The first two shows of New York Fashion Week weren’t shows at all. One was a piece of performance art; the other, an evening of dinner theater. Which maybe explains why they took place on Wednesday, the day before fashion week officially began, and maybe makes sense given that one came courtesy of the musician/impresario/mad tweeter/Adidas collaborator Kanye West, deep in his “Saint Pablo Tour”, and the other, courtesy of the director/impresario/screenwriter/designer Tom Ford, fresh off the plane from the Venice Film Festival premiere of his new movie “Nocturnal Animals.”
The first one involved celebrities like the Jenner/Kardashian clan and LaLa Anthony; the other, Julianne Moore and Tom Hanks and Alicia Keys. The first one had the artist Vanessa Beecroft as its creative director and about 100 models; the other, the director Louis J. Horvitz (who is known for directing the Grammys and the Emmys) to orchestrate the livestream with about 24 cameras. The first one took place at Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island; the other in the former Four Seasons restaurant, just off Park Avenue. Because, though the end results were not in any way alike, they shared a similar guiding principal: It’s not enough for any designer just to offer clothes anymore. Now it’s all about the experience.
But here’s the thing about experiences: some of them are good, and some of them are bad. And while they can create an exciting aura around clothes, making the garments seem even more relevant and desirable, they can also cast a pall.
On Wednesday, they did both.
After an hourlong bus ride from the far west side of Manhattan, over the Queensboro Bridge through Long Island City to Roosevelt Island, and a wait through three — count ‘em — holding pens in over 80-degree heat, by the time guests were admitted to Mr. West’s serene, grassy show space, the need was high for whatever happened next to make it all worthwhile. If it had been — if the clothes had been great, or at least resonant with the venue, which is dedicated to freedom of expression (among other inalienable rights) — all that frustration and procrastination would have been forgiven. That’s how it works in Fashionland.
But they weren’t.
It’s not that they were terrible. They weren’t original or risky enough to be terrible. They were just boring. Not ambitious or eclectic or even surprising. Yawn.
A group of models of different sizes and shapes stood in formation in a variety of undergarments, forming a Spanx-like sea in shades of cream and chocolate, beige and black. Sometimes they sat, when they got hot. For awhile it seemed like the underwear itself was the actual show, and maybe this was all meta-commentary on getting dressed and fame and the emperor’s new clothes, except then the clothes actually appeared, thus undermining that possible point. There were oversize sweatshirts and off-the-shoulder sweater dresses. Thigh-high clear plastic stiletto boots and enormous backpacks. Anoraks and puffa jackets. Ribbed body-con minis and camouflage print. That’s it.
For a man known for his rambling, far-reaching riffs, in his fourth fashion season, it turned out Mr. West had nothing to say.
At least Mr. Ford, who this season likewise kept his guests captive for a few hours, distracted them with Champagne and martinis, and then fed them smoked salmon with caviar and halibut in a mushroom cream sauce, in a room replete with white orchids and famous friends. So by the time the show actually began, everyone was so lubricated and loved-up the golden glow extended to the louche, luxed-up looks on the runway (which itself extended down the center of the restaurant).
The silhouette — a blouson shirt or peplum jacket wrapped by leather buckles at the waist over a below-the-knee stretch cashmere-tweed pencil skirt and high leather boots — was vintage Ford: a little ’70s, a little cinematic, with hints of bondage and overindulgence. Ditto the sweeping leopard trench and pink shearling greatcoats, the men’s tux-and-turtleneck combo, and the evening looks of glinting sequined tops over long, feathered skirts; backless velvet columns traced in gold chains.
This is Mr. Ford’s comfort zone, as he defined it years ago: familiar, but nevertheless hard to resist.
And that should work to his advantage, because everything on the runway was from Mr. Ford’s fall collection, and all of it will be available as of now, in stores and online.
The bet that both Mr. West and Mr. Ford were making is that the experiences will sell the clothes: to the people in the room and, even more important, the people who weren’t in the room but really, really wished they could be in the room. The people, in other words, watching (on Instagram and Facebook and so on) the people in the room, and for whom the second-best way to maybe get a bit of the experience of being in the room will be to get a product that was in the room. Immediately.
Sure, it’s sleight of hand, but at least Mr. Ford made his audience complicit in the trick instead of casting them in the role of the sucker.
Privileged insider vs. patsy. How would you rather look?