September 15, 2016

New York Fashion Week Comes to Life With Thom Browne and Proenza Schouler

New York Fashion Week Comes to Life With Thom Browne and Proenza Schouler


On Monday in the late afternoon, as the breeze blew in off the Hudson, Thom Browne built a trompe l’oeil pool for Palm Beach ladies in the basement of a Chelsea art gallery and blew the dust off fashion week.

Chlorine blue, bordered in forest green and looking out onto a Grecian gazebo, the pool was composed of hundreds of ceramic kitchen tiles, like a Minecraft version of C.Z. Guest’s once-upon-a-time world. And around it: twin rows of women in a bouquet of blouson cover-ups with matching beach bags and bathing caps, preparing to disrobe.

‍Thom Browne: Spring 2017 Credit Elizabeth Pantaleo/Nowfashion

Which they did, dropping their housecoats for a petting zoo of cabana boys in cat and cockatoo masks, complete with tails and feathers, and revealing a collection of trompe l’oeil ladies-who-lunch suits and martini dresses in a Lilly Pulitzer palette and boxy sheathlike silhouettes; gingham and damask and tweed. Honey, we’re not at the Breakers anymore. The Mar-a-Lago club has moved in right next door. Welcome to the last resort.

We all find ourselves there at some point. (It’s possible we’re there at the moment.) If so, we now have something to wear.

While the obvious reference for the round necks and rectangular lines, the pussy-bow blouses, knee-length skirts and waistless jackets was the past, the flat-pack values the clothes conveyed were entirely from the present. It doesn’t get any easier than pulling on a single garment that doubles as a triple and zips up the back like a wet suit, meaning you don’t have to worry about tucked-in shirts, whether to button a jacket or what print goes with what. As far as problem-solving goes, it’s a leap into the deep end.

Which is a good thing. Because Mr. Browne aside, there’s a lot of treading water going on.

Oscar de la Renta: Spring 2017 Credit Guillaume Roujas/Nowfashion

You can understand it when it comes to Oscar de la Renta, a brand in that no man’s land between designers. (Peter Copping, the former creative director, left in July, and Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim, the new appointees, will make their debut next season.) Thus an anonymous in-house team was responsible for the spring collection, which could be best characterized as an ode to Mr. de la Renta and his greatest hits.

‍Carolina Herrera, Spring 2017. Credit Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

Lacy haute-peasant white dresses? They were there. Ikat prints on urban sheaths? Ditto. Also tulle debutante dresses embroidered in pearls and molded silk faille princess frocks, all of them perfectly pretty, and all of them redolent of the archive. Fair enough.

‍Carolina Herrera: Spring 2017 Credit Elizabeth Pantaleo/Nowfashion

And you can understand it when it comes to Carolina Herrera, who is celebrating 35 years in business.

There were ball gowns in denim and ball gowns in gingham, ribbed poor-boy sweaters paired with ball skirts in striped silk and khaki mixed with metallic brocade. “Easy glamour,” she said backstage, the Herrera version of high/low, which it was, absolutely. Though maybe a little too easy.

‍Jeremy Scott: Spring 2017 Credit Regis Colin Berthelier/Nowfashion

Still, at least it wasn’t as much of a no-brainer as Jeremy Scott’s take on early 1980s downtown kitsch: intarsia minis blaring “hot hot hot” or boasting Debbie Harry portraits, toothpaste-tube handbags, sequined catsuits and flying-saucer skirts straight off an MTV silk screen.

There’s nothing wrong with reworking your signature. Goodness knows we complain enough about designers who aren’t able to stick to a clear aesthetic — or remake the same well-cut flares every season — and dependability in some part of life is never a bad thing. But ideally, that means refining it, not just repeating it. Or not just swimming in circles, to go back to Mr. Browne’s metaphor.

‍Zero + Maria Cornejo: Spring 2017 Credit Regis Colin Berthelier/Nowfashion

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen of the Row, for example, and Maria Cornejo of Zero + Maria Cornejo all work within an established idiom (Zen clothing koans for the first brand; intelligent independence for the second, both unfettered from trend) but they are abstract notions on which to build. To construct, for example, giant tailored volumes at the Row, with a touch of skin via black-tie spaghetti-strap aprons worn over trousers and bandeau tops, in case Cinderella came back from the ball and needed to make a midnight snack. Or a whole series of heaven-can-wait white at Zero + Maria Cornejo made from sustainable fabrics cut to slip softly around the body, just whispering the point.

‍Proenza Schouler, Spring 2017. Credit Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

In any case, Jack McCollough of Proenza Schouler summed up the situation pretty succinctly, standing next to his co-designer, Lazaro Hernandez, backstage after their show and accepting the air kisses of the crowd. The air rang with mwah mwahs as he said, “We wanted to go back to our core codes, but give them a new energy” — which is essentially fashion-speak for, “We wanted to do the same thing we have been doing for a while, but make it feel new.” (Otherwise, what reason is there to buy?)

By that measure, they succeeded, dipping into their favorite tropes — flamenco tiers and box weave, bandages and digitized culture — and reworking them in flyaway black-and-white dresses with slightly raised waists and an airier feel, or molded jackets with the same skewed proportions; athletic striped knit sheaths finished in feathers or animal prints layered over skinny T-shirts in contrasting geometries. Sweaters sported big cutouts at the torso, including one giant heart, and squared-off T-shirts came with Bernini appliqués.

The real art, however, was in the elevation: using classic couture techniques to fool the eye into seeing something entirely contemporary. Thousands of ostrich feathers were compressed to form the checkerboard that exploded into fringe at the hem of what looked like sporty separates, for example, and glinting striped dresses were woven from linguini-thin strands of leather.

‍Proenza Schouler: Spring 2017 Credit Guillaume Roujas/Nowfashion

It was an awfully clever inversion of the bait-and-switch, and it was hard not to wonder what the designers could do if they forced themselves to climb out of their comfort zone. Just imagine the splash.