NYFW Designers Are Showing Clothes People Can Wear? Groundbreaking.

It’s nice to see a sophisticated striped dress or a lovely white lace gown without much fuss stealing the show for once.

NYFW Gabriela Hearst - Lead
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Jumping into a cab between runway shows this week, I was surprised when the driver asked me, unprompted, if it was true that this New York Fashion Week was a dud.

“I picked up Bella Hadid after Tom Ford,” he said, as a testament to his credibility. My eyebrow instinctively shot up. Doesn’t she have a car and driver?

“Is it because all those big designers aren’t showing here anymore?” he asked. “I can tell there’s less going on. It’s my livelihood.”

Hmmm. While it’s true that pretty much everyone has been ragging the New York shows this week — perhaps this driver had been reading his WWD — it really hasn’t been all that bad. New York, after years of being glutted with too many shows, was in dire need of a reset. And while there have been some clear losers of fashion week — taxi drivers for one — there have also been some unexpected winners. Florists, for example, are seeing a boom in business thanks to a trend of putting bouquets on the runways (it was Putnam & Putnam Fashion Week at Adam Lippes, Jason Wu, and Brandon Maxwell). Diana Ross, too, is having a moment and not just at the Grammys. The Supremes were on repeat at Anna Sui and Carolina Herrera.

For once, even though we’ve got a day still to go, I’m not mad at #NYFW. Not even Spring Studios can get me down. That’s not because the show producers have entirely cleaned up their acts (I give them credit for trying), but rather a sense among designers that it’s time to focus on clothes made for real customers, and not exclusively for street style stars. That’s the impression I got at both the shows of Herrera, designed amiably by Wes Gordon, and at Oscar de la Renta, by Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia. Gordon’s beautiful array of dresses veered toward the scale of Ringling Brothers at points, true, and the pop colors risked comparisons to other designers, but at the heart of each look was something truly Herrera — the shirtdress. For fall, Gordon expanded his youthful take on the house signatures with a playful edge, but also serious pieces that would appeal to professionals looking to break out of the bonds of corporate attire. I loved the quieter pieces — a checked pantsuit with daring cutouts on the sides, and a coat with a decorative spray of pleats slashed from one side to the other.

NYFW Carolina Herrera - Embed
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At Oscar, the stage was set to reference the late Oscar de la Renta’s love of the Alhambra palace, and while there were literal nods to its architecture in mosaic tile dresses and a minaudière shaped like a lantern, the collection was unusually dominated by pretty straightforward dresses and jackets. It’s nice to see a sophisticated striped dress or a lovely white lace gown without much fuss stealing the show for once. My favorite look was something like burgundy pajamas, with oodles of colorful yarn pouring from the sleeve of a sweater and the leg of the trousers — so cozy!

NYFW Oscar de la Renta - Embed
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Another winner of the week was A$AP Ferg. Of all the many, many celebrities at the shows, he made the most fabulous entrance at Helmut Lang on Monday night, moments before the lights went down, wearing a bold look all in white. White parka, white top, white pants, and a white balaclava, a winter trend that suddenly risks taking on an unintended political charge, if you want to read too much into it. But I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him even as the clothes, now under the creative direction of Mark Thomas, made their way around a labyrinthine runway in a Chelsea gallery. While the designs did not do much to break the mold of Lang, the presentation did have a lot of energy, which is at least one small step toward reviving this brand. I wonder what Mr. Lang would think of seeing a guy wearing a double denim look in Hubba Bubba pink? Probably not much, but I’m down if you are.

NYFW Helmut Lang - Embed
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Another thing I like about this week is how many designers have stepped up to fill the void of smart clothes left by Phoebe Philo’s departure from Celine. Maria Cornejo, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen of The Row, and Gabriela Hearst were all standouts on that front. The Row, of course, has long held cult status for this particular audience, and I was amazed by their fall looks, which played up artist-loving funnel neck sweaters and turtlenecks with panache. And Hearst really knocked it out of the park this season with sensual knit dresses and quilted coats, some playing on utilitarian references, like a deconstructed trench coat that didn’t look too tricky to actually wear. Proenza Schouler had a few wonderful additions to the canon of remixed trenches, too, worth more than just a peekaboo look.

NYFW Proenza Schouler - Embed
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I’ll wrap up by mentioning that my colleague and I took another cab to Hearst’s show. It was just before noon on Tuesday and the streets were a mess in a storm of sleet and slush. The driver was terrific, though, and seemed perplexed to deliver his charges to a scene happening in the West Village, when, really, the streets should have been deserted. He asked what was happening and was tickled to learn it was a fashion show.

“I’m a model, too, you know,” he said, “for how not to be a model.”

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