New York Fashion Week: Power Dressing, No Slogans Required

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Narciso Rodriguez's fall 2017 collection

Sartorial statements, not political ones, at strong Narciso Rodriguez and Gabriela Hearst shows.

Enough with T-shirts, how about some action? That was the sentiment some guests at New York Fashion Week were expressing Tuesday, as politics continued to mix with fashion on and off the runways.

“Donald Trump is president, let’s stop with the hand-wringing and get on with it,” said one European fashion editor and Hillary Clinton supporter.

So why can’t we get on with it? And is the urge to dwell on politics a distraction for something else, perhaps the feeling that fashion itself is out of touch?

It was something to ponder at the beginning of day six of the fall 2017 runway presentations, when Raf Simons’ debut at Calvin Klein was still the only moment that really seemed to move people in terms of inventive clothes, and sideshows like Philipp Plein’s celeb-heavy ode to the early 2000s — with Tiffany Trump, the "Hot Felon" and Madonna in the front row — made us shake our heads.

Luckily, by day’s end, faith in New York fashion had been restored, thanks to Narciso Rodriguez, who presented female power dressing pure and simple, no T-shirts or political slogans required.

Rodriguez, a go-to for Michelle Obama, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and other self-assured women, didn't need to shout about feminism to imbue his collection with steely confidence; the clothes, including sharp tailored coats with contrast color linings, sculpted leather tops and cropped pants, did it for him. He didn't shy away from sex appeal either, showing bias-cut supergirl-worthy dresses with cape backs, fitted-to-the-body columns slit open across the decolletage, or with bandeau details, and side-slit skirts with a single band across the upper thigh, almost like a leg garter. 

"We have the capability as designers to create things that empower people and not because they are wearing huge shoulder pads," Rodriguez said backstage.

"I focused on beautifully made, perfectly fitted, real clothes, no shenanigans." he continued. "There is so much fashion today, and a great deal of it is theater, too. It's all amazing and entertaining, but in the climate we're experiencing, I wanted to make things that are pragmatic and durable."

To give you an idea of how well-respected Rodriguez is in the industry, his front row attracted fashion pro Sarah Jessica Parker and none other than Calvin Klein's new designer Simons, on Valentine's night.

Brandon Maxwell has had a meteoric rise thanks in no small part to early star client Lady Gaga (he has since dressed Michelle Obama, Naomie Harris and many others — and picked up a CFDA Award). This season, he took a rock 'n' roll turn, inspired, he said, "by designing from the heart," and the soundtrack of the feel-good anthems that motivated him as a child growing up in Texas. The new approach resulted in sexy leather dresses and jewel-toned diva furs and sharp suits mixed with the designer's signature high- slit evening gowns with sculpted folds. 

Maxwell’s show was held on the 71st floor of 4 World Trade Center, with the New York skyline and Lady Liberty at his feet. His runway cast was refreshingly diverse, and every model was a personal friend, he said backstage. "For me, I do try to cast the way I saw the world growing up, which is round and diverse."

The day began with a different idea of power dressing, shown at the Whitney Museum. Designer Tory Burch returned to her preppy roots with a lineup inspired by Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. These were clothes that looked like they’d belong to someone named Tinsley or Muffy or Buffy…or Tory — downy white shearling coats, ballerina-print silk tie-neck shirts and dresses, “Main Line plaid” (a reference to the posh Philadelphia area where Burch grew up) school girl skirts and blazers, fair isle sweaters, pearly velvet shift dresses and more. In sum, less Coachella, more country club, and a return to ladylike dressing if ever there was one.

There has been an undercurrent of conservatism on the runways this season (the Trump effect? Or simply clothes for grown-up women, not just social media influencers?). We saw the mood in Carolina Herrera’s chaste white blouses and sweet, dusty rose gowns; in Lela Rose’s prim fur collars and floral frocks; and in Barbara Tfank’s metallic tweed dress and coat combo, and puff-sleeve and velvet detailed cocktail dresses made of the most exquisite textiles. Clothes you'll want to keep for a while — what a novel idea.

Gabriela Hearst, winner of the U.S. Woolmark Prize, certainly has the real world clothing formula down. Her smart suiting, reversible check coats, sweater knit ensembles and bias-cut velvet dresses, worn with a merino turtleneck underneath, were a winning combination paired with leather pouf bags and short booties boasting heels encrusted with stones.