The immersive experience that is virtual reality’s imminent promise is already being delivered—via different channels—this New York Fashion Week. The season officially kicked off on Friday, and already the number of shows as experiences (by brands big and small) have not only set Spring 2020 apart, they’ve set fashion on a new course. It’s about time.
If you think about it, the way clothes have been shown—to a seated audience on walking mannequins—hasn’t changed much since the days of Charles Frederick Worth way back in the 19th century. Of course, the audience has changed; the venues have become more elaborate and far-flung, and finally, finally, ideals of beauty have kaleidoscoped to become more inclusive. The audience for fashion and the ways it can be consumed have also expanded exponentially. Today, the tradition of the straight back-and-forth feels démodé, stale, tired. Not only is it cold and anonymous, but it can also make clothes feel more like merchandise than fashion. When garments are placed within the worlds and narratives of a brand, whatever its size, they become, in a sense, protagonists or heroines, and as such, more desirable as they appeal to the women we dream of being.
Leave it to Ralph Lauren to demonstrate how this new focus on immersive showing can be done on a grand scale. Ralph’s Club, presented in a ballroom on Wall Street, featured soigné clothes, a glittering front row, an unforgettable cabaret performance by Janelle Monáe, and an impromptu karaoke session with Ralph Lauren. It also required action on the part of the attendees, who were asked to come dressed in black-and-white evening attire. Next time, Lauren should turn the show space into an exhibition or pop-up to extend the experience for his top customers. The theme might have looked back to the leisurely and elegant Café Society era, but everything else was of the moment, but also totally Ralph. As Vogue’s Chioma Nnadi pointed out in her review of the show, Lauren is someone who “thinks of fashion in cinematic terms.” (Another way to speak about this is as “lifestyle,” a concept Lauren pioneered in fashion by putting clothing in the context of elaborate and enticing narratives.) In some senses, we’re just catching up with Ralph. Isn’t the Age of Instagram all about being the star of your own show?
Saturday morning kicked off with Kate Spade New York’s presentation held in SoHo’s very own “enchanted garden” on Elizabeth Street. Creative director Nicola Glass, who has the task of keeping the brand connected to its heritage while at the same time helping it grow, wrote in her program notes about the importance of “blossoming wherever you’re planted.” It’s a lovely thought, but also an important one: We can’t hope to save the earth unless we really feel materially connected to nature and to where we live. The casting, a mix of models and women of all ages, shapes, and origins—including Debi Mazar and her daughter—showed that Glass is focused on connecting to her real-world customer rather than designing in a bubble.
Bubbly describes Susan Alexandra designer Susan Korn’s debut-cum–bat mitzvah party. Known for her Hadid-approved sparkly beaded accessories, her expansion into ready-to-wear was guided by her channeling her inner 13-year-old. Her clothes were shown on friends and drag queens at her party/show which was presided over by a rabbi. People partied like it was 1995. (They were dancing the Macarena.)
Whether they are dancing or walking, it’s important to see clothes on the body. Having shot his work on personalities for the past few seasons, Rag & Bone’s Marcus Wainwright felt the need to return to the runway—but not in the same way he’d done it before. He created a multimedia experience, cataloged by reviewer Nicole Phelps as including “modern dancers, a pair of drummers, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus (so good they gave you chills), and a robot shooting video that played on LED screens.” All of this and people were still talking about the clothes, which is where it all starts, after all.
The “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” exhibition closes today, but the sense of theatrics and play it celebrated is alive and well at this NYFW. Nowhere more so than at Tomo Koizumi’s spectacular and self-described noncommercial show on Friday. Maybe it’s better described of as a one-woman show, actually, as the trans model Ariel Nicholson performed scenes for the audience in seven spectacular getups. “I just want to bring joy,” Koizumi told reviewer Steff Yotka, and he delivered that—and more. The digital age is a noisy and oft-channeled one. Forget Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame; it’s William Shakespeare who has the last word. Today, all the world really is a stage. We are all playing roles on social media, and, as a response, fashion is moving closer to costume. Fashion shows are no longer showcases just for designers and models. The viewer, too, must be written into the script. New York’s Spring 2020 season is the one in which designer-directors are ready and set for action.
Originally Appeared on Vogue