Fashion Review: A Lot of Sound and Supermodels, Signifying Not Much

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On Saturday night, long after the sun had set and a pre-autumn chill had returned to the air, a horde of fashion folk were standing on the sides of an otherwise deserted dead-end street in Bushwick, Brooklyn, penned up and shivering behind metal barriers.

Even Kim Kardashian West and Kris Jenner were stuck on the concrete outside, balanced on their teetering heels. Everyone was waiting for a bus to arrive.

When it finally did, an hour later than scheduled, and more than two hours after it had set off (the bus made two “surprise” stops in Manhattan beforehand, much to the confusion of unsuspecting pedestrians), it disgorged Kaia Gerber, newly minted supermodel, daughter of Cindy Crawford, who strut her way down the road in a tiny white tank dress — and into a warehouse.

A host of her peers in cropped chain mail tops, distressed and bedazzled denim, zips and corsets and revisionist suiting (shorts, backward shirts, oversize jackets) followed. There was a bouncy house in the back and a live rock concert inside.

And that was the Alexander Wang show — sorry, #WangFest — spring 2018. Fabulous!

Not exactly.

The clothes themselves were the kind of club gear for the 1 percent at which Mr. Wang, when he is focused, excels, but the party entirely eclipsed the product. And the idea that it is somehow cool for designers to drag their audience to the back of beyond is an old one (John Galliano and Alexander McQueen had been there, done that, years before), as is the obvious suggestion that the street is the runway.

Not to mention the fact that the pretense of a “guerrilla” fashion action is itself kind of a joke when the whole thing is Instagrammed by Bella Hadid, among others, and Kardashians are involved.

How to make fashion relevant is the conundrum of the moment, and adding a hashtag is not the answer. There’s so much else going on — so much trauma and chaos, natural or man-made — that current events have a way of overshadowing clothes.

Sitting in the sun in a faux English garden recreated by Tory Burch in the courtyard of the Cooper Hewitt design museum, watching a parade of perfect-for-the-beach-club looks while a natural disaster of epic proportions bears down on the Florida Peninsula is an eerily unsettling experience. It’s hard to keep your mind on David Hicks-inspired scarf separates, breezily chic though they may be.

When even Jeremy Scott, erstwhile joker of fashion, chooses not to celebrate his 20th anniversary with an all-out blast of crazy spray streamers, but rather simply wink at his past with camo and cartoons, silver sweats that will go to the ball, and rock-chick dresses made out of exactly that (strategically placed encrustations of big crystal rock), it’s an acknowledgment of the complexity of the situation.

In this context, Mr. Wang’s doodle seemed a fairly hollow response, less Weimar than Wikipedia. But there were others.

There was, for example, Monse’s stars-and-stripes ode to twisted collegiate dressing, all ripped denim and off-center windowpane suiting, football-laced leathers and varsity cardigans pulled atop and sliced at the shoulder. (There’s a lot going on in these clothes; they often doth deconstruct too much.)

Backstage Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim, the designers, billed it as a celebration of America and statement of optimism, but it was the “rotting” ends of a shredded black knit dress, the fraying at the hem of a sequined basketball jersey over slouchy pants, that were the most intriguing parts of the collection.

There was Brandon Maxwell’s ode to “the women who have opened doors for others” in the form of soft-focus rosy day dresses and neatly tailored denim; crisp tailcoat shirting and generous, swishing ball gowns, all haloed in the air of high society yet free of any accompanying elitism.

With this collection, shown at Doubles, the supper club in the Sherry-Netherland, Mr. Maxwell has effectively seized the uptown ground once owned by Jason Wu, who seems to have entirely lost direction, detouring between striped cotton suiting here, haute bohemia there and a selection of Martha Graham-meets-Madame Grès dance dresses.

And there was the safe option; the one that did not insist too much. Victoria Beckham, for example, who said she had consciously decided to avoid showpieces in favor of “clothes I want to wear now,” which meant a combination of the strong (broad-shouldered Holmesian plaid shirting) and the soft (sheer organzas layered atop striped sheaths in minty shades).

Or Brock Collection, with its lacy milkmaids-at-the-Petit Trianon cherry-print frocks, rough linens and Watteau florals. They had a quiet appeal, if not a visceral currency.

Which is what made another show in Bushwick, Eckhaus Latta, worth seeing. Held, coincidentally, in a site across the street from the Wang Fest, a “space for engaging conversations and collaborations across creative disciplines,” according to the program (which is also a pretty good description of the six-year-old label designed by Zoe Latta and Mike Eckhaus), it felt worlds away.

Not because it was escapist, but because it wasn’t. Because the clothes, which are a kind of petri dish of associative splicing, grapple honestly with what is on the designers’ minds: questions of gender and difference and the details of fallible beauty framed in low-slung trousers and shirts cropped and tailored to the navel, knit slip dresses trailing streamers from seams; and a stretch cardigan unbuttoned to expose a very pregnant belly.

“We are here and we have no way to know what tomorrow smells like,” went a line of the prose poem in the program. Um, right.

It was abstruse but weirdly true. Just like the refrain, “Come again,” that showed up the next morning on shorts and shopping bags and the back of sweats at a notably good Public School show (Maxwell Anderson and Dao-Yi Chow can do more with a plaid shirt, a nylon anorak and a luggage strap than you’d ever imagine)

Though perhaps adding a question mark to the end of the phrase would make it even more fitting.

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