At New York Fashion Week, sex is on the agenda. Not every collection has horniness as its driving force, with the sexual parts of the body fully exposed or thinly veiled, but it does seem a logical response to our plague year. In fact, I would say it’s the expression that feels most primary today, partly because it reflects a radical shift in attitudes and partly because it resists the rhetoric that surrounds so much of fashion, from inclusivity to “community empowerment.”
A number of American designers have already embraced this new freedom — let’s call it that — including Maryam Nassir Zadeh, the newcomer Elena Valez, who shows a lot of skin, and of course LaQuan Smith. And anyone who has been away from New York over the past year and a half can’t help but notice the change in the streets, or at least outside of fashion shows. Bare midriffs, under boob, side boob, sheer skirts—it’s pretty standard, and it’s not only for the young or idealized body type.
But two collections, Michael Kors and Eckhaus Latta, expressed sex with particularly sharp clarity. Kors, whose label in the past decade has become a mega brand — his holding company also owns Versace — is too mindful of his mainstream, almost wholesome image to get down and dirty, but he doesn’t have to. It’s implied in Kendall Jenner’s black stretch bra and pencil skirt, her red lips. Or in the many flirty lace circle skirts and off-the-shoulder necklines. Kors’s theme was urban romance — “love is in the air,” as he put it. The show was held in the lush garden at Tavern on the Green, made lusher by the huge pink heads of long-stemmed roses that were stuffed into the greenery. He invited the actress Ariana DeBose to sing cabaret numbers. And every guest was given a box of four very moist chocolate brownies.
Come on. The show might have actually been more effective had Kors relaxed the sexuality — loosened up some of those Barbie ponytails. (True, the belted waists, the pedal pushers and gingham shirts, and the dainty bucket bags filled with flowers could be read as a subversion of female glamour, but that’s Miuccia Prada’s game, not Kors’s.) The point is that Kors recognized a shift and mobilized his design and branding skills around it.
So far, the collection of Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta is the most interesting to me of the spring 2022 ready-to-wear season, because of its ease and naturalness, which of course are a big part of its sex appeal. As Eckhaus, who works in New York, said, “With the people who wear our clothes, it’s not about feeling too complicated in a garment.”
And as Latta, who works on the West Coast, added, explaining their motivating idea this season, “How could we make less clothes that were better?”
In a sense, Eckhaus and Latta went back to their roots, to the plainness of some of their earlier designs, and then refined them using the skills and knowledge they’ve acquired in the last decade. The refinement was evident in the precision of the fit, the choice of distinctive materials or treatments, like an opaque, nylon-like fabric for off-white trousers or chartreuse jeans subtly shaded with black. The designers opened with a series of muddy gray pieces — a mini dress, a top and pants set — that had tiny snaps tracing the midriff, say, or the curve of a thigh or armhole. These could be unsnapped to partially reveal the body, or unsnapped and removed altogether. Other designers in the past have done this sort of thing, but Latta and Eckhaus did it with a rare sense of economy.
That economy also relates, I think, to the way many people feel about high fashion. They want it to take up less space in their lives. Yes, be as visible as a crinkly fuchsia knit pair of pants and a matching sleeveless top, but also look comfortable and just a bit off. Eckhaus and Latta completely grasp that balance.
I asked the designers if they, too, have noticed more nakedness in the streets. “We’re definitely seeing it,” Latta said. She paused and smiled. “But also, I don’t know — I just had a baby and Mike’s having a very hot girl summer, to put it lightly, and I just think we want clothes in a different way. We’re really open to something less.”
That was not the message elsewhere. At Coach, held on Pier 76, Stuart Vevers reprised his Coach TV spoof, with Chaka Khan doing a cameo as a cranky horoscope reader. Coach TV was something that Vevers used to hilarious effect during the lockdown, and on Friday, he combined a huge digital screen with a runway show that featured skateboarders whizzing among the models. The problem, oddly, was the source of inspiration for the clothes: the great Bonnie Cashin, who designed for the brand in the 1960s and early ’70s. Her oversized shapes, mostly for a plethora of outerwear, seemed to drown the models, and certainly killed any thought of sexy fun.
Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia of Monse also had a skate theme, with board shorts, cargo pants, and colorful knits that spilled off the shoulders. But at least their clothes still felt loose and fresh in attitude, with the best bits being clingy knit caterpillar dresses and one black tank dress slashed to ribbons from the hips down and edged with black lace.