The practical job of a fashion designer is to make clothes that people want to wear. But obviously, if we’ve learned anything at all from a royal wedding dress, a custom Lady Gaga look, or the unplanned social media impact of haute couture week, it’s so much more than that. Through their work from sketch to garment, it’s also their job to generate new feelings — conversations, too — from season to season, piece by piece. They flirt, they mock, they time-travel, and, if they’re really good at what they do, they have the ability to leave us wanting more.
For the autumn / winter 2019 season of Fashion Month, we got more for sure...but also less. As designers redirected our gaze toward a more minimalist mindset, some finer details won’t just be hard to replicate when they trickle down to market, but may make more sense with time. Balenciaga and Maison Martin Margiela revived Claude Montana’s angular “hourglass” silhouette; Chanel bid farewell to the industry’s greatest showman (and perhaps a major chapter in fashion history); and New York collections offered mass appeal with just enough high-fashion ingredients that, come next season, could completely transform streetwear. There were the micro trends: “couture” bucket hats, Renaissance Faire gowns, and neons became the “jewel tones” of the season. And there were big themes, too, in particular a season strangely detached from the political and feminist leanings of collections past (and our current reality).
But back to the beginning, and why designers do what they do, and why we ostensibly love it: here’s an ultimate snapshot of everything from autumn / winter 2019 that captivated our hearts and our feeds, even if just for a second — which, on today’s fashion clock, can feel like years.
Vaquera, Molly Goddard
BDE: Big Dress Energy
Take up (as much) space (as you can): That was the message from autumn / winter 2019’s runways, where we saw a fleet of larger-than-life dresses take centre-stage. There were costume designer Tomo Koizumi’s multicoloured cloud-like creations, inspired by hanawa, a Japanese funerary banner, and performance artist Leigh Bowery; at Roksanda, poufs and folds of fabric in rich autumnal hues made us crave romance and extravagance, via ballooned proportions; Molly Goddard designed hers in shocking pink; and the Vaquera collective channeled their knack for extravagance in an electrifying checkered black-and-fuchsia number that simply said, I’ve arrived. This season, there’s no room for wallflowers — go big, or go home.
Suits, The Musical
Once one of the most conservative options around, trouser suits have morphed into a go-to for any woman feeling her eccentric self. It’s almost as if the constricting, tailored uniform of the investment banker went through a psychedelic portal and emerged with Willy Wonka-esque patterns and shapes. We have Thom Browne to thank, in part, for that, but other labels who got the memo included Loewe, Givenchy, Dries Van Noten, and Victoria Beckham.
Alexander McQueen, Prada
If It Ain't Broke, Don’t Fix It: The Punk Edition
If at first you don’t succeed, dip into punk, grunge, or BDSM themes, and try again — that’s how it goes, right? Greats like Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, and Vivenne Westwood drew from the most rebellious periods and pop culture subsets, the dropouts and the outcasts who made fashion thrilling (but never seemed to get credit for it). At this point, though, when legacy brands like Versace, Balmain, and Marni take a punk turn, why does it feel more like publicity than social commentary? The clothes that inspired these hyper-luxe iterations were created in opposition of something — fashion as rebellion, we guess. But, these days, can a harness and a pair of combat boots really pass for legit “punk”? Discuss....
A Season That Will Be Tough To Copy
Sorry, big box retailers: after this season’s shows, it will be a lot trickier to get these looks for less. Designers flexed major draping and tailoring muscles — sophisticated upmarket techniques that fast-fashion brands will be hard-pressed to replicate. Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, and Louis Vuitton led the charge in sleek structured shoulders. Sacai put in the extra pattern work. And Rodarte brought it with embroidery. And, billowy capes, where fabric quality is key, floated down the runways at Balmain and Chloé. Don’t get us wrong — we love fast-fashion, too, but sometimes there’s just no shortcut to those special details that speak fantasy with a capital F.
Introducing: The Prairie Dress, After Dark
Monastic dresses continue to reign supreme, but in place of spring’s prairie dress phenomenon (which saw brands like Batsheva revive Laura Ashley’s Picnic At Hanging Rock vibe), this season we saw a more serious iteration come through. Corseted, laced-up waists, balloon sleeves placed lower down the arm, and more sober hues all ushered in the Renaissance dress at Adeam, Ashley Williams, Brock Collection, and Emilia Wickstead. While still feminine, there’s something darker about this woman, a gloriously wicked side that designers want us to show off a bit. Cue up the Fleetwood Mac, pour yourself a glass of cold brew, and pump it forward one pointed-toe after the other.
Nina Ricci, Valentino
Hello, Bucket Hats — We Meet Again
First spotted on safaris, then becoming a streetwear staple, bucket hats finally made it — believe it or not — to Paris Fashion Week. The high-fashion versions (seen at Nina Ricci, Valentino, and Dior) were constructed in luxe canvas, some patent leather with delicate netting, and larger-than-life proportions. These specimens weren’t styled with the usual sk8er boi essentials (obscure merch and shoelace belts). Instead, they were worn with head-to-toe lace looks and tailored trench coats, giving us a hunch we might be wearing a Swarovski-bedazzled version for that next trip to the Serengeti.
Balenciaga, Junya Watanabe
Fashion That Laughs With You...Or At You
From Dali and Schiaparelli, to Gaultier and Jeremy Scott, fashion, humour, and a dose of sarcasm go way back, and some of this season’s stars were definitely ready to take the piss. Demna Gvasalia’s designs for Balenciaga that mimicked Parisian tourists (even if you’ve never been to Paris, you’ll recognise the ubiquitous, I’m-not-from-here logos), Junya Watanabe’s distressed UCLA hoodies (which take on a whole new meaning, post-college admissions scam), or even Hedi Slimane’s suburban take on Celine reminded us that, sometimes, the industry is on the joke. We like to think that, behind those indoor-sunglasses, fashionistas are laughing, too.
Louis Vuitton, Fendi
A Season Sans Logos
Monogram schmonogram! Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Balenciaga — the OG leaders driving legacy logo mania — went quiet this season. Rather, the prints and patterns we'll be wearing on dresses, pants, shirts for autumn / winter suggest a new kind of swank minimalism. And we like it.
Carolina Herrera, Versace
Colours For Fall? There Are No Colours For Fall
There used to be two things you could rely on in fashion: florals for spring and autumnal everything for autumn. Well, that’s history. In place of tried and true rusts, pumpkins, and party season jewel-tones, we saw acid neons (thanks, Sies Marjan and Carolina Herrera) or Christopher Kane’s pops of ‘80s teal and fuschia. Over at Fendi, autumn / winter was hatched in shades of egg-yolk yellow, too.
The Non-Parler, Or Disappearance, Of Politics
No matter how you slice it, fashion is political. Though the Star Spangled Banner is more like the Cerulean Monologue, that doesn’t mean designers are completely tone deaf when commenting on what happens beyond the catwalk. But this season lacked the sort of bold political discourse we’ve recently grown accustomed to. All but one slogan tee (pictured above), no manifestos or politically charged performance art pieces, front-row feminists, or overwhelming amounts of diversity fuelled headlines across the fashion capitals. By and large, it felt like designers took a vape break from current events. We get it: the onslaught of bad news is exhausting. But the stakes are just too high to exit the conversation forever.
Rachel Comey, Philipp Plein
The Socialists vs. The Billionaires
If you’re looking for a place to talk about money — who has it, who doesn’t, who has too much of it — you won’t find a better place than Fashion Week. This time, the discussion moved to the ends of the political spectrum, via two of NYFW’s most compelling designers. Rachel Comey invited popular socialist podcasters the Red Scare girls to walk in her show. A few days later, one-percenter Philipp Plein chose to unveil his new line (tastefully called “Billionaires”) at The Pool (formerly known as The Four Seasons), one of the most expensive restaurants in NYC. While the food was infinitely better than the looks that were served, dessert was by far the tastiest: Plein critics snacked on a bit of schadenfreude after news broke that the NYC billionaire got scammed out of nearly $1 million while trying to book Kanye West to perform at Plein’s function.
Telfar, Proenza Schouler
A Different Kind Of Exclusion & Inclusion
In past seasons, umbrella terms like “inclusion” and “exclusion” have meant something very specific: which brands cast the most diverse runways? (And which didn’t?) This season, however, they’ve taken on additional meaning with regards to shows that took “exclusive” to the extreme. As show formats changed (crowd-surfing mosh pits, intimate salons) and rows got thinner (Proenza Schouler, for example, had only one), questions arose: can we even call it a “catwalk show” if there isn’t one? If show venues are getting smaller, including a decrease in livestreams, are designers transitioning to a pay-for-play system? Here’s hoping next season is more direct, and that more of us can see (and see ourselves in), you know, the clothes.
On Using (Or Faking) Endangered Animal Skins
For the past few years, we’ve watched one luxury fashion house after another ban the use of exotic animal skins, like Chanel, Versace, and Burberry. And many emerging and sustainable houses agree: using the skins and furs of animals, no matter how ethically they may have been sourced, just isn’t modern or humane. This hasn’t stopped labels from mimicking fancy animal “prints,” like Bengal tigers, Mountain and Grévy zebras, and cheetahs — all of which are endangered species to varying degrees. Much worse: producing faux fur typically wreaks more environmental havoc than the real thing. Let’s be honest, are florals and stripes that boring that we can’t retire the coats, handbags, and shoes of our furrier friends?
Collina Strada, Stella McCartney
Is Sustainability A Luxury?
If the (fast) fashion industry is to blame for 4% of the world’s waste (92 million tons), then what about the rest of it? Is there such a thing as sustainable luxury? Or is sustainability itself a luxury? In reality, building a sustainable fashion business is possible; just ask Stella McCartney. But she can’t carry the torch alone. Still, there was much to be optimistic about in New York, where shows featured nods to sustainability and climate change, and brands took tangible, immediate steps, including Collina Strada (models ate and drank from glass and metal containers), swimwear line Chromat, Prabal Gurung (who opted out of printing show notes), and PH5. (Green) thumbs up.
11 Honoré Takes Over NYFW (& Instagram)
A standing ovation, a few hundred tears, and an impromptu finale walk courtesy of Laverne Cox (one of the best struts in history, period) were just a few of the highlights from 11 Honoré’s epic New York Fashion Week debut. The leading plus-size e-tailer for designer clothing kicked off the week with a show of firsts: a partnership with Shopify, which facilitated a see-now-buy-now shopping experience; an entire lineup of models sized 12 to 20; and size-inclusive designs by the likes of Christian Siriano, Zac Posen, and Jason Wu. No wonder the festivities broke the internet.
The Industry Bids Adieu To The King Of Tweed
This season carried an unmistakable gravitas as the February 19 death of Karl Lagerfeld saw the industry mourn the German designer and reflect on his legacy. Although his controversial opinions and cutting soundbites were noted in obituaries, there was an overwhelming outpouring of adoration for his work at Fendi, his eponymous label, and, Chanel, arguably the brand that made him famous (or vice versa?). Hosted at the Grand Palais, we were led into Chanel’s magical winter wonderland, seemingly taken from a vintage ski scene atop a mountain in Gstaad. Rumours swirled about his replacement, but it was quickly announced that his right-hand woman Virginie Viard would succeed him. And as with any colossal changing of the guard, will she continue or depart from Karl’s legacy altogether?
A Diet Prada Hangover Hits Hard
The cheeky watchdog duo Diet Prada has gained respect from industry insiders, fashion fans, and a growing mob of gleeful haters ready to take down bigots and biters alike. But a few sweeter dollops have recently been added to the account’s recipe, including #sponcon and runway show “reviews” dripping with praise — and some commenters are put off by the pivot. And you should have seen the response when an attempt to call Hedi Slimane out for ripping off Gucci’s signature horsebit backfired (it felt more like a reach than a bullseye). It’s not that DP can’t enjoy the effervescence of a beautiful fashion show or make some cash off their ‘round-the-clock efforts (God’s work, really) — it’s just a question of whether or not feverish Dieters will partake of the watered-down New Prada.
Paris & Nicki Hilton at Oscar de la Renta
The Hiltons Vs. KKW: The Battle Of The 2000s Is Here
Are we living in a scene from Freaky Friday, or have Paris Hilton and her sister Nicky switched places with ex-assistant and former bestie Kim Kardashian-West? A seasoned veteran to the front rows of Fashion Month, Kim was OOO all season long, and didn’t attend a single show. By contrast, the Hilton sisters were back to their old tricks, walking their pups down the runway at the Blonds and Christian Cowan, sitting front row at Brandon Maxwell, Valentino, and Giambattista Valli, and posing for the paparazzi outside nightclubs in Paris (the city). So, what’s the deal? Are the Hilton sisters looking to snatch a crown, or will KKW reassert her dominance come September? Only time will tell.
Calvin Klein Quits Fashion Month, Effective Immediately
News of Raf Simons’ departure from Calvin Klein last December hit like a nightmare before Christmas. But official word that the brand’s ready-to-wear business would be shuttering entirely just felt shitty. Like you, we didn’t want to believe it. From Calvin Klein himself, to the minimalism of Francisco Costa, and finally, the electricity of the Simons touch, each of these visionaries left their own marks on the American label — one of the few that ever held a match to European fashion standards. But alas, Simons’ interpretations of Americana, via film and Andy Warhol, weren’t enough to stop the bleeding (of money). Now, only one question remains: if the house hires a replacement, will a revival of its high-end arm, from scratch this time, actually work? The statistics have never been lower. It may be best to keep shilling underwear (and the Kardashians) for the time being.
Do We Really Need Fashion Week?
The NYFW trend that won’t die isn’t necessarily tiny bags or tinier sunglasses: it’s fashion media questioning whether we need Fashion Week in the first place. Outlets like Business of Fashion pointed out that the most popular American brands already forgo the NYFW system, and Vox tracked the decline of the week along with the rise of social media, which seemingly gave industry players a more efficient way to get the word out. And with many designers seeing vacant seats and unclaimed appointment slots, it seems like some people have already moved on from the trend already.
Patti Hansen, Suvi Koponen, Missy Rayder, Veronica Webb, Christina Kruse, Guinevere Van Seenus, Christy Turlington, Lily Cole, Jade Parfitt, Tatjana Patitiz, Farida Khelfa, Tasha Tilberg, Kirstin Pieters, and Beverly Peele
The Actual Supermodel Reunion Everyone Missed
We like to think that, at any given moment, a supermodel is dusting off her wings and returning to a catwalk near you. But nothing could prepare us for the stampede of ‘90s- and early aughts-era legends that returned to this season’s catwalks. No, not just the Holy Trinity (Linda, Christy, Naomi) — we’re talking about the other legends, too: Tatjana Patitz and Farida Khelfa at Etro, Veronica Webb at Batsheva, Lily Cole at Simone Rocha, Missy Rayder and Tasha Tilberg at Coach 1941, Beverly Peele, Suvi Koponen, Elaine Irwin, and so many others. Their presence on the catwalk may not have launched a million tweets, but it did warm the hearts of seasoned show-gowers who know that Turlington hasn’t walked a runway in 20 years. Not only did their cameos add some age diversity to the season, but it made us wonder if fashion is really so disposable after all.
Philipp Plein, Burberry
All Is(n’t) Fair In Ready-To-Wear
No surprise, really, but this season saw the uglier side of the fashion industry rearing its head, too. Between Philipp Plein fat-shaming a show reviewer, to Burberry’s noose hoodie on the runway, it seemed that bad press was a little too free. Had we not, in fact, made notable progress toward kindness, civility, and common sense? Call them incidents, accidents, gross misunderstandings, or “a teachable moment,” these scandals aren’t writing themselves.
Tommy x Zendaya
Tommy x Zendaya & The Power Of Millennials Of Colour
Not all celebrity fashion collaborations are created equal. But Tommy x Zendaya, which debuted in Paris, proved how profitable and powerful such a pairing can be. But what does an American brand in Paris evoke, exactly? For multi-hyphenate Zendaya, what came to mind was the iconic 1973 Battle of Versailles catwalk, which put both American fashion and Black models (like Pat Cleveland and Grace Jones) on the European map. The collaboration was truly inclusive and diverse, a heartfelt amplification of the Black Lives Matter movement and Black culture at large. Bravo, Z.
Opening Ceremony, Sandy Liang
NYFW Does CNY
For New Yorkers who celebrate both new clothes and the Lunar New Year, we occasionally experience a bit of serendipity that makes for one hell of a week. This February, Chinese New Year fell on the very beginning of NYFW, and lots of Asian-American designers took it as an opportunity to roll out the red envelopes right alongside the red carpet. Alexander Wang decked the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center in red lanterns, Opening Ceremony’s Humberto Leon and Carol Lim replaced their traditional show with a qipao-clad Miss Piggy-hosted party (in honour of the Year of the Pig), and cult-fave Sandy Liang staged her show at Mission Chinese, where the only bag more hyped than her fleece-lined pouches were the hongbaos she stuffed inside. 新年快乐!
Outside of Chanel and Collina Strada
Fashion Packs Are The New Influencer
Strength in numbers was the move for those angling to get snapped by street style photographers this season. Coordinated outfits in groups of threes and fours were spotted routinely en route and outside shows. In between shows, they shared cappuccinos, chatted, and checked their phones, all matching en masse. From Clueless to The Craft, street stylers have paid homage to pop culture cliques and cadres for a hot minute now (whether they mean to or not). Don’t get us wrong — four peacocks are better than one. But come next season, could groutfits (that’s “group outfits”, not “grey + outfit”) be just a little too meta? Is quadruple exposure even a thing nowadays?
Fashion's MVPs Bench Themselves
Fashion Month may not have the same brand of dazzle it has in years/decades past, but the number of labels who simply opted out this season seemed like an interesting trend in itself. Calvin Klein, a calendar mainstay for the past 20 years, didn’t show after creative director Raf Simons’ late December exit. Alexander Wang, meanwhile, now operates on a new June/December show schedule, and even CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss (whose past shows have been the most-talked-about events on the schedule) bailed, too. So many ‘grams and conversations that might’ve been, but weren’t. See you next season? Maybe?
Why Were There So Many Men On The Runways?
In recent seasons, designers have teased the concept of co-ed runways, with menswear showing up sporadically at womenswear shows, and vice versa. But this season, an overwhelming amount of legitimately co-ed runways (Givenchy, Tibi, Marni, Thom Browne, and more) sent confusing messages: designers are either strapped for cash, or they’re just producing extra clothes. The presence of men on the womenswear runways would be thought-provoking if designers had more unique narratives. Or if they designed unisex collections that didn’t involve a single hoodie. But, while we appreciate an extra dose of tailoring among voluminous dresses and strapless/sleeveless gowns, we weren’t exactly sure how to interpret the boys amid a Fashion Month that was already short on female empowerment.
The Hesitation Of Queerness In Fashion
For decades, designers like Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, and Marc Jacobs thrust ideas of queerness — by definition “the state or condition of being strange” — into the mainstream, and inspired millennial designers to explore gender identity and sexuality in their collections. But this season, there was a noticeable queerness void. New York had motifs like nudity and unabashedly feminine menswear, and London added its own quirk to the mix with queer-friendly designers like Ashish and Richard Quinn. But over in Paris and Milan, Galliano at Maison Martin Margiela and Haider Ackermann were among the very few who dared to go there. If fashion is supposed to not only reflect real life, but challenge basic ideals, then why aren’t designers being more experimental? Better yet — why is queerness still an experiment?
A Major Becomes A Mentor
Back in February (with just 24 hours’ notice), when it was announced that Japanese designer Tomo Koizumi would present his first-ever New York Fashion Week runway show at the Marc Jacobs store on Madison Avenue, half of the industry had never heard of Koizumi. But that didn’t matter. Because a blessing from Jacobs is all one needs to command an entire industry to show up, including A-list models like Kaia Gerber, Rowan Blanchard, Bella Hadid, Gwendoline Christie, and Joan Smalls. Aside from the clothes themselves, the event was Instagram gold (and a smart marketing move for Jacobs). The magical mashup was a true, and rare, example of what it looks like to nurture fashion’s future.