes should make you feel like you are in a chic security blanket,” Kors says.
The heart wants what it wants, to quote Selena Gomez, and that’s not Justin Bieber here but rather the understated luxury shown by The Row and Gabriela Hearst. This isn’t fashion but clothes for living: immaculate suiting in a season where everyone’s obsessed by it, seemingly effortless but cut with razor sharp precision.
Forget modernity. It’s not surprising that the most fashionable place to be right now is the Marches’ drawing room. Yes, Little Women is having an impact on the autumn/winter 2020 season — how could it not? — with its influence felt both on and off the runway. Long tiered dresses worn with clompy boots and romantic capes: amongst the Bottega bags and beige leather culottes, a pleasing primness took over the street style set.
This kind of historical theatricality has always had a place in London — see Erdem, for example — but here in New York, it was evident at brands like Brock Collection, Ulla Johnson and Zimmermann, all of whom excel at a really good frock.
If what your heart desires for autumn is some Victoriana then Kate Spade has a dreamy little day dress with white lace cuffs and a matching collar that clasps the throat. If you prefer your vintage with an East Village edge then look to Coach, where Stuart Vevers made a convincing case for the printed shirtwaister, long-sleeved and belted, just the right side of retro.
The It accessory
Newsflash: the front row’s new must have accessory is currently on special offer at Boots. There wasn’t a British editor who didn’t stock up on Carex antibacterial hand gel as they passed through Heathrow en route to New York. It’s not that we’re paranoid about coronavirus, but when you’re spending a month squashed together like battery chickens, why take the chance? Personal hygiene is very autumn/winter 2020.
Along with sustainability and $2,000 cashmere jumpers, NYFW also had a brief moment that illustrated the power of fashion to utterly transport its audience. Sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy of put on a candlelit presentation in a Fifth Avenue church that brought their rain sodden audience close to tears.
Maybe it was the evocative Nick Cave soundtrack (“everyone has a heart and it’s calling for something”) but there was beauty and drama in this gothic show, which spoke of female strength and magic. It also had some seriously great dresses, another New York trend: anyone seeking an unconventional wedding outfit should look no further than the paillette-embellished white tiered tulle.
Marc Jacobs knows how to entertain. This is a man, after all, who once had an actual steam train pull into his Louis Vuitton show. He brought NYFW to a close with an electrifying piece of theatre: his models, dressed in conservative midcentury clothes, found themselves surrounded by a flashmob of dancers, leaping and prancing and bringing the house down. It was so transfixing that the runway debut of one Miley Cyrus went almost entirely unnoticed.
Avril Mair is fashion director at ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ and ‘Elle’.
— The Sunday Telegraph