Uptown girls: Carolina Herrera, Tory Burch, Gabriela Hearst, and Brandon Maxwell
Despite the casualisation of fashion in the pandemic, High Society still exists in New York, and its four of the designers who dress its members are Wes Gordon at Carolina Herrera, Brandon Maxwell, Tory Burch and Gabriela Hearst.
None of them were born in New York, and all of them reference ideas from their earliest days. However, collectively they represent the spirit of the "city that never sleeps", and the energetic, inspiring and elegant New Yorkers who, in turn, inspire.
Carolina Herrera: Garden-of-Eden style
Nice to see a designer really respecting a brand’s DNA. Case in point: Wes Gordon at Carolina Herrera, whose latest show earned the popular designer a huge round of applause.
Like the house’s founder, Gordon designs for the one percent. There was a time when if you really wanted to know how the other half lived, then you nabbed an invite to Carolina Herrera.
Nowadays, the brand’s front row is made up of more cerebral clientele. Like Maye Musk, veteran model, beauty and mum of the world’s quirkiest billionaire Elon Musk; or Kiara Nirghin, a South African inventor, scientist, and speaker; or drag queen Symone; singer Ellie Goulding; or actress Arden Cho.
There are still plenty of pampered beauties, like Ivy Getty - whose grandaddy Jean Paul Getty was also once the world’s richest man - though there are far more influencers: Sai De Silva, Chriselle Lim, Mary Leest, Jessica Wang and Diala Maki.
Gordon has developed a loyal following and his fans all showed up in Carolina Herrera this season. A far higher percentage wearing the label, than at most shows in NYC, a telling indication of success.
This season, Wes’ inspiration was a “beloved book” from his childhood, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and the result wasa hyper-romantic vision of modern femininity. With nearly a score of floral prints - poppies, peonies, irises and prairie flowers.
Gordon drapes with real flourish and has the courage and skill to pull off oversize balloon sleeves; fluid godet skirts; swirling bows and perfectly cut dimpled sarongs. Tony taffeta and top notch tulle at its best.
“The effortless American glamour of Bunny Mellon, the ultimate elegant gardener,” explained Gordon of his floral obsession, where many looks had matching head-to-toe accessories.
Gordon could be faulted for not advancing the fashion vernacular, but when it comes romantic, he never fails to deliver.
His show opened with a stripe cotton blouse paired with a warp-print taffeta ball skirt, evoking the effortless American glamour of Bunny Mellon, the ultimate elegant gardener. Add in a dose of cool tailoring - like his double-breasted suit - and his homage to the signature garment of Carolina, the crisp white shirt, and you had a fine expression of uptown chic. Quite why the Herrera cotton shirt came with oversized floral rosettes, we could not understand.
But, overall, one left the show musing that Chicago-born Gordon has gradually injected his own take on Herrera, while fully respecting the DNA of this noble marque.
Far too many of his colleagues in other storied houses do not.
Tory Burch: Stretched chic
“I wanted to capture the energy of New York from when I first moved here back in the 90s,” explained Tory Burch, after an elegiac sunset fashion experience.
Presented on a pier on the Hudson River, as the sun went down over the bluffs of the Jersey shore and commuter ferries churned the sea. Influencers were in seventh heaven snapping themselves long before any model had appeared.
Burch’s big and best idea was stretching fabrics around the torso to lend an oddly ethereal mood to the fashion. Ruched mini skirts; semi-sheer tops; see-through skirts and lots of looks where one could see the underwear. A gal would need a good figure to pull off several looks, but the elasticity of the materials probably made for a comfortable wear. Everything was made in luxurious fabrics - superfine knits, techno satin or weightless jerseys.
Sporty and spruce, yet never overly athletic, like the leggings or bodycon track jackets - adding a self-confident allure to the models.
“We worked a lot with fabric manufacturers to add in more stretch, so the material stretched in multiple directions. That was important,” explained Burch. Looking almost preternaturally young before her three twenty-something sons.
Every model, except one, wore flats - marvellously precise shaped constructions, almost like surrealist objects d’art. Cut with super-exact thumb straps and sure to be an important trend. As will be her acid colored handbags.
Burch also riffed on the favourite new hue of New York shades of gold - seen in trenches, metallic asymmetric skirts and sandals. Perhaps an expression of designers new confidence that the city is finally shaking off the worst of the pandemic.
A mood magnified by the soundtrack, featuring Tonight, Tonight by The Smashing Pumpkins, especially its famous line: “We’ll crucify the insincere tonight.”
Apt for Burch, one designer who is always true to herself and her brand’s DNA.
Gabriela Hearst: Sappho in Brooklyn
Though raised in Uruguay and apparently now living in Brooklyn, few designers better represent contemporary big city New York than Gabriela Hearst.
Her high society is not for the faint hearted. Instead, she blends ethnic Latin American touches with conceptual ideas and the results are often beautiful. As they were in this collection, and show.
Staged in the Agger Fish Building at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a giant corrugated iron wreck on whose floors had been painted three huge stripes of gold. Hearst’s starting point for the collection was an abstract collage she made up back in April, and the golden strips made a ideal location for the Resistance Chorus a 20-person choral group that performed with immense passion. This collective of women, and non-binary singers - touring musicians, film and television actors, Broadway performers, solo recording artists, gospel singers, political activists, among other métiers - sang a gospel classic This Joy I Have, as the cast of veteran models and young'uns paraded about.
Gabriela’s other leitmotif was Sappho, the Ancient World’s lyrical poetess, lyrical poetry about mighty Aphrodite is still greatly admired.
The result was a series of contoured dresses - some finished with gold vachetta breasts and breastplates. Other slip dresses came entirely in gold nappa.
All anchored by sandals, often with golden trim. Even a mannish suit was made entirely in yellow gold, curiously the color of the season this year in New York.
Gabriela cuts a great suit - with deep gorge jackets trimmed with rose gold metal bars and pants cut like an 80s disco star. She played with smocked leather on fitted bodices with sleeves that jutted out abstractly. And, then added in some of her Uruguayan poncho references, hand knitted in chunky cashmere or fine merino.
In her program notes, she is open about her concerns that she might not be marching in the right direction, that her muse had her on the right road, before admitting.
“My team is so loyal and I am so thankful for that trust, they go where I point. On September 6, a week before the show, I came to the realisation of what just happened. I had an atypical rejection to the collection in a way. I had never felt before. Then when the trusted eyes of Camilla looked at it with affirmation, I realised then that I had just swam a little deeper this time. There is the vulnerability of feeling exposed but, yet again, there is nothing to hide.”
Brandon Maxwell: Lilac in Christie’s
Born in Texas, but based in New York, Brandon Maxwell is the go-to destination of a tribe in Manhattan known as the 'Ladies who Lunch'.
Last, and we’re afraid, least this season in this 'Uptown Gal' category came Maxwell, whose show rarely soared. Even the setting - a lilac-hued basement inside Christie’s in the Rockefeller Center - felt somnolent.
A cute collection but not really a classy one, with far too many murky sequinned tops; formulaic blazers and tinsel cardigans.
His signature shirt dresses did look crisp, as did a series of very final cut cargo pants, but this felt like a step back from a normally far more assured designer.
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