In Depth

New York Fashion Week: waving or drowning?

After all the hype at the early shows, the fashion industry reacts to a mixed bag of offerings at the spring/summer 18 showcases

New York Fashion Week was short of a few creative stars this season. Thom Browne, Joseph Altuzarra, Rodarte and Proenza Schouler all decamped to show at Paris couture and ready-to-wear weeks. Ahead of the shows, Vanessa Friedman of the The New York Times pondered the future of New York Fashion Week, reflecting glumly on the comment from Alix Morabito, fashion editor of influential Parisian department store Galeries Lafayette, that the city had become "less attractive from the buyer side".

For buzz, at least, the vacuum was filled by pop star Rihanna, who launched her Fenty Beauty line to great fanfare, showed her Fenty Puma collection (complete with pre-show motocross on pink sand dunes) and had a blowout party. "One might be forgiven for thinking it's actually Rihanna New York Fashion Week," Friedman huffed. But Fenty Puma drew praise from Chioma Nnadi at vogue.com for bringing a "desperately needed" adrenaline rush and swimwear that had "all the coolest trimmings, including industrial zippers, adjustable toggles, peekaboo lacing, and mesh overlay". Shoes, the brand's greatest commercial success, didn't slack off either: "stiletto thong sandals were finished with chunky surf-style ankle straps; mules came floating on thick Perspex heels; her best-selling creepers were updated with chunky stomper boots."

A creative high and astute political comment came – as per, these days – from Raf Simons at Calvin Klein. Set designer Sterling Ruby got the mood going with axes suspended from upended cheerleading pompoms that seemed to drip blood: the theme was "American horror and American beauty". Cowboy shirts, prom dresses, cheerleader uniforms, Hitchcock heroines – a gamut of well-trod tropes were made monstrous or spun off-kilter. For Hannah Marriott at The Guardian, Simons' "nostalgia-fuelled exploration of the temporary, and controllable, fright engendered by scary movies felt apt in an age in which one needs only to switch on the news to see a real American horror story".

Ralph Lauren, however, was on planet Trump. One hundred and fifty Mercedes S-class Sedans and SUVs ferried guests out of town to a garage holding 26 of the rarest cars in the world – his inspiration – including one worth $40 million (£29 million). Champagne-laden waiters and leather banquettes completed the picture. Not even counting the dated display of women alongside cars, the collection was appallingly literal in rendering the connection between vehicles and glossy dresses, and the dresses, according to Friedman, came off worse.

On a more cheerful note, Business of Fashion reported that smaller brands have benefited from an exodus of the usual 'must-sees'. Sander Lak's straightforward but wonderfully painterly collection for his brand Sies Marjan got a lot of love on social media – guests departed his studio show "feeling immersed in Lak's palette", according to Maya Singer at vogue.com. The deliciously wonky Eckhaus Latta (pictured above) saw numbers swell from 250 to 600.

However, on the whole, despite efforts at showmanship, clothes did little to reinvigorate and, by the end of the week, Friedman felt as unenthused as before. "For all the talk of changing up the runway – and there has been much of it since the shows began, from Alexander Wang's faux-guerrilla outing in Brooklyn to Opening Ceremony's dance show – the clothes themselves feel as if they are idling in neutral – or worse, parked." WWD rated Victoria Beckham's show of oversize white shirts, wide-legged trousers and pencil skirts as perfectly wearable and "flush with great colour" but not groundbreaking. Even streetwear upstart Shayne Oliver's temporary residency at Helmut Lang fell flat, drawing unflattering comparisons with the original – though, as Jess Cartner-Morley pointed out in The Guardian – the cards were stacked against him as "no revamp of Helmut Lang could ever possibly be as cool as the original Helmut Lang". New York: not waving, but drowning? It remains to be seen.

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