The spring 2022 collections brought us back to live shows this past September, and the best of the early fall collections, now out, are packed with a similar vitality. Who knows if the current spike in COVID cases in New York and around Europe will cause fashion houses to return again to digital formats for the major shows in February and March. It suddenly seems possible.
Fortunately, designers have become more proficient, and maybe more instinctual, working under constraints. As Laura Kim, who is co-creative director, with Fernando Garcia, at Oscar de la Renta, told me, “I have a smaller team but better relationships. I think as a team we’re stronger. We work less hours.” The payoff has been remarkably high sell-through numbers — that is, the amount of clothing sold at full price. At Oscar de la Renta, according to Kim, it’s around 90 percent, in contrast to a more typical 60 percent.
One driver, surely, is electric color; another is casual suiting. Garcia and Kim extended their spring idea of tailored mini dresses and jackets in fringe-hemmed checked tweeds, some paired with shorts. The designers mined the Oscar archive for a weird and wonderful print that looks like a ’70s-era preppy patchwork of madras and checks, and also for different floral prints, which were then regrouped together for a flowing chiffon dress, various knits, and a sharp tunic dress on a white ground, which they put with silver sequined pants. The brand has a history of being decorative and ultra-feminine, and not surprisingly it gets a lot of play in the new Sex and the City series. In the latest collection, there are taffeta bubble dresses, evening looks made of a solid crush of taffeta bows, and a white mini dress embroidered all over with eyelash-shaped sequins, its floral details nicely blurred out.
But, for me, the look that best conveyed the designers’ intentions, the mix of nonchalant-casual and decorative, was a perfectly ageless black suit with a slim, below-the-knee skirt. The whole thing was done in a kind of mock tweed woven from thin bias-cut strips of black lace, tulle, and crepe de chine. It’s probably weightless, too.
Christopher John Rogers had hoped to do an actual show this fall, but between COVID and the costs, he said, “it started to feel like a reach.” He added, during a Zoom call, “I’m glad we shot the look-book instead. It feels so much more impactful.”
The images, released today, show Rogers’ ever-evolving eye, his sense of wit, and his remarkably strong feeling for line and proportion. What’s new is the addition of more neutral tones — white, cream, biscuit de Sevres gray (for a subtly striped linen pantsuit and coat combo — and some built-in elements that suggest natural wear to a garment. By that I mean modest gathers to the front of a suit jacket or to side of a long skirt to convey the trace of a crease made from sitting or the look when you partially tuck in your shirt tails. Rogers incorporated the gestures — you might say, accidents — into his designs. For him, they were another way to knock back the formality of tailored clothes. He also executed the idea very well — experimenting at first with a ’70s men’s jacket to see how the tucks would work out.
Rogers is one of those rare young designers who makes real progress each season (his ninth) without losing his pathway. There’s still the big bow-wow color, but, in a striped viscose twill caftan, it’s made more graphic with the addition of wider black stripes. Or he cleverly turned video-game imagery into a “funny face” print, or the uneven squares of a magic marker test board into the pattern for a clear PVC trench coat. A Rogers signature is the frilled tuxedo shirt. This season he lets rip with a long shirt dress in glossy white, Lurex-infused organza, with a full-on ruffled panel. Shown on a model in matching balloon pants, one hand tucked into a pocket so that the dress partially opens, the ruffles appear to twist — an effect Rogers obviously likes. No less versatile and fun is a sleeveless mid-calf dress and wide-pants combo, in a mix of black and white polka dots. An invisible zipper in the front of the dress helps bring out the clash of dots. Or you can just wear the dress alone and close the zip for a more demure you. Either way, Rogers puts thought in it.
“We’re just liking simple clothes,” said Lazaro Hernandez during a Zoom call with his Proenza Schouler partner Jack McCollough. “The idea of reducing things to their essence.”
McCollough and Hernandez also used matte and stretch fabrics to great effect, notably suiting in a stretch crepe (“It’s almost like knitwear,” says McCollough) and a gorgeously plain white shirt in matte jersey with pin tucking. The collection carries forward many of the ideas from their September show, with biker shorts now trimmed with a haze of feathers, and nearly all the looks shown with brogues and other low heels. “Everyone just wants a flat shoe,” says Hernandez, adding that shoes have become a big business for the brand.
Simplicity is actually the general sense of the best of the pre-fall collections — the smart, minimalist lines of Daniel Del Core’s clothes in Milan, the summery, pintucked dresses in muted tones from Tory Burch, and the insanely good offering from the Jil Sander designers, Luke and Lucie Meier. Their collection wins with fresh color — mango, banana, odd but interesting combinations of pale blue and chocolate — and flattering shapes achieved in part by matte, compact-looking fabrics and knits. Their clothes have such a mature sensuality.
Also strong were the collections of Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior and Chris Leba of R13. Both were drawn to punk, though of course with different results — Leba with almost Gumby-like proportions that stretched his silhouette and included delightfully over-scaled pieces. Chiuri was all business, with both maxi and mini kilts, fuzzy tartan knits, biker shorts (one pair worn with a cool black lace “T-shirt” dress), and elements of men’s wear.
It was the infusion of masculine uniforms (school, workwear) or rather the interplay of feminine and masculine modes that kept things interesting, and undercut Dior’s classic romance.