It Was New York Fashion's Battle of the Cool Kids. Of Course Rihanna Won
The pop star's collaboration with Fenty Puma was a thrilling addition to New York Fashion Week
It's so hard being cool. For some people it may come naturally, but those folks are rare, and even then it requires a certain amount of attention. It means looking the part, with clothes that seem perfectly individual yet wholly uncalculated. One must have an attitude that is vaguely remote but neither distant nor rude. But mostly, being cool revolves around doing something extraordinarily well while making it look as effortless as breathing.
A particular segment of fashion is fueled by the quest for cool. And more power to those who strive for it, because it is exhausting. Alexander Wang, Public School, Fenty Puma by Rihanna: They all aim for it. This season their tools of choice: A kitschy warehouse-district party, a so-mundane-its-fabulous Chinatown setting, motorbike acrobatics and lots and lots of money.
First up was Alexander Wang, who arrived on the fashion scene more than 10 years ago with an aesthetic that was most accurately described as morning-after, walk-of-shame. Wang was not only able to capture the look of a young woman in the wee hours after a night of rowdy partying — the mussed hair, ripped fishnets, disheveled too-short dress - but also the attitude. In those early shows, the audience could practically smell the stale beer and cigarettes of this fantasy night of debauchery.
No one else was doing that, at least not as well, and Wang could take something as simple as a white T-shirt and make it stand out. There was something special about an Alexander Wang T-shirt, in the way that it hung off the body, in its drape, in the feel of it.
That precocious start took Wang on a journey to Paris, as the creative director of Balenciaga, and back to New York and his roots. And for Spring 2018, he took his audience to Bushwick, in the borough of Brooklyn, to a street in the middle of a warehouse district, where he'd promised a fashion show.
To say that the show was a disorganised mess would suggest that there was some desire to create an organised experience in which the clothes were the central point. But for Wang, the point on was not the clothes, it was the party, better known as #WANGFEST. It was one-part rave and one-part carnival, complete with drinks reminiscent of trashcan punch, teeming hordes pressing against the barricades and the actual aroma of stale liquor and cigarettes.
But before everyone drifted into that mosh pit of mayhem, what looked like silver chain mail came strutting down the street-cum-runway — and barely anyone noticed. Because barely anyone could see it, because even those in the best position were still some 20m away from the models.
So while this might be, in part, the tale of a cranky guest who couldn't believe that a show that took almost an hour to start lasted less than five minutes — and essentially consisted of a few pairs of zipper-adorned trousers, a jacket or two wrapped around waists and a couple of party hats that said things like "Wangover" — it is also the disheartening observation that a designer with an incredible eye for culture and style seems more focused on the quality of his after-party than the collection that party is celebrating. And that's not cool.
The fizzy buzz around Wang was always due to his ability to inject party culture into his brand. But the success of the brand was because of his clothes. When he'd come running out after his shows, smiling and triumphant, people applauded because he'd done something. He'd given them something to consider. This time, when Wang came trotting down the street, you wondered: Did he forget something? Like maybe the rest of the clothes?
The duo behind Public School, Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow, create clothes that look as though they have emerged organically from the street. They are rooted in function — running for subways, living the nomadic life of a commuter, hiking the city streets in comfort and ease. The clothes don't give the wearer swagger, they simply heighten the confidence that surely must already be present because otherwise why on earth would think you could pull off plastic-wrapped sneakers, lace-up hoodies and nylon bloomers?
The setting for the spring 2018 show was a narrow arcade in Chinatown filled with old advertisements, drugstore products inside dusty vitrines and the vague aroma of fish.
The models carried pink "shopping bags" as accessories, and their shirts and coats were graffitied with the phrase "come again." There were coveralls and windbreakers wrapped in safety belts and, of course, signature baseball caps.
These clothes weren't pretty. And that's just fine. You love them anyway. It was so easy to see them on the street. They were of the street. Everything about them was influenced by the hurly-burly of an urban environment where all sorts of people bump up against one another and not only manage to respect one another's space but take pleasure in the juxtapositions of diversity. That's cool.
And then, for her Fenty Puma collection, Rihanna had motorcyclists flying through the air at the Park Avenue Armory. Over pink sand dunes, bikers soared and flipped to signal the start of a collection that took its inspiration from motocross but was really just about the kind of vaguely technical sportswear that makes you feel urban and plugged-in.
In bright shades of hot pink, safety yellow and cobalt blue, these jackets and cargo pants and swimsuits looked fun and easy, familiar but different. Functional. And with dynamic details.
Rihanna has figured out how to sprinkle just the right amount of her stardust on the sportswear brand without overshadowing the brand itself. It's a collaboration and that comes through. Rihanna takes up a lot of the oxygen in the room, but not all of it. She makes it look easy. And that's very cool.
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