When Batsheva Hay opens the door to her Upper West Side apartment, you expect her to be in one of the whimsical, knee-length-or-longer cotton dresses for which she’s become known. Instead the designer, whose line, Batsheva, is relatively new on the New York fashion scene, is wearing a navy crewneck sweater from Zabar’s, the super-deli that is many New York Jews’ gustatory homeland, and a light wash, straight-cut pair of old Levi’s.
The jeans are a response to the polar vortex, she explains, and the manual labor involved in preparing for New York Fashion Week. “When it’s warmer weather, I’ll usually wear a vintage dress or one of mine, since the whole reason I started making my dresses was to give me something to wear. And they have to be comfortable.”
Valentino (full look and accessories).
Hay and her home are indeed in the throes of pre-Fashion Week frenzy. Boxes and plastic garment bags are stacked everywhere from the entryway to the kitchen counter, and two Batsheva employees are here finalizing show materials. Despite the disarray, the apartment feels homey. There’s an authentic Persian rug (her in-laws are Iranian) laid out in front of the sofa. Across the apartment, Hay’s 5-year-old daughter’s bedroom has been temporarily converted into a closet and is now full of hyper-feminine frocks punctuated with puffed sleeves and ruffles — think voluminous, nouveau-Laura Ashley, Sound-of-Music-repurposed-curtain dresses that are technically modest, in accordance with her husband’s conversion to Orthodox Judaism, but constructed in zany prints that make it impossible to be a wallflower. This season, Hay is adding shoes and knits to her line. (It’s tough to present a fully realized vision when the line only has dresses, she says.) Her workspace has packaging materials on one side and a child’s play mat on the floor.
"If it doesn’t have pockets, it’s not going to make the cut."
Hays constructs her sometimes out-there collections inside a very-much-lived-in home, a true personification of the idea that fashion must be in service to the kind of life the modern woman leads. “I definitely do have a life where I’m walking a lot, moving a lot. The only shoes I wear are comfortable shoes now, so the dresses have to be similar,” Hay says. “I make a lot of them in the same styles over and over again. And if it doesn’t have pockets, it’s not going to make the cut.”
From left: Chanel set and jewelry, Manolo Blahnik shoes; Ellery suit, Dinosaur Design earrings; Prabal Gurung blouse and trousers, Kenneth Jay Lane earrings, Sergio Rossi shoes; Rejina Pyo suit, Beaufille earrings.
That’s the resounding message of the spring collections — not the primacy of pockets, exactly (although that, too) but a larger statement about the interplay of fantasy and reality. As always, designers and customers expect fashion to tell a story, but a confectionary fairytale no longer works; the narrative now has to be grounded in the way customers—and designers—live and work and dress. As almost everything on offer for Spring/Summer 2019 shows, we have entered the era of nonfiction fashion, and there’s no going back.
Wearability and relevance — have to be intertwined, and that dual commitment has to show up in the clothes.
“The common thread running through all of our favorite collections for Spring 2019 was functionality,” Natalie Kingham, fashion and buying director for Matches Fashion, tells TZR. “Anything done solely for design’s sake didn’t feel modern—it was all about creating collections that had women’s best interests at heart.” Kingham adds that the season’s best offerings looked to embrace the modern woman’s lifestyle and the need to dress for any number of circumstances—workouts, work drinks, errand-running—in a single day. The designers who have addressed the double-demand of creating fantasy clothes that are also wearable and reflective of the present moment have perhaps been the most successful.
Off-White suit and shoes, Jennifer Fisher earrings.
The challenge of marrying serviceable separates, haute craftsmanship, and a sense of fun is one that Dries Van Noten rose to masterfully for spring. The theme of the Belgian creative’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection is a “woman who lives today,” the designer said after its debut. That shouldn’t be a groundbreaking description for a clothing collection, but it is. Fashion’s resident color master staccatoed vivid, primary colored separates and striped accessories across a bare runway, combining couture-feeling traditions—like a side-draped skirt or plastic “feathers”— with the everyday sensibility of contemporary sportswear. An altogether sturdy white trench with a delicate indigo crocheted fringe shoulder ticked both the utilitarian and crochet trend boxes. Ditto an elegant navy suit or a practical pair of Tevas-style velcroed sandals, both of which are indisputably wearable without sacrificing style.
Raymond’s fashion fantasy is representation, a once-suppressed narrative about black existence, about black participation in art and beauty, that he is making a reality, one impeccably tailored silk shirt at a time.
Or take Pyer Moss, the brand Kerby Jean Raymond founded in 2013. The Haitian-American designer, whose activism-heavy collections have jolted a snoozy NYFW calendar awake since his first menswear collection for Autumn/Winter 2016, is used to fusing sobering realities with an elevated aesthetic (and thanks to a partnership with Reebok, making that fusion lucrative). On its surface, Raymond’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection is fashion-as-usual for the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund winner, replete with on-trend looks like a vibrant sunflower yellow fringe-hem silk macrame dress styled with a translucent matching silk hoodie and a crop of relaxed wide-leg trousers in a handful of hues. Yet he’s presenting them through the perspective of an unapologetically, proudly all-black casting, offering a striking contrast to fashion’s history of casting people of color as token minorities on largely white runways. Raymond’s fashion fantasy is representation, a once-suppressed narrative about black existence, about black participation in art and beauty, that he is making a reality, one impeccably tailored silk shirt at a time.
From left: Esteban Cortazar suit, Sergio Rossi shoes, Jennifer Fisher earrings; Roberto Cavalli suit, N°21 shoes, Jennifer Fisher earrings; Off-White suit and shoes, Jennifer Fisher earrings.
The key is that the two values — wearability and relevance — have to be intertwined, and that dual commitment has to show up in the clothes. Raf Simons’s tenure at Calvin Klein, where he took on the role of holding a mirror up to our often ugly, often violent contemporary American landscape, is over because, despite very positive critical reception, Simons’s transgressive concept for the Americana brand wasn’t one shoppers could actually see themselves wearing and thus failed to meet sales expectations. (Blood-red accessories and what one critic called, in praise, “trauma nighties” were never going to be billed as must-buys.) The chief executive of Calvin Klein’s parent company, PVH, called Simons creative direction “too elevated.”
Whether or not you agree with that assessment of Simons’ work — a well cut, expensive white tee is elevated, and it will sell — his sudden departure was a stark reminder that good design, even good design with lofty, couldn’t-be-more-relevant intentions, means less if no one’s buying it or wearing it.
Versace (full look and accessories).
There’s no better place to observe what people are buying than Gucci’s concept store in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. Brass clothing racks are positioned high up on the wall, literally out of reach, but the experience overall feels quite familiar. The store, which reopened last year with GG-logo-upholstered furniture and a Dashwood-curated bookstore, was clearly designed as a 360 degree Instagram backdrop, as though to assure shoppers that what they buy will work in a social post before they commit. And it clearly will work, the sorbet-colored retro tweed bomber jackets, the velvet Marmont bags so omnipresent on social media that it’s surprising they exist outside a phone, and Gucci’s take on those practical velcro sandals, bulkier and crystal-embellished.
A collection of dance-inspired, form-less jersey dresses signals a shift from the constrictive, traditional feminine silhouettes that have spelled “D-I-O-R” in the past.
While the brand’s reverie-meets-real-life designs as imagined by Alessandro Michele have made the Italian house and its parent company, Kering, commercially successful (the same might be said for LVMH-owned brands like Louis Vuitton and Loewe, which have helped the world’s largest luxury conglomerate post double-digit profit increases in 2018), it has navigated the social world so well that it faces a conundrum all of the bigger houses and other designers with wildly popular logo items face: how do you design for what your customer will wear without a) becoming overexposed or b) producing designs that look a lot like what every other designer is selling?
From left: Altuzarra (full look and accessories); Marni dress, By FAR shoes, Dinosaur Design earrings; Versace (full look), Balenciaga sunglasses; Michael Kors (full look and accessories).
Up the street at Dior, it’s evident that the French house is considering the same question. It doesn’t take long to spot the brand’s revived It-bag, the 2000s-era Oblique Saddle bag. (A Dior salesman tells me that the olive green shade is basically unattainable at this point.)
With Instagram, as much a modern-day shopping tool as it is a network, there’s pressure to track what’s selling on social and prioritize replicating commercially successful one-off products, over comprehensive, thought-provoking collections. (In terms of maintaining or growing revenue, it may be as close to a sure thing as you get.) Take double bagging, for instance.
“Fanny packs have worked successfully in the luxury space, as it’s the most wearable and flattering trend that has re-emerged under the nostalgic 80s/90s wave,” says Rebecca Milne, a retail analyst from EDITED, an analytics company that tracks luxury and mass market products. According to Milne, luxury fanny packs are currently twice as likely as other bags to be sold at full price, indicating that there’s still a demand for the style.
From left: Altuzarra (full look), SVNR earrings; Carolina Herrera (full look and boots), Beaufille earrings.
Even for designers who don’t want to pander to online trends, there’s the risk of doing it subconsciously since, at the very least, they use the Instagram to get to know their customer. Fashion then becomes very wearable but misses the originality that, to use the parlance of the medium, actually “makes it fashion.”
Dior’s recent commercial success has come with scrutiny over whether the vision of its womenswear creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, who became the first woman to assume the role in the French house’s 72 year history, is resonating as well as Dior’s social media ubiquity might suggest. (Spring 2019 assuaged critics for the time being.) During her tenure, she’s done her part to convey how the modern woman can dress, with military trenches and combat boots, or with embroidered cotton lace inspired by las escaramuza horseback riders as was the case for Dior Resort 2019.
Left: Tory Burch dress, Beaufille x Reike Nen shoes, Beaufille earrings, TRUSS bags.
But there’s evidence that it, too, is designing for how women actually live in and move about the world. For Spring 2019, a collection of dance-inspired, form-less jersey dresses signals a shift from the constrictive, traditional feminine silhouettes that have spelled “D-I-O-R” in the past. Chiuri “drew inspiration from the works of a series of artists who shook up established codes in order to develop another idea of the beauty,” Dior’s Spring 2019 show press release reads.
The collection includes “bodysuits, tanks, and light jumpsuits [that] form a choreography of clothing in an infinity of nude shades, a multitude of variations, corresponding to the body’s movements,” according to the collection notes. Loose-fitting army-green cargo pants and monochromatic beige short-sleeve summer suits and highlight uniform options for the modern woman. (It’s almost too spot-on, but as I’m leaving the Dior showroom, a shopper asks whether she can look at a Dior toile de jouy tote large enough to fit her laptop.)
Christian Dior (full look and accessories).
So how do designers protect their creative process in order to hit the balance of originality and groundedness that the market now all but requires?
“I think trends can serve as a form of inspiration and some kind of guidance,” says Nanushka designer Sandra Sandor on how she incorporates those social media-popular items like fanny packs—ahem, belt bags—into her work. “I think we are all different in a good way and the same color or shape can inspire us many different ways. I try to stay true to my values that I built Nanushka on, like comfort, function and design and this helps make the Nanushka products distinctive.”
“I believe very much in the idea of creating modern heirlooms and celebrating the meaning and emotion embedded in a garment crafted by hand.”
Prabal Gurung says he embraces the way social media pushes him to focus on the smallest elements of his collections. “I find that clients now dress for Instagram...they seek color and special details,” Gurung says. “For us, it’s the exaggerated fan sleeve blazer, our covered button cutout detail. These translate to the visual medium and allow our customers to communicate who they are and what they stand for.”
From left: Proenza Schouler (full look); Fendi (full look); Sies Marjan pant and top, Tibi jacket, Pierre Hardy shoes.
For Gurung’s Spring 2019 runway, the color and detail work that appeals to his online fan base appeared in neon ribbed cardigans, a silk maxi dress with a multicolored feather hem, and a fuschia dress layered with gold embroidery and sequin panels. His attention to identity manifested in a cast of 61 models from 36 countries, styled with a natural beauty palette that, instead of homogenizing them, invited viewers to appreciate their differences. Some of Gurung’s smartest looks, like a pair of “Terai” khaki drop-seat cotton feathered pants and matching balloon-sleeve top, highlighted the designer’s own Nepalese heritage.
Manhattan-native Ulla Johnson, whose 21-year-old line has become known for its artisan-feel, says she finds that her inspiration strikes offline, usually through art or travel. In her Spring 2019 collection, chock full of au courant hand-crocheted pieces made with a women’s co-op in Peru, the proverbial chicken-or-egg quandary is solved: The inspiration dictates the design, which just so happen to be on-trend. “I’m immensely inspired by the craftswomen that we work with,” Johnson says. “I believe very much in the idea of creating modern heirlooms and celebrating the meaning and emotion embedded in a garment crafted by hand.”
Still, the best example of a designer who works outside the internet feedback loop may be Hay. While she does use Instagram (mostly for marketing and because “it helps me sell weird, one-of-a-kind pieces,” she says), and she is arguably responsible for the prairie chic trend that expanded like a calico ruffle tumbleweed last fall, she operates not just mentally but geographically apart from the trend cycle. That apartment near Riverside Park is approximately 80 blocks north of New York’s downtown fashion-culture-art scene. Paradoxically, it’s Hay’s remove from anything recognizably cool that keeps her hip and allows her the flights of sartorial imagination that fashion traditionalists expect while keeping her collections forever functional.
The result — say, a Holly Hobbie-printed babydoll dress with corduroy detail she is showing in two weeks for Fall/Winter 2019, or a bolder, netted electric-yellow zebra print one available for purchase now, both hanging on a garment rack 15 feet from where her daughter plays — will never be accused of being overly commercial, but it is thoroughly grounded in women’s present, a kaleidoscopically busy reality where they wear many hats but only really need a dress with strong pockets.
Of course, some of Spring 2019’s trends feel more of their specific moment than others — Altuzarra’s tangerine ruched jersey midi dress, Collina Strada’s hippy-dippy tie-dye, or Bermuda short suiting à la Off-White — but even those looks that may have a shorter shelf life (how long will we need or want waterproof coating on everything?) make a case for practicality.
Eudon Choi (full look), Beaufille x Reike Nen shoes, by FAR bag.
The monochrome trend, for its part, shows a new approach to wearability, the focus being a single palette with an emphasis on craftsmanship and responsible materials. Consider the fluidity of a pocket-heavy linen suit—tan, orange, powder blue, take your pick!—as prescribed by Rejina Pyo. Speaking of pockets again, the utilitarian trend offers a certain freedom not afforded to women’s clothing in years: Zimmerman’s khaki boiler suit or Sacai’s tactical white vest promise to hold enough accoutrements to keep you extravagantly hands-free.
The common thread running through all of these looks — and the Spring/Summer 2019 collections as a whole — is that clothes (yes, even beautifully constructed, “elevated” clothes) are what you wear to your life. Why make, talk about, or show them in a vacuum separate from it?
Hair: John Ruidant using R+Co at See Management
Makeup: Makeup by Miguel Lledo at artlist using Nars
Nails: Miss Pop using Zoya Natural Nail Polish & Nail Care Treatments