Designers like Christian Siriano made New York Fashion Week possible. Type of.

With this endless drop, drop, drop of clothing in the public consciousness, it’s hard to keep the buzz going. Still, the 2021 spring season was perhaps the most urgent of its life – less about the garments themselves than about an industry’s tenacious determination to survive and fulfill its most basic purpose of bringing joy.

There is also hope that joy with a dash of glamor will be good for business. After all, fashion fans make up 4.6 percent of the workforce in the city’s private sector. A normal fashion week can have an impact of $ 600 million on the New York economy. The country needs fashion.

After months of living and working in various degrees of loneliness, designers were unsure of their economic fate, overwhelmed by social, political and emotional upheaval. Most seemed to find reassuring certainty in aesthetics, that is, they were clear about what kind of world they wanted to see and how they wanted to live in it.

“The pursuit of design and beauty is bigger than a dress,” says Wes Gordon, Creative Director of Carolina Herrera, who will be presenting his summer collection 2021 in a few weeks. In the meantime, he premiered “Conversations,” a short, filmed chat with the brand’s namesake, now retired. She taught him that fashion is “rooted in the way you live. This is how you interact with people. It’s the flowers on your table. It is your family It’s laughter. It’s a dinner party. There is joy everywhere. “

For Gordon, who recently returned to the company’s Seventh Avenue offices to work face-to-face with his design team, fashion week is an eerily quiet affair. Instead of focusing on 800 to 900 items for sale, they’ll get around half that number. The normally busy showroom is mostly empty except for a camera setup for Zoom conferencing with retailers.

The sewing machines are switched on again in the work area. It’s a gentle whirring that reflects the delicate nature of Gordon’s designs – bodice in the shape of bows, silky polka dots fluttering from a skirt, a dress in the shape of a giant flower. The lack of hustle and bustle reflects the fact that fashion is not yet in full swing. But it will get there. Gordon is sure.

“I grew up in Atlanta. I always wanted to be a designer and love fashion and do internships in New York. I am forever intoxicated with the magic of New York Fashion Week, ”says Gordon. “I believe in it more than ever. We’re not giving up New York Fashion Week, and never will be. “

Despite limitations and hurdles, designers are determined to celebrate creativity. Some debuted online with still images or artistic films accompanied by soundtracks of poetry and serious music. Tom Ford offered pictures of glamorous caftans and high quality training pants. Imitation of Christ returned after a hiatus with a brisk movie of skateboarders wearing upcycled designs. There were straightforward runway shows like Frederick Anderson’s streamed from empty studios and Maria Cornejo’s pragmatic wizardry shown against the bricks and stones of the city. While Peter Do was showing his collection in single zoom appointments weeks ago, he explained how his sophisticated but simple sportswear reflects his workplace philosophy.

“You keep hearing that you almost have to die or stress and kill yourself to get a good job,” says Do. “I really believe that you should be treated with kindness and respect, you know. And you should be in a place where you can be yourself and just be creative. And I think that’s when people do the best work. “

For spring 2021, designers are realizing that consumers are now used to feeling comfortable in their daily work clothes. But nobody has given up style, the joys of dressing. This is not the sweatpants season.

For a designer like LaQuan Smith, who will be showcasing his collection in a Hype Williams film in a few weeks’ time, buyers come to him because his clothes convey the promise of a party, he says.

“As in my sales reports, I find that LaQuan Smith is sold out during a pandemic,” says the designer, referring to his eponymous brand in a Zoom chat from his studio in Long Island City. “Women still have the idea of ​​longing for a reason to celebrate. I think there is hope there. People are likely to say to themselves, “Oh my god, I love this dress. … I’m going to buy this now because when the pandemic is over I’ll know exactly what to break out. ‘”

Smith also knows that as a black designer, he is getting more attention at a time when inclusivity is paramount. Indeed, the group of designers who showed off this season – as well as the models – was very diverse. “I definitely think I’m part of this concept of supporting black designers,” says Smith. “But at the same time, without people knowing or knowing who I am, people stumble over something they like.”

“It’s organic to me and really has nothing to do with being black,” says Smith. “During the quarantine myself, I met some new designers and new brands that I didn’t even know. And I say, “Oh, wow, that’s really stupid, you know?” And I’m paying more attention to that now because I think we just had the time. We slowed down enormously. We read more books. We like to do more research. “

Can high-resolution photographs or films by famous artists replace the energy and magic of a live show that despite all its flaws – costs, environmental pollution, chaotic start of crowds and traffic and exclusivity – can transport an audience? somewhere else for a few exquisite minutes? Maybe one day. However, this was not the season of the better alternative. This was the season of making.

IMG, the big talent and production company, hosted shows in downtown Spring Studios, where a rooftop deck served as the backdrop for Jason Wu’s live runway show in front of a few dozen guests and Rebecca Minkoff gave a live presentation. In the past few seasons, this has been the zero point for street style photographers and social media butterflies. This time there were fewer lensmen; The plumage was far less extravagant. The setting was more sobering.

“We thought it was kind of important to send a signal that we are open to business,” says Leslie Russo, who is responsible for global fashion events at IMG. Instead of a street sign advertising designers and brands, “we thank the essential employees.”

While IMG’s planning began in late spring with the hope that fashion week would take place in some form, executives didn’t get approval from the governor’s office until the second week of August. Nothing can replace “the energy of having several people together. I think it was something for us that we really always believed in, ”says Russo.

No designer has made a live show bolder than Christian Siriano, who spent much of spring making masks for first responders. He invited guests to the grassy area that surrounds his modern home in Westport, Connecticut, an hour’s drive from town. A single row of chairs at a safe distance snaked across the meadow. A small pond with brightly colored flowers formed the centerpiece around which the models walked.

Picnic baskets with tea sandwiches, biscuits, champagne and hand disinfectants as well as face masks with the request to “vote” were waiting for each guest. Some guests arrived dressed as if they were being escorted to the Met Ball rather than an extra large back yard. Entertainer Billy Porter, who wore a sparkling trouser suit and a hat that was tilted to the side, was a reminder that fashion is alive – even now.

Siriano found inspiration in his binge watching “Troop Beverly Hills” and “The Wizard of Oz” during the lockdown. He filled the so-called Collection 37 with tomato-red party dresses, sun-yellow dresses covered with flowers and huge ball gowns lined with crinoline for galas that may not have happened for a long time.

“I like to do these clothes. It makes me feel good and I haven’t felt good for six months, ”said Siriano after his show. “I thought I would do what I love. I will do a show. I will transport everyone and take them out of the things that have kept them busy for a while. Fantasy for 20 minutes. “

Just before the designer bowed, model Coco Rocha finished her last tour and strolled into the pond to refresh herself spontaneously. She was still wearing her bright red dress with the floor-length train and the matching hat. She emerged drenched, but still with her hat on.

It was a spontaneous move that the audience greeted with confusion and even a little concern. Did she fall in? Was that on purpose? What the …?

We almost forgot what it means to be stupid. Serendipity is gone. Nothing is off the shelf. Now everything has to be planned: the masks, the distance, the disinfection, the ventilation, the points of contact. Everything is a risk that needs to be managed.

How quickly did we forget what it was like to just do. Just be.

It can take a long time for the world to return to joyful spontaneity. Fashion is doing its best to remind us what it is like.

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