Although the shows have been going since last week, they really began on Monday at 9:06 a.m. That’s roughly when Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen of The Row started their show. At 9:11, it was over. Why say more when your first model is Gigi Hadid in a natty three-piece gray pantsuit and Carolyn Murphy, in a chic black ski hood, long tunic, and blazer, is your closer?
The Olsens didn’t need to explain backstage or with show notes that the retail scene sucks, that overproduction is choking the planet, and that the news in general has people stressed out. They said it with a concise collection of tailored clothing. The fit this season is a tiny bit oversize; the palette is rich neutrals with a touch of French blue (for a shirt); and they imported the masculine suit vest, a keynote of Hedi Slimane’s last Celine collection, though the Olsens made less of a statement out of it. Everything was supremely calm.
“The definition of luxury is making your life easier,” Mary-Kate told a reporter last month, when she and her sister presented their pre-fall line in Paris. Yesterday’s show offered the same mood. It also offered a similar fit, along with fine-knit turtlenecks paired with cotton shirts, though I would say this collection looks even more simplified.
Could there have been some sizzle in the show? Yes and no. My immediate positive reaction to the presentation’s classic trouser suits and plain, elegant (and lightweight) coats was in part because I’d seen too many amateurish and contrived clothes over the weekend. I craved something rational. But it has to be said that any number of e-commerce start-ups — Another Tomorrow and Meme Chose, to mention two — would be happy to sell you equally lovely, harmonious, simple things.
A high-fashion label, whether minimalist or decorative, implies some curiosity about technique and craft. I think, for example, of Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski’s spring 2020 women’s collection for Hermès with its extraordinary look at the company’s leather tradition. She was innovative without making big stylistic changes, and she included some subversive gestures, like white trousers based on painter’s pants and a wide-collared leather jacket probably drawn from a sailor shirt or a workman’s smock. So, yes, The Row was missing that extra quality of curiosity.
Monday’s shows, which finally saw a large turnout of European editors, were generally more restrained than last season’s — that is, the clothes were more functional and focused. Before Proenza Schouler, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez said the unending political news in January affected them. “We’re not political designers in that way, but you just can’t help but be influenced,” Hernandez said. “So as the collection developed, it became more blanket-y. Things started to wrap more.”
That meant beautiful woolen and duvet-style coats that spilled off one shoulder, like a garment sort of half-clutched around the body, and knitted pieces that seemed to do the same. Yet, in reality, the coats and pea jackets are conventionally cut and can be worn without that stagey gesture. This was a strong, thoughtful show, with two key silhouettes — those versatile coats in masculine fabrics worn with thigh-high stretch boots that can be scrunched a bit on the legs, and a pair of above-the-knee leather dresses, in black or taupe, that hug the body, with a wide band of leather provocatively defining one bare shoulder. The style was sharp, graphic, and nicely erotic.
The designers at Oscar de la Renta, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia — who dressed Scarlett Johansson for the Academy Awards — also simplified things a bit, especially day clothes. The focus was on color-blocking: vibrant shades of hot pink, sky blue, jade green, and cherry used mostly for classic cashmere coats, crewnecks, and pants. It’s a big season for color, and the best colorists — Christopher John Rogers, Brandon Maxwell, and Kim and Garcia — all managed to do something individual. Another thing that looked fresh at Oscar were cashmere suits with short, flirty skirts. Everyone’s been serving up pantsuits and separates, so the silhouette popped.
When Garcia and Kim showed me their reference board a few hours before the show — held in the Beaux Arts splendor of the New York Public Library’s main branch — I was really struck by how they had syphoned off the essence of an idea or image and avoided nostalgia. A ’60s photo of Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull gave them shots of blue and pink, a waft of feathers. A picture of Oscar de la Renta and his first wife, Françoise, in cat masks at the 1966 Black and White Ball suggested a party mood, while Fantasia inspired some dazzling embroidery — notably a gown with bursting fireworks and another imagined as a midnight-blue sky veiled in black tulle.
There were some clunkers, to be sure — a cream cable-knit sweater lumbered with a frothy floral-print ball skirt and high boots. And the vast halls of the library drowned the party mood. (Kim and Garcia seem drawn to grand, historic venues, like the Cunard Building, that often work against the spirit of the clothes.) Still, it was a show of unexpected leaps and connections, to the history of its founder and his adopted city, and to newer fantasies, like a pair of minidresses drizzled in celestial fringe. Superb.