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NYFW: Ralph Lauren’s new American Dream & Helmut Lang’s return to the runways

Proenza Schouler, Helmut Lang and Ralph Lauren’s SS24 shows  (ES Composite)
Proenza Schouler, Helmut Lang and Ralph Lauren’s SS24 shows (ES Composite)

If anyone can make you believe in the American Dream, it’s Ralph Lauren. The Bronx-born designer hasn’t just lived it, but packaged, dressed and sold it for over half a century. Never mind if your ESTA is out of date, thanks to Lauren, you can still be the Ivy League preppy purist, an intrepid Western adventurer, or the distant Kennedy living in Cape Cod.

For his SS24 show, Lauren headed to Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, where he transformed a cavernous warehouse into a rustic artist’s loft. It was like being transported to his Colorado ranch. Returning to the New York Fashion Week schedule after a four-year absence, there couldn’t have been a more fitting venue. It was as if to say: if you can believe it, then you can build it (your budget helps too, of course).

Double denim at Ralph Lauren SS24 (IMAXTREE)
Double denim at Ralph Lauren SS24 (IMAXTREE)

In front of an audience of bona fide Hollywood royalty – Diane Keaton, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Lopez, Robin Wright, Sheryl Crow – Lauren presented a collection that was classic Ralph: timeless and modern, glamorous and grounded Americana.

It opened with denim, the forthright functionality of jeans upgraded with meticulous artisanal detailing, including beading, embroidery, devoré and tulle linings. Cropped jackets were worn with sweeping maxi skirts; a denim ball skirt worn with a mismatched corset and stonewashed version of the new RL 888 bag would appeal to a 20-something fan base as much as the loyal clientele.

Jewel tones shone at Ralph Lauren SS24 (IMAXTREE)
Jewel tones shone at Ralph Lauren SS24 (IMAXTREE)

From there the collection continued to evoke an eclectic sensibility – an illustration of “personal style” according to Lauren. “The woman I design for [has] individuality and artistic spirit [which] are a canvas for her own self-expression,” he explained. Think jewel-toned fringed kaftans, tailored jackets and palazzo pants, worn with silk foulards wrapped and tied, caps or Western hats and bejewelled belts. The finale? Suitably fairytale, as Christy Turlington closed the show in a goddess-worthy gold gown.

After dinner, guests decamped to a ‘barn’ complete with plank tables and chandeliers. Bob Dylan songs played and classics from the Polo Bar (lobster salad, filet mignon and brownies) were served. It felt like being in a movie. It felt like living, for an evening, the American Dream.

Christy Turlington closed the Ralph Lauren show in a gold gown. (IMAXTREE)
Christy Turlington closed the Ralph Lauren show in a gold gown. (IMAXTREE)

Wildly different in look and scale, though equally influential in an entirely different way, Peter Do’s vision for Helmut Lang was unveiled on the same day. The challenge is steep; Lang is a brand that is deeply loved and held in near consecrated regard by its many acolytes. Since the designer stepped away from the brand in 2005, it has been something of a rudderless ship. Despite the odd promising moment, nothing has stuck, and it has largely fallen into has-been-territory, surviving on the goodwill of legacy. Still, Do with his rigorous, surprising minimalism – and his own reverential, definitive fandom of the brand – has the chops of a worthy successor.

It was obvious from the start that he has enormous respect for the designer. He’d done his research – and some: a poem penned by Do’s friend, Vietnamese-American poet Ocean Vuong was written across the floor, calling to mind the work Lang had done with neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer. Other signals were there: the limited palette, the straps, the taxi print, the typographic T-shirts. But let’s not get bogged down in the ‘Spot the Langism’ game, and instead consider the clothes on their own merit. There is a clear intention on Do’s part to propel a disruptive minimalism to the front of the agenda (read: not quiet luxury. Loud quietness, perhaps?). It is interesting to know that the prices of the new Lang are going to be, by high fashion standards, accessible. Smart, as Do’s goal must be to make Lang not just relevant once more, but agenda-setting. I hope he is given the time and freedom to do that.

Singer Moses Sumney walked at Helmut Lang SS24 (IMAXTREE)
Singer Moses Sumney walked at Helmut Lang SS24 (IMAXTREE)

There was something of the OG Helmut Lang look in the Proenza Schouler SS24 collection. Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez invited guests to the Phillips auction house uptown for their Saturday show. Yes, there was an intentional metaphor there, said the duo backstage, it’s “where art comes to be judged on its commercial viability.” Certainly these two ‘art school kids’ have managed to create a thriving brand over the past 20 years – you don’t do that without making clothes that people really, really want to wear. And there were plenty of those on show for the throng of art set attendees, indie celebs (Chase Sui Wonders, Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri) and one major icon – Pamela Anderson – who sat on the front row.

Shattered-glass embellishment featured at Proenza Schouler SS24 (IMAXTREE)
Shattered-glass embellishment featured at Proenza Schouler SS24 (IMAXTREE)

Clean, crisp, confidently pared-back looks had curious second-look appeal, featuring double-waistbands, odd proportions and shattered glass embellishment. The pared-back palette was shocked by dollops of red, a styling choice also played out at Khaite, the Catherine Holstein helmed brand that occupies a similar space to Proenza in that it is part of the new guard, somewhere between the billion-dollar giants and the scrappy young upstarts.

At the Park Avenue Armory, Holstein served up her own sexy take on power dressing. Sharp shoulders and roomy leather jackets gave a precise and formidable swagger. How does the Khaite woman wear them now? Slung over ruched lace dresses, or tops and swishy fringed maxi skirts. Holstein is a diving rod for knowing what women will want to wear, and has a knack for understanding that this should often play out via a mix of the easy and the strange (remember the cashmere bra twinset? Of course you do, that was so popular it spawned thousands of knockoffs). So, for every nipple-baring top, near-backless dress, or item with extravagant balloon sleeves there were shoes you could actually run, nevermind walk, in. And you will: Khaite has mileage in it.

Designer Catherine Holstein served up her take on sexy power dressing at Khaite SS24 (IMAXTREE)
Designer Catherine Holstein served up her take on sexy power dressing at Khaite SS24 (IMAXTREE)

Finally, on Sunday, New York’s club kids and party people were out in force earlier than normal, as they flocked to see AREA’s 6pm show at a former bank in Williamsburg. Those who made it in were treated to a collection that took prehistoric motifs and ran them through a hyper-glamorous, crystal bedecked filter (The Real Housewives of Bedrock, perhaps?).

AREA is part of a charge of experimental and bold names making their presence known in a fashion week better known for its easy elegance. Detractors will often describe the New York fashion scene as ‘commercial’, but there is a growing sense in New York, and beyond, that creating clothes people both want to and really can wear shouldn’t be looked down on.