It probably never looks like it from the outside, but Fashion Week can actually be pretty depressing: running from show to show, squeezing in meals, writing reviews in cars, and of course, the endless smiling when all you want to do is face-plant on your bed. This year, in the midst of a hectic NYFW, I noticed myself feeling a sense of lightness and joy thanks to many of the collections that came down the runway. It was a welcome feeling, a break from the seriousness of “capital F” fashion, that got me thinking about the emotional power of clothes, particularly in dark political times.
From vibrant collections that pulled from clowns and flower children to theatrical runway shows and models that celebrated their bodies, positivity was the shining message among the thousands of looks shown in every corner of New York this past week.
Brandon Maxwell, who Vogue reported had been previously dealing with personal hardships, says he has recently been inspired by his loving community. He debuted a collection of sharply tailored pieces as well as flowy silhouettes that looked silky and smooth. Some of the colors were bold while others were light and airy with vibrant reds and pinks to pastel tones like baby blue and pink. The models smiled as they came down the runway looking as if they were having a genuinely fun time, a minor element that felt like an embodiment of the fondness the designer was feeling.
Christopher John Rogers’s debut runway show drew on clowns and the paintings of Paul Gauguin. The designer, who has become known for his eveningwear, showed satin suits, oversized shirts and trousers, ruffled dresses of all sorts of varieties, and big, voluminous pieces that had the crowd oohing and aahing (me included). The colors were intensely vibrant, with shades of green, pink, orange, and red that were visually arresting as the patterns were playful; there were exploded plaids, colored zebra prints, and ’80s-style florals. The models wore the clothes confidently, striking poses, having fun, and just generally being themselves. The designer’s show was met with a standing ovation, as if the audience was saying thank you for this brightness.
True to form, joy was the theme at Chromat, the queer-led brand celebrating its 10-year anniversary of body-inclusive activewear. With hip-hop and reggae music blasting, including a performance by Rico Nasty, designer Becca McCharen-Tran reflected on her experience as a designer. Bringing out the brand’s greatest hits, including architectural cages and color-blocked swimwear, past fan-favorite pool floaties were updated as corsets and inflatable bustles. As an inclusive array of genders, sizes, and backgrounds graced the runway in vibrant looks, the audience cheered.
Reclamation as a form of celebration was the message at Kerby Jean-Raymond’s Pyer Moss show, which took place at a gorgeous old movie theater that’s now the King’s Theatre. The collection was meant to “uncover the stories of black peoples’ contribution to popular American culture,” honoring the work of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the black woman who invented rock and roll. Black models graced the runway, wearing whimsical dresses, tailored suits, and garments drenched with piano references. But naturally, Jean-Raymond’s show wasn’t just about the clothes — there was a church choir and other musical performances that took the runway to the next level. Dipping into the expansiveness of black collective history that included stories of hardship, survival, and ingenuity, the designer seemed to present his clothes as some necessary inspiration, particularly for black people, to move forward.
Marc Jacobs’s show took place on the somber 18th anniversary of September 11. He honored the tragedy, connecting his new collection to the one he showed back in 2001. In his show notes, he writes, “This show like that show…is a celebration of life, joy, equality, individuality, optimism, happiness, indulgence, dreams, and a future unwritten…” Presenting a collection that was all about the joy of dressing up, Marc debuted tailored looks that were iterated with neon sequins and bright prints, as well as flowy dresses, floppy hats, and boho-chic looks.
There were also exaggerated silhouettes, with some looking jester-like and others resembling colorful ribbons or gift wrap. Through a red dress with a white collar and white daisy flowers and a voluminous one made out of massive petals, he referenced flower children — a term that was once associated with hippies and young people in the late 1960s, signifiers of unity and peace. With the country feeling increasingly divided these days, this message felt especially relevant: Models looked happy and carefree, swinging their arms and tipping their hats. Gigi Hadid went shoeless.
Fashion Week hasn’t changed much. The schedule could still use more diversity, including more designers of color and collections that incorporate clothing for disabled people, and the runways are still dominated by skinny and able-bodied models. When it came to the clothes, however, hope, optimism, and celebration were all fibers woven through the garments.
With all the doom and gloom surrounding us (see: the tanking economy, political divisiveness, the rise of white supremacy, gun control issues, our dying planet), the message felt refreshing. It proved fashion could make us really feel something. The designers seemed to say through their clothes: We know life is tough right now, but come on, let’s be happy! The reality is it’s going to take a lot more than pretty clothes to overcome this reality. Still, it made me believe again, even if it was just for a moment, that fashion can levy hard times.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue