NYFW: Team Escapism or Team Realism? Designers Split on Covid-19 Realities.

It’s hard to believe but within the next four weeks, most of us will have experienced the weight of a Covid-19 lockdown of some capacity for the last year. This reality has not only shuddered the entertainment business and the restaurant business, but the fashion industry as well. In September of 2020, most designers opted for virtual shows, if they had a collection to show at all. New York Fashion Week (NYFW) continued this past week in a similar manner with virtual shows and look books abound. Once the feeble dust settled, a clear story was being told by the designers. It was impossible for the collections shown to not be inspired by Covid-19 in either the form of realism or escapism.

Heading up team escapism was Sandy Liang. Liang spoke to Vogue about how her collection formed in her mind: “…now it’s really important to be optimistic and to design things that don’t make sense for right now.” While the attitude was truly provided in that quote alone, I’m unsure if the message landed, with the most bold looks featuring some tulle pieces and some, very translatable, faux fur pieces. On the flip side, R13 delivered major escapism for this grunge loving soul. A collection that reads as if Kurt and Courtney were still roaming seedy dive bars and MTV still played music videos, clashing prints and bold colors were the DNA of each look. This oversized plaid coat has absolutely stolen my heart and I’m pleased to see the Gen Z tiktok influenced baggy silhouettes continuing to make a play. Also on the roster for team escapism was Ulla Johnson. Bold color and towering platforms were shown alongside arts and crafts style knits. It had a relaxing, somewhat safe 70’s feeling while still feeling bold. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to wear this chartreuse stunner to somewhere other than the grocery store this coming Fall. Anna Sui also managed to provide a dash of whimsy with strong print mixing and dark bohemian vibes. I could absolutely see Florence Welch wearing several of her looks. Rounding out the crew was Dsquared2. It gave me the kick of American, sans florals, that I’ve always enjoyed without looking like the set of Brokeback Mountain. The collection even came complete with some early aughts nostalgia featuring glittering strappy pumps, bomber jackets, and pleated mini skirts.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you had team realism. Thankoon opened his look book with a wool robe coat, beautifully tailored, in a neutral taupe. It’s perfect “if you need to run to the deli for milk,” as shared by the designer, and will be the type of item to stand the test of time. The remainder of the collection was well balanced, featuring classically tailored pieces paired with more comfortable athflow style garments. Continuing in this vein was Proenza Schouler. Receiving major buzz with Ella Emhoff, Vice President Kamala Harris’ step-daughter, gracing the catwalk, the collection was relatively relaxed. Here, knits reigned supreme, in sets, sweaters, and longline maxi dresses featuring neutral tones, with an occasional pop of chartreuse (buy it now, thank me later). While I strongly believe this collection belongs in the realism category, you can’t help but feel the gentle tug of optimism as the show pressed on, reveling more color and more unique silhouettes. Jason Wu continued with this lighthearted realism, combining cheery prints and patterns in lounge-ready silhouettes. While you can’t deny the collection would be perfect to wear to work, on a date, or to a gallery opening, you would also be comfortable curled up on the couch in this oversized sweater.

While I would love nothing more than to dive headlong into maximalism, I approach NYFW as a guide to the human condition. We can’t pretend that the pandemic brought upon us by Covid-19 is near the end, at the very least we’ll have something to look forward to when it’s over.




KatyJoe Idaho

To showing up, imperfectly

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