How Fashion Designers Are Responding to a Polarized Nation of Shoppers

From a severely stylish pair of black trousers to nearly neon puffers, designers are going to extremes to assert themselves.

Prabal Gurung - Lead
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Not that long ago, American designers of preppy sportswear who aspired to enter this country’s very small pantheon of megabrands did so by proclaiming their wares as “classics, with a twist.”

It used to be that freshening up a polo shirt or a pair of chinos with a pop of contrast stitching was enough to build an empire. But today, customers are more discerning, and, like everything else in America, they are increasingly polarized in their tastes. They either want classics. Or they want twists. Not combos.

Brandon Maxwell - Embed
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And so, it makes some sense at New York Fashion Week that designers are going to one extreme or another. Tom Ford, Jason Wu, Brandon Maxwell, and many others are suddenly showing collections that are refined on an almost campish level, playing up a sense of refinement to a degree that would appeal to viewers of Dynasty, then or now. Maxwell’s show over the weekend, now a much-anticipated presentation from a rising star of New York, was especially Carringtonesque, with precisely cut black and white dresses, trimmed with gold zippers and buckled belts with coded luggage locks. A severely stylish pair of black trousers came decorated with a faux unzipped zipper, almost pointlessly, save for the point of being suggestive of sex. Meanwhile, Jason Wu, who has smartly dropped the pomp of runways in favor of presenting a few clever dresses in a brief presentation, has opted for some decidedly feminine frocks.

Jason Wu - Embed
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As for the twists, Sander Lak of Sies Marjan is continuing his push into bold color combinations and a lot of light ruffles, offering pinks and pastels along with bright oranges and yellow-greens on a runway that was strewn with crystals so fine they produced a dust in the air when the models ground them with their heels. Very pretty.

Sies Marjan - Embed
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Prabal Gurung, too, is a designer once known for lightly twisted classics, now veering into the territory of nearly neon puffers and color blocked quilted robes that replaced red, yellow, and blue with fuchsia, banana, and turquoise. That Prabal, he was such a nice boy. But his adult psychedelic tendencies are certainly understandable at a moment when designers need to assert themselves more aggressively, and also stand for something while also maintaining a bottom line.

Prabal Gurung - Embed
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Overall, the New York collections have offered more to love in the classics department, especially in the shows of Maxwell, Ford, Wu, and Ralph Lauren. But one standout from the weekend who seems to get this moment of dichotomy is Tory Burch, who covered her bases with a collection that veered from the severely classic, as in black and white separates that were so proper as to risk being (but not quite becoming) boring, to the severely twisted, as in pleated dresses and one wildly printed caftan that came trimmed with enough color-coded sequins to challenge a disco ball in terms of dazzling quotient. Preppy extroverts are going to be thrilled — classics, with some glitz.

Tory Burch - Embed
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