Fashion Review: Tom Ford Rediscovers the 1990s, in a Good Way

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Fashion Review: Tom Ford Rediscovers the 1990s, in a Good Way

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The 1990s have been resurgent of late, largely thanks to their somewhat ignoble contributions to contemporary life: reality television and “Baywatch”; White House scandal and congressional shutdown; and, of course, the introduction of Donald J. Trump as a pop culture tabloid star. Well, we all need something to blame. Why not a time period?

That it also happened to be an era when fashion had a knowing, energetic immediacy worth celebrating has been mostly overlooked. But on Wednesday, with the opening show of the New York spring 2018 season, Tom Ford came along to remind us.

Returning to New York with his first full-on traditional runway show after seasons of flirting with alternate venues (London! L.A.!) and forms (video! dinner theater!) and some timeouts for films, Mr. Ford took a trip down his own glam-cobblestoned memory lane. The 1990s, after all, were the heyday of his Gucci years — he became its creative director in 1994, and left 10 years later — when he burst onto the fashion scene, injecting the concept of postmodern irony into unabashed luxury, adding a dose of sex and making it cool.

Just consider that his new collection was in part the opening act for his new fragrance: Alliteratively titled, using first a crude word for sexual congress, followed by “Fabulous.” You fill in the blank. (That is honestly the name on the label.)

So was it?

Kind of, yes. In a millennial pink corridor — the color perhaps a reference to the generation Mr. Ford needs to attract and which missed the clothes the first time around — stretching through the Park Avenue Armory with lacquered walls and padded risers, in front of Chaka Khan, Helena Christensen, Cindy Crawford and Kim Kardashian West (among others), Mr. Ford sent out a series of sharp-shouldered one-button power jackets in pastel satins atop rolled-hem shorts paired with sequined T-shirts.

There were blouson leather boy-band jackets with matching leather sweatpants; glittering two-tone T-shirt-dresses so short they looked more like shirts (maybe they were shirts, but if so they were sans bottoms) and aerobic-instructor leotards cut waist-high on the sides. Evening gowns were ruched net columns stretched peekaboo-sheer over the rear with long, sequined sleeves for contrast. Fuchsia, lavender and beige mixed it up with orange and electric blue, plus the usual black and white. None of it was very complicated or challenging. It was fun.

Mr. Ford shot to fame on his ability to walk the fine line between self-serious, unabashed ambition and a willingness to mock himself for it; his clothes gave his consumers permission to strive and preen and roll their eyes at the same time, so they were not just in on the joke, but controlling it. Since starting his own brand, however, he has erred on the side of the pompous. Not this time. Guests exited the show through a line of male waiters clad only in athletic shorts and knee-socks, bearing trays of Champagne. In the past, they would have been wearing Botox-perfect tuxedos.

The result was the fashion equivalent of really good late-night TV. And know what? We needed that. Everyone could use a little perspective these days.

As Donna Karan said after her Urban Zen presentation of round-the-world hobo-deluxe shearlings, velvet-and-silk patchwork dresses, distressed explorers’ leathers and embroidered tunics: “It’s not just about dressing. It’s about addressing.”

Perhaps that’s why Mr. Ford was not the only designer thinking 1990s. Narciso Rodriguez, celebrating 20 years in business, also had his head in the decade. Eschewing a full-on runway show for small presentations, he went back to his roots, revisiting pieces from his earliest collections beginning with his “new suit”: a thin wool duo that replaced the jacket with a T-shirt sculpted through seams.

It had been updated, of course: integral peplums created to sculpt the waist, pants pleated into Katharine Hepburn ease instead of streamlined for speed, and tank dresses given a breastplate of seed-like beading to offset the athleticism; the minimalism of the era remade with a slightly more generous twist. But the changes were incremental.

Mr. Rodriguez has always stuck to his own rigorously specific point of view, but over the years it has relaxed just enough to accommodate the realities of increasingly complicated lives, and imperfect bodies.

Like Mr. Ford, he has learned from his own history instead of merely repeating it. And now, crafted it into a cleverly flattering reminder that we all might do the same.

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