Clothes That Meet the Moment


Three thick gold lines were splashed on the floor of a cavernous warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yards where the Gabriela Hearst show was to take place. The two on the outside were slightly curved, to enclose the inner one.

“Do you recognize the shape?” Ms. Hearst asked backstage before the show. She grinned, a little mischievously. “It’s a labia,” she said. Then she laughed, “We are birthing a new reality in our big vagina.”

Actually, what she was birthing was a new collection (sometimes they are the same thing). It was pretty terrific.

To live accompaniment from the Resistance Revival Chorus came a series of activists and friends: Cecile Richards, the former head of Planned Parenthood; Xiye Bastida, the college-age Mexican founder of the Re-Earth Initiative; Lauren Wasser, who lost both of her legs below the knee to toxic shock syndrome; an array of reproductive rights gladiators of all ages, sizes and shapes armored in ease and elegance and ready to argue.

Big gold staples lined the edges of tailored pantsuits, and long gold dusters topped simple tank dresses. Knit tunics and trousers were made from crochet swirls. Supple leather was tinted 24-karat and cut into shieldlike bodices on black jersey columns.

Well, if you’re ever going to wear a gold breastplate, the period after the fall of Roe v. Wade may be the time. Women are signing up to vote in record numbers, galvanized into action as their wombs become the subject of public debate. They are going to need something to wear.

Yet it has been an oddly apolitical fashion week. LaQuan Smith held his show on the Intrepid, the World War II aircraft carrier turned museum. Anyone expecting a battle metaphor, however, would have been disappointed. Instead, out came his usual lineup of look-at-me-baby sparkle and sheer. Clothes that, like the setting itself, seemed calculated for maximum attention and not much else.

At Coach, Stuart Vevers stuck his head in the sand, building a ghost town Coney Island boardwalk onto which wandered some disaffected youth in oversize beat-up leather jackets, Aran knits and baby-doll dresses, their stick insect legs grounded by jelly sandals (plus Lil Nas X, the new face of the brand, in leather shorts and vest).

At least at Carolina Herrera the designer Wes Gordon threw down a gauntlet of sorts, announcing backstage, “I am tired of being afraid to admit I love the word pretty.” Then he leaned into his words with a bouquet of floral prints and seaside stripes on cotton shirtdresses, matching shirred trousers and tops with enormous fabric corsages on one shoulder, and little Hamptons cocktail frocks.

There’s a customer for that, even if she seems to be an increasingly endangered species. As there is for Ulla Johnson’s crafty cool array of earthy prints and crochet fringe, made for the TriBeCa kaffeeklatsch, and Khaite’s Celine-lite sharp-shouldered blazers and trench coats, snakeskin print bombers and bustiers. But the clothes lack urgency; they’re disengaged.

By contrast, the harnesses, cages and shredded finery at Elena Velez don’t scream “wear me” — they mostly scream “post-apocalyptic pole dancer” in a primal sort of a way — but the uncompromising way they deal with the body, its power and the ways in which it can be fetishized, co-opted and controlled suggests that this is a designer who understands the direction in which things are heading. (Ditto the unicorn-horn-studded crystal chastity belts at Area, though like most of the pieces in that show, they also scream “Instagram me.”)

Flesh is turning into something of a trend: bottoms and hips on display, midriffs, legs. At Maryam Nassir Zadeh, scraps of fabric — some found, like hotel towels and doilies; some collected — were pinned and layered into pseudo-garments that were more like suggestions of clothes than actual clothes.

All that exposure forces a reckoning with sheer physical reality that demands recognition. It’s one weapon fashion can offer, anyway. Another was on display at Peter Do, where the designer’s unisex four-piece suits — jacket or shirt, trouser, and pleated overskirt, attached with a long leather belt — increasingly seem like the contemporary heir to Donna Karan’s “seven easy pieces.” Add or subtract pieces at will as the occasion demands: the skirt, like a train, here; a billowing silk duster, like a cloud, there. Go anywhere.

They streamline a wardrobe and give control to the woman (or, as of this season, man), in the same way Tory Burch’s layered combination of shirting, mid-calf skirts or trousers and an obi-like stretch belt — roll up or down as desired — did. Like her hand-loomed Indian brocade or mirrored Empire-waist dresses worn under translucent organza shifts, which could also be worn together or separately, the result had a whiff of midcentury modernism and the conviction of practical sophistication. It was a step forward.

“I was thinking a lot about how women don’t want to be restricted,” Ms. Burch said backstage. Consider it the right to move through the world as one wants. As Ms. Richards said before she stepped onto Ms. Hearst’s runway, “Maybe it will turn into a trend.”



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