My Fashion Week Postmortem

The Tory Burch SS24 fashion week show.
The Tory Burch SS24 fashion week show. Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images
Lauren Sherman
September 14, 2023

Fewer things have changed in the fashion business, post-pandemic, than industry prognosticators once imagined. Sure, suburban malls are all but dead, but people are still shopping in stores, especially at the high end, where luxury sales have rebounded and then some. Here in New York, fashion week is busier than ever, with more shows, more parties, more dinners. But one thing has changed in fashion. There used to be a sort of seasonal theme to NYFW, a connection between the collections, culturally if not always aesthetically. Maybe it was something happening in society (like Trump), maybe it was a television series or a song or an art show. Now, you rarely detect a link in the backstories. 

Consider Barbie, perhaps the last gasp of monoculture, one of the biggest films ever. Ten years ago, there would have been dozens of designers citing it in their show notes, their hair-and-makeup memos, their styling directions. This season, though, the first time Barbie came up was backstage at Gabriela Hearst, which took place on Tuesday in the Agger Fish building—a raw, beautiful warehouse located deep inside the Brooklyn Navy Yards. Hearst, the designer, takes a scholarly approach to her collections; she’s always studying with one Ph.D. or another, surrounding herself with activists and people of influence, like the chef and frequent collaborator Daniel Humm, who was holding court backstage. As she was telling us about the female druids in Celtic mythology, and their power, I mentioned that it reminded me of Greta Gerwig’s story. Hearst said she hadn’t thought about it that way, but yes, they ran in parallel.

The runway didn’t look like Barbie, but it was a continuation of Hearst’s nearly decade-long mediation on what it means to be a woman. (I don’t need to describe the clothes in depth here, you know it when you see it. The change in this collection is that the fabrications were incredibly light; even the glass beading didn’t drag.) I left this show thinking about how good Hearst’s exit from Chloé will be for her own line, which someone called “the American Loro Piana” the other day. That’s a stretch, but I don’t think it’s out of the question, given her resources and ambition.

At Carolina Herrera, I was lucky enough to sit next to a client who buys both brands. Usually, journalists sit with journalists, buyers with buyers, clients with clients, but I arrived pretty late and was escorted to the first empty seat they could find. In this case, my tardiness served me. Her take on Hearst was that she buys it for the fine materials, liked this season better than the last, and was happy to see the designer say goodbye to Chloé. As for Carolina Herrera, which she has been wearing since she was a teenager, we discussed the transition from the namesake designer to Wes Gordon, who took over five years ago. She said that some of his runway designs are a bit too short for her (she was in her mid-50s and looked closer to 44 or 45), but generally felt at ease with his interpretation of the ultimate ladies-who-lunch-at-Le Grenouille label.

I caught up with Wes briefly before the Staud show, which he and his husband Paul Arnhold attended as friends of the house. His perennial favorite, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, was once again on his mood board this season. (She was the core inspiration for his namesake collection, which he smartly closed when he started this job.) The late-1990s, early 2000s flavor of minimalism is everywhere on my small corner of the internet. (I’m constantly being fed paparazzi shots of Bessette-Kennedy, but also stills from a Marc Jacobs-clad Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail. But maybe you are not.) In the case of Gordon, he did employ Barbie pink, but don’t hold that against him. He is a company man who makes beautiful clothes for a client who still cares to wear beautiful clothes. I liked that it wasn’t camp or costumey: just pretty twin suits, slim skirts, twirly tulle minis.

The model here is Michael Kors, who the clouds parted for on Monday morning on the edge of Williamsburg’s Domino Park—it was the New York version of staging a show on the Pont Neuf, my seat mate said. What a fabulous view, and what a fabulous collection: all those neutral laces and that exactly right share of purple. Here’s hoping Tapestry invests what they should in that brand: Kors seems more game than ever. The lesson here is that when you do what you’re good at, and you do it well, and set it in the present not the past, people respond positively. 

Other Notables

The theme of this week could have been Stay in Your Lane. Joseph Altuzarra, for instance, went in a new direction this season: the direction of Prada, with midi skirts and satin and crinkle slips galore. I’m all for evolution, and I could still see hints of Altuzarra in there, but it may have been a leap too far. If you’re going to go the heavy-reference route, you’ve got to add something more to the conversation.

Tory Burch is a good example of a brand that totally changed, is inspired by others, yet manages to feel entirely its own. When Tory got weird, the brand got better. Uptown at the funky (sorry, I hate that word too, but it’s a good choice here) Studio Gang-designed wing of the American Museum of Natural History, she once again turned out something that was sculptural, geometric, not always exactly pretty, but oddball and elegant. (Swirling molded skirts, and clean evening jackets.) Privately held but expertly managed, Burch is the gold standard in American fashion at the moment.

There was so much I didn’t get to see this week. I missed the Mansur Gavriel 10-year anniversary presentation. I missed Studio 189, co-designed by Rosario Dawson, which I’ve heard is good. I’ve been trying to go to more parties and dinners and other atmosphere generators: Highlights were the Veronica Beard 10-year celebration at Veronika—congrats to this brand for dressing well-heeled moms across the country, with sales of $250 million annually—Marisa Meltzer’s fabulous book party at La Mercerie, and the GQ-Christian Louboutin shindig at Jean’s. (There is no one out there singing for his supper better than Will Welch, it’s impressive.)

I’d say my biggest regret was missing the Elena Velez show deep in Bushwick (or Ridgewood?), which devolved (purposefully, I assume) into a mud-wrestling match. I love a spectacle, yes, but underneath the absolutely revolting and annoying premise, the clothes have gotten better. I spoke with one of the strongest fashion directors in the business at the still sour, but more expertly designed, Puppets and Puppets show the day after Velez, and she had a lot of love for the actual garments.

Velez didn’t speak to anyone after her show, I heard—my assumption is that she was burned pretty badly by her comments in The New York Times a few months ago—but her approach speaks to the chaos of American fashion right now, and also the chaos of New York City. The week began with a party at Gracie Mansion, an elbow-patched Eric Adams spewing nonsense about how “pressure is privilege.” Just a few days later, he announced that he was cutting the budget of every city agency by 5 percent, citing the migrant influx. I’m probably more sensitive to these things now that I don’t live in New York—the inch-long baby rat crawling on the seam of the sidewalk in broad daylight, three instances of human feces on the subway steps—although it does feel a bit like the Wild West. Or the 1970s. That can be a good thing for creativity, but you also can’t do anything here without money.