If some shows of the just-concluded New York Fashion Week is any real indication, it’d be an autumn/winter 2022 season of clothes that are really scraps of fabric on the body
Seasons change; so too fashion. But it’s increasingly hard to tell the seasons apart if we go by what is shown on the New York runways recently. Even the fashion: swimwear or dress? Or, bandages? This has been New York Fashion Week, not Los Angeles, not Miami. The average low of the Big Apple’s winter temperatures is minus-10 degrees Celsius. Yet, for autumn/winter 2022, a considerable number of American designers seemed to have Mogadeshu in mind, not Manhattan. There is no denying that fabric prices are rising (check: cotton, especially organic), so using considerably less might be a strategy to push cost (although not retail prices) down, but if fashion’s main premise is the use and manipulation of cloth to cover the body, does it make sense that less is positively more, unclothed is attractively dressed?
With the biggies, namely Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs, missing in action this time, we were encouraged to look at the runways of other names, not necessarily within our usual radar. And the newbies—“New York Fashion Week Is All About Emerging Talent”, went the rousing WWD headline. We were, however, putting them aside for the noise generated by those deemed New York’s loudest and brightest—the extraordinary individuals who could make noise out of nothing. While there is the subtext of fashion’s relationship with race (now Black designers and Black aesthetic are to be even more celebrated), there is also America’s increasing partiality for the madcap (imprudent?) pulling together of looks that weaken the boundaries of refinement and discernment. Sportswear meets worse-for-wear, pseudo-prissy pairs with tryingly pretty, and utilitarian clichés mate with hoary hussy hacks.
In fact, the vivid pronouncement of sex, or sexiness that must replace loungewear-as-all-wear of the past two years is the dominant theme of this season in New York, from the debut of Lisa Von Tang to the strengthening of Telfar Clements to the comeback of Shayne Oliver. Sure, this close-to-nakedness shouldn’t be surprising when many designers made the bra a major trend for spring/summer 2022, but is stripping down really the way forward even when bare is not normally preferred to battle brrr? Where do we go—or how little more—from here? Or, have fabrics become so expensive that it is really more viable for some brands to use as little of them as possible? Rather than textile cost that impacts wholesale markup, there is this persuasive believe that the market for such clothes is ripe. Pioneers such as Nicki Minaj has been testing the legal limits of the lack of dress since 2017, but at the time, the adoption was mainly among celebrities and stars. Now, we are to believe that women in general hanker after the utterly skimpy too.
Near-nudity is not, of course, radical, anymore. We have gotten used to it. Social media made sure of that, the red carpets of the Grammys and Met Gala made sure of that, and the lost of nuances that once constituted sexy made sure of that. Or is this bare-is-beautiful the epitome of modern ease? When we looked at an Eckhaus Latta column, with a plunging neckline (to the navel), ‘cold hips’, side slits, we can’t help but wonder where construction and flattering went. To be sure, there are techniques involved in the assembling of these crisscrossed strips or the hanging of fabrics from a narrow point on the shoulders to barely cover the rest of the body. Change has arrived at how clothes are held together too. Could taping now take the place of sewing?
Some people say that the sex in clothes is not there unless you were looking for it. These are articles of fashion, not dresses for any gaze, male or female. Women are now so comfortable with their bodies that they are expanding the definition of a sexualised body. Self-esteem is boosted by self-sexualising? It is a complex world, and fashion, with all its increasingly mixed messages, is just as much about un-fashion: Why have more clothes when you can do away with a whole chunk of them (even for winter months)? Clothing has a different function from what many of us remember. Unclothed says about fashion design what space does for graphic design: it is an element. Bare skin in a no body-shaming world is lovelier to look at than the stitched fabric that once concealed it. Tom Ford—who’d guess?—now looks positively modest.
These clothes could be one of reasons why not that many people take New York Fashion Week seriously, especially when the output is increasingly looking like the getups at that event on the first Monday of May. American fashion has gone from user-friendly practicality to celebrity-targeted hotness, from Donna Karan’s Five Easy Pieces to just plain easy—free from the constraints of coverings. It is tempting to cast this as a new gen of designers having fun, communicating an inside joke, but the swaddles are serious stuff. The name to watch out for this season was Shayne Oliver, whose former label Hood by Air came to a halt in 2017. Mr Oliver returned with a fashion mishap called Headless, sending out a hotchpotch that set forth his embrace of the display of skin. So, there was that Viktor & Rolf-like shoulder, and a horizontally protracted version, as well as those odd shapes here and there that made every falling piece in Tetris look positively regular, but for the most part—those deconstructed bra tops!—are composites that considered not the sheathing of the body. Supporters eagerly tagged Mr Oliver’s scant semblance of clothes as “American avant garde”. Oh, sure, just like the rest of the bare brigade.
Runway photos: source. Collage: Just So