Home LIFESTYLE Style News Is This What the Future of New York Fashion Week Looks Like?

Is This What the Future of New York Fashion Week Looks Like?

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Has New York Fashion Week lost its way? Variations of this question have haunted many a critical take in recent seasons, and convinced more than a few major designers to decamp to Paris. (We miss you, Proenza Schouler, Rodarte, and Altuzarra!) Even last week, The New York Times’s Vanessa Friedman couldn’t help but call out the current state of East Coast fashion affairs as “increasingly barren and low-key”.

But for those willing to look, a defiant sense of optimism pervaded this N.Y.F.W.—at least if you searched beyond the runway. Out there on the margins, Fashion Week’s future seemed to be less about catwalks and front rows than cross-disciplinary imagination. After a week that has included fashion-centric film screenings, conferences, and superhero couture, are we catching the first promising glimpses of a post-Fashion Week Fashion Week?

“This whole Fashion Week, man, it’s too much,” said one friend to another, over dry-ice-infused cocktails at a bar glowing green in the Meatpacking district, as Rihanna blared.

“I know,” the other agreed. “I’d rather sleep!”

But clearly, the opportunity to toast Black Panther, just days before its much-anticipated release, was too much fun to pass up.

Inside Industria, where Marvel had invited designers like Chromat, Cushnie et Ochs, and Tome to debut original pieces inspired by the film, models stood on a raised platform showing off each look with ferocity while guests snapped photos, danced around the massive space, and, as at any Fashion Week party, people-watched.

For Walé Oyéjidé, designer and creative director of Ikiré Jones, whose designs also appear in Black Panther, the event was a way to use “fashion as a vehicle to actually, tangibly help people.” (The designs will be auctioned via Charitybuzz in support of Save the Children.) “If this became a normalized thing, if we always did this,” he said, “it would make [fashion] more inspiring and make the public at large that much more confident and interested in what and why we do what we do. It kind of justifies your million-dollar sneakers if a portion of it is actually helping to sustain the world around you. Honestly, there’s no reason this shouldn’t be at least a marginal portion of everybody’s business model.”

Becca McCharen of Chromat invited Tolu Aremu, a fellow designer on her team, to work with her on a look that combines African ankara fabric with tech materials like neoprene. “As soon as Becca approached me with the project—Black Panther, African superheroes—I was like ‘Whaaat?’ There’s nothing better than that!” Aremu told V.F. “I thought, ‘What’s an African superhero Chromat babe?’ And I immediately thought of my mother,” whom Aremu recalled seeing in traditional African garb as a kid.

The hybrid presentation-slash-party wasn’t just another way for Disney to build on the pre-existing buzz surrounding Black Panther. As Sophie Theallet told V.F., “This is a historical moment. I can’t imagine the joy of these little kids—that it’s the first time they’ll have a black superhero that looks like them.” She continued, “With fashion, you’re supposed to have a voice and to speak and to have integrity. It’s not just about making clothes . . . I’m interested in fashion with a voice and with a message—that’s what I stand for.”

One day earlier, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, fashion met film in a decidedly more old-school way, with a double feature of Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up at the Lower East Side’s hip revival house, the Metrograph. It was the beginning of Visionary Form, a weeks-long collaboration between the Metrograph and the fashion video network M2M—an effort to unite fashion and film, and bring the energy of N.Y.F.W. many crosstown blocks east of its usual stomping grounds.

“Film and fashion echo each other in the sense that they’re sort of a condensation of our daily lives,” Metrograph programmer Aliza Ma told Vanity Fair. “And they turn the things that happen during our lives into a narrative, a metaphor, an iconography.”

The afternoon-long event in the middle of N.Y.F.W. was an effort to allow fashion and film people to interact for more than a few minutes, an increasing rarity during one of the most over-scheduled weeks on fashion’s calendar. “Yes, [they] have the access,” M2M’s executive producer Susan Hootstein told V.F. “But are you really part of something? Or are you just peeking into it?”

Ma also hopes the series will be a more accessible entry point for anyone with an interest in fashion and film, whether or not they work in either industry. “Fashion Week, as an idea, has just been cheapened so much over the years. Now you have these giant companies buying out these huge venues and inviting everybody to these shows,” she said. “But it’s very easy to find other ways to activate interest around clothes, and film is one of the best ways to do it. It’s also more democratic. It’s not one of these fashion shows where you have to be invited, or a massive show at Madison Square Garden where you have to wait for hours and then it’s over in a flash.”

Throughout the afternoon, the Metrograph’s packed lobby buzzed with the same contagiously electric energy as any backstage area after a big-name designer’s show. But as the evening wound down, and guests continued their post-screening conversations in the upstairs eatery over prosecco and sliders, the leisurely mood felt worlds apart from the typical chaos of a N.Y.F.W. party. The Wolfpack director Crystal Moselle, whose narrative debut, Skate Kitchen, about a posse of female skateboarders, just premiered at Sundance, chilled in her pajamas at a corner table after attending Blow-Up, in no rush to be someplace else.

“In all honesty, I haven’t done anything for Fashion Week, but I used to work a lot in fashion.” (Moselle’s first job, pre-Wolfpack, was shooting backstage at Oscar de la Renta shows.) “It was so nice to come tonight, and see a film I adore that’s an inspiration for the work that I do. I’m naturally drawn to characters that have a really sick sense of style.”

On Wednesday, at the very start of Fashion Week, the Ace Hotel’s Liberty Hall had taken on a decidedly scholarly vibe. “It’s a study hall and we’re here to learn, so we must start on time,” Céline Semaan, the Lebanese-Canadian designer, activist, and founder of sustainable luxury fashion label Slow Factory told the packed room, as rowdy as a freshman seminar on the first day of the semester.

She added, kidding but not, “It’s high time for us geeks to take over the industry.”

The stunningly outfitted “students” in question—who ranged from lawyers to tech start-up employees to people working for brands like Marc Jacobs and Adidas—had gathered to take part in the inaugural Study Hall, a new conference series aimed to fill the void in fashion for candid public conversations about the industry.

“In tech, we have a lot of conferences that are offered to us, whose goal is to connect us with the community, inspire, and inform us of new frameworks and practices; in fashion, I felt that it was something that was missing,” Semaan, who has a background in technology, told V.F. “Transparency, openness, and education are not emphasized enough in the industry. I wanted to bring some of that geekiness into fashion, something that I felt was needed in order to innovate and evolve.” With this sold-out first installment, which boasted a 200-person-strong waiting list, the hunger for such an event was real.

On the docket at Study Hall was everything from a keynote address by former N.F.L. player and astronaut Leland Melvin (speaking in a bright blue NASA jumpsuit) to a discussion of the ruthless Instagram handle Diet Prada to an all-female panel devoted to defining sustainability in fashion. In that latter panel, Mara Hoffman, who in recent years has radically shifted her eponymous label to be more environmentally friendly, emphasized her hope for the fashion community at large. “In this movement, your goal is for everyone to be in this movement with you,” she said, as her fellow panelists vigorously nodded. “It’s about reaching down and lifting up.” Added Orsola de Castro, co-founder of the global movement Fashion Revolution, “We are bored of being hidden in our own little conversations.”

The Ace has sought out alternative programming opportunities during N.Y.F.W. since as early as 2013, when they hosted an event revealing a 3-D-printed gown designed by Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti and modeled by Dita Von Teese. “We’ve always tried to focus on programming that asks questions or is informative or educational,” Kelly Sawdon, partner and chief brand officer for Ace Hotel Group, told V.F. “It opens our guests’ eyes, and even our eyes, for that matter, to people who are pushing the boundaries, asking questions, evolving industries, and doing creative things that we find inspiring.”

Study Hall offered a rare sense of hopefulness for the next generation of fashion change-makers. “The fashion industry, as it is, is one of the most influential industries in the world,” Semaan said. “But we only talk about style or trends—we never talk about the stuff that’s behind all of these decisions.” That Wednesday, and during so many of the Fashion Week events that stretched boundaries, it felt like that conversation was finally getting started.

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Full ScreenPhotos:Week in Fashion: Black Panther Star Chadwick Boseman Goes for Zebra Print
Taraji P. Henson

Taraji P. Henson

The modern-day mermaid dress, courtesy of David Koma.

Photo: By Michael Loccisano/WireImage.

Winnie Harlow

Winnie Harlow

Winnie Harlow looked ready for fashion week in leather leggings and a fanny pack.

Photo: By Alo Ceballos/GC Image.

Margot Robbie

Margot Robbie

Robbie opted for a tweed Chanel dress for the Academy Award nominees luncheon.

Photo: By Dan MacMedan/Getty Images.

Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman

Black Panther meets zebra.

Photo: By Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images.

Kendall Jenner

Kendall Jenner

Jenner takes her role as an Adidas spokeswoman very seriously.

Photo: By Robert Kamau/GC Images.

Dakota Johnson

Dakota Johnson

Johnson wore a sparkling white Prada dress to the Fifty Shades Freed premiere in Paris.

Photo: By Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Images.

Kourtney Kardashian

Kourtney Kardashian

Kardashian wore a 2003 Balenciaga jacket while out in Central Park.

Photo: By Pierre Suu/GC Images.

Taraji P. Henson

Taraji P. Henson

The modern-day mermaid dress, courtesy of David Koma.

By Michael Loccisano/WireImage.

Winnie Harlow

Winnie Harlow

Winnie Harlow looked ready for fashion week in leather leggings and a fanny pack.

By Alo Ceballos/GC Image.

Margot Robbie

Margot Robbie

Robbie opted for a tweed Chanel dress for the Academy Award nominees luncheon.

By Dan MacMedan/Getty Images.

Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman

Black Panther meets zebra.

By Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images.

Bella Hadid

Bella Hadid

Keeping the 90s leather jacket style alive and well.

From Gotham/GC Images.

Lupita Nyong’o

Lupita Nyong’o

Nyong’o dazzled in Balmain at the Black Panther premiere in London.

By Mike Marsland/WireImage.

Kendall Jenner

Kendall Jenner

Jenner takes her role as an Adidas spokeswoman very seriously.

By Robert Kamau/GC Images.

Dakota Johnson

Dakota Johnson

Johnson wore a sparkling white Prada dress to the Fifty Shades Freed premiere in Paris.

By Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Images.

Kourtney Kardashian

Kourtney Kardashian

Kardashian wore a 2003 Balenciaga jacket while out in Central Park.

By Pierre Suu/GC Images.



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