At New York Fashion Week, Women (and Designers) Walking on Thin Ice

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Thom Browne fall 2017 collection

Menswear for women makes a statement at Thom Browne, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren.

If you look past the wonderfully wacky stick-on houndstooth lips and eyebrows and the kitschy frozen ice skating pond for a stage set (the models walked in makeshift ice skates), the point Thom Browne was making Wednesday with his fall 2017 show at New York Fashion Week was slyly political: When women are walking on thin ice, it’s too cold to wear a dress.

Pantsuits, whether inspired by former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s sartorial signature or not, have been the dominant trend on the runway here this week, and Browne makes some of the world’s best, impeccably tailored with raised armholes and construction that’s beautiful on the inside and out.

He put that on full display for all to see Wednesday in a menswear-inspired women's collection that was one of the week’s highlights. Browne even went so far as to use suiting fabric to cover the floor of his show space, and craft into the cute penguins that sat by the side of the frozen pond that was the runway, as models struggled to stay upright in their skate shoes.  

Browne — who created the menswear-inspired look former first lady Michelle Obama wore to the second inaugural in 2013 and recently dressed Oscar nominee Naomie Harris for the BAFTA tea party in Los Angeles — is a master showman, but he also happens to be one of fashion’s most incredible technicians. His men’s clothing is worn by Ryan Murphy, Kevin Hart and Alan Cumming.

He showed rigorously constructed jackets, short pants and skirts (but no dresses) in patchworks of herringbone tweed, repp stripes, argyle and stripe flannel, adding such decadent details as white button embroideries cascading from shoulder to floor like chandelier crystals on a tuxedo jacket, and sable trim on cuffs and hems.  

For a finale, the bride wore a black puffer jacket and train with a statement button pinned to her lapel picturing the silhouette of a dress crossed out. On the runway, there was also a coat that spelled out the message, “It’s Too Cold to Wear a Dress.” If that all sounds a bit serious, there were plenty of whimsical touches to lighten the mood, such as penguin embroideries and tuxedo-inspired handbags.

The collection (some pieces were constructed from the inside out, while others, including a wide lapel overcoat, had soft black tulle overlays to soften the look) was an embarrassment of riches and a testament to a designer who really should have one of America’s biggest fashion brands.

Two of those were in the spotlight on Wednesday, Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren.

Kors turned out a collection inspired by “sensual strength,” which combined elements of menswear and soft draping and wrapping with a diverse cast featuring plus-size model Ashley Graham. Tailoring (more relaxed than at Browne) was a standout, especially a sublimely cut sleeveless camel coat (actually quite practical).

There also were plenty diva looks for Blake Lively and other stars in the front row, notably a merlot colored fox cape, worn over a crystal embroidered bodysuit, and a silver lame blouse and trouser combination that was very Diana Ross.

And fringe (another trend here this week) shimmied on a draped black, plunge-front dress and the strapless finale gown. But the takeaway was that this was Kors being Kors and returning to his classic, mature, sophisticated base after a brief foray into feather-trimmed denim, psychedelic prints and sweetie dresses the past few seasons.  

Meanwhile, Lauren opened up his Madison Avenue flagship for his show, filling it with 100,000 orchids to create living walls in the store’s salons, complete with animatronic butterflies that would have made Walt Disney proud.

There wasn't much of a Melania Trump effect in Lauren's airy collection. The designer made headlines for dressing the new first lady for the inauguration in a ladylike sky blue cutaway jacket and dress with a vintage '60s, Jackie O vibe.

Instead, it was a warm-weather escape. This was Lauren’s second time showing a see-now, buy-now collection, so what was on the runway was the spring 2017 collection arriving in stores now, not the fall 2017 collection that will arrive in six months hence.

There is a lot at stake for Lauren these days, whose business has been on thin ice; the fashion brand's profits and sales have fallen, and CEO Stefan Larsson departed after creative differences with the designer. Many in the fashion industry are quietly rumbling that it's time for Lauren himself to step aside and make way for a new designer with fresh ideas — someone like Browne, perhaps.

At the show, models wandered in and out of the chandelier-decked rooms wearing breezy looks meant to convey an “exotic sophistication” and "nomadic" feel, according to notes. That translated into a sand-colored blazer and jeans (worn by Kendall Jenner), a cinnabar colored silk poncho dress and printed lamé caftan gowns that were all a little bit Out of Africa and a little bit Studio 54, but not very transporting in the end.  

Guests were invited to stay after the show and shop, and organizers rushed the waiters to get the champagne flowing as quickly as possible.