By Jacqui Palumbo and Alex Rees, CNN
New York City (CNN) — New York Fashion Week is back, taking the city by storm — during a long weekend’s worth of thundery weather, no less — and hosting a number of landmark events, including the return of brands like Ralph Lauren and 3.1 Phillip Lim to the calendar, as well as debuts from up-and-coming designers like Grace Ling and recent “Project Runway: All Stars” winner Bishme Cromartie. And there were brand ‘birthdays’ to consider too, such as the 10th anniversary of designer Rio Uribe’s label Gypsy Sport.
The week’s packed schedule officially kicked off Friday with Peter Do’s highly anticipated debut for Helmut Lang, with the ascendant Vietnamese-born designer given the chance to reinterpret the minimalist ’90s brand — which spent years without a creative director — for a new generation. Do hit many notes of the label’s original aesthetic, while infusing his own romantic sensibilities (including a collaboration with poet Ocean Vuong) into the collection, particularly with his men’s and women’s suiting.
But even before Helmut Lang officially opened Fashion Week, Coach had celebrated a milestone of its own a night earlier with celebrities including Jennifer Lopez and Lil Nas X in attendance in the beautiful marble interiors of the New York Public Library in Bryant Park.
The show, which included an unexpected PETA protest on the runway, marked Stuart Vevers’ 10th anniversary as creative director. For the occasion, the British designer put out an exuberant, elevated take on what he called the “American essentials,” he said over email to CNN, which included slouchy suits and oversized leather jackets in black, brown and green, long sheer dresses over leather separates and lipstick-kiss bags.
“We ventured into newer territory this season with tailoring,” Vevers explained, adding: “There’s a sense of play, too — in the colorful bags, the footwear and the jewelry — that make the collection feel joyful.”
The week’s shows were scattered all over the city, from Collina Strada’s femme garden fantasy on a Brooklyn rooftop farm to Prabal Gurung’s display of layered gowns and sculptural gold jewelry on Roosevelt Island — an event that attendees including Padma Lakshmi, Awkwafina, Venus Williams and Maddie Ziegler braved both the rain and the island’s aerial tramway to attend.
On Park Avenue, Proenza Schouler hosted It-girls such as actor Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri and socialite Sofia Richie Grainge, while Phillip Lim’s Chinatown show drew Stephanie Hsu, Paramore’s Hayley Williams, The Kid Laroi and Kathy Hilton, among others.
Some of the the most star-studded events of the week were Christian Siriano’s 15th anniversary show, where an eclectic front row included Janet Jackson, Laura Linney, Laverne Cox, Kesha and Avril Lavigne, and the return of Ralph Lauren, who hasn’t staged a New York Fashion Week show since 2019. A-Listers filed in one after the other, including — take a breath — Diane Keaton, Julianne Moore, James Marsden, Cara Delevingne, Amanda Seyfried, Jennifer Lopez (once again), Keri Russell and Gabrielle Union, to name just a few.
The event marked a welcome return the schedule, though as Lauren told CNN during a decadent post-show dinner, “I’m always in New York; I grew up here.” The city, he continued, is “always about celebrating the new” — and so, fittingly, the showcase was opened by model Anna Ewers, the face of Ralph Lauren’s newest handbag, the RL 888.
Closing the runway, meanwhile, was supermodel Christy Turlington in a body-conscious gold gown with a train so long that in one rehearsal moment it almost caused quite the snag — literally — as model Natalia Vodianova, walking behind Turlington, accidentally stepped on it. Befitting her supermodel status, of course, Turlington laughed it off.
Of course, powerhouse guest lists and surprise appearances on the runway aren’t the only ways to get people talking during fashion week — strategic stunts and a dash of chaos can also make for viral moments.
On Monday, a crowd swelled on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to see the debut collection of the label Shao, whose founder, Shao Yang, teamed up with the infamous “fake heiress” Anna Delvey and publicist Kelly Cutrone to host a packed runway show on Delvey’s rooftop, where Delvey remains under house arrest.
“I feel blessed just be a part of it, because as a new designer with a new brand, no one’s going to come to your show. No one’s going to really know about you,” Yang said.
The following night, Elena Velez cranked up the mess (literally) with a mud pit runway inside a Williamsburg warehouse, where models — including Alana Hadid — wore neutrals and raw hems. The filed around in an orderly procession until the end, when they began to brawl, dragging each other through the sludge in frenzied delight. The show — a statement on womanhood — was another subversive moment for Velez, who, last season, sent a model out brandishing the designer’s CFDA award like a weapon.
Perhaps another statement on womanhood, Tanner Fletcher’s runway show was themed through and through like a beauty pageant — with models walking while a commentator read “world peace”-worthy fun facts — and was closed by the current Miss Universe, R’Bonney Gabriel.
From minimal to maximal
Throughout the week, long jackets and oversized suiting mixed with gauzy, barely-there dresses dominated runways, from Coach to Khaite, Jason Wu to Eckhaus Latta. But while many of these labels — and more — employed restrained color palettes, there were maximalist takes as well.
Kim Shui, who sent flirty corsetry down the runway to party music on Saturday night, told CNN backstage that she designs for people who “have a lot of personality.” Both Shui and Hillary Taymour of Collina Strada made feminine statements through their collections, with Shui leaning into ornamentation that she said is often considered “superfluous.” Taymour, on the other hand, noted that she was embracing “the strength of radical softness” and the “grit in the girly” during a time of peril for trans and reproductive rights.
For sustainability-minded designers, this season offered a chance to explore new materials — and ways of repurposing materials. Taymour told CNN over email that she has begun using Vegea, a leather made from wineries’ discarded grape skins (as well as corn husk leather for her new collaboration with Ugg). At Gabriela Hearst, leather scraps left over from the production of handbag designs were re-used into patches on dresses, and “recycled sequins” featured in woven pieces.
On Sunday, the label co-founded by Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah to promote African fashion, Studio 189, hosted a celebratory afternoon show featuring exuberant textiles in both traditional and contemporary cuts. Dawson and Erwiah recognized the African artisans in Burkina Faso who contributed to the collection by showing monumental portraits of them on the runway.
“Everything is still handmade: batik, indigo, kente,” Dawson told CNN backstage. “People are working through military coups to get (the textiles) to us, so that’s why joy is such a big part of it — being bright, being bold, because we are showing up against all odds and we wanted that to be represented.”
Scroll down to see Spring-Summer 2024’s runway highlights, which will be updated throughout the week.
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