The significance of the Spring/Summer 2020 season only really occurred to me when I first read the press notes for Stuart Vevers’ Coach 1941 show. It read: ‘The start of a decade. Change, urgency and raw, authentic energy.’ Change and urgency indeed, as the decade draws to a close and beckons for the next. Why then did there seem to be no vision for that future?
To his credit, Vevers steered almost completely away from the visual motifs and elements that characterised his stewardship of the heritage American brand. Prairie dresses, large shearling jackets, and a version of Americana not far from the dusty romance of long stretches of desert and road. This collection was stripped of it – and about damn time. Although critically successful at the time, that visual language had become fairly stale and overused by the brand in the years since Vevers first debuted it in the Fall 2014 season.
The brand cited the New Wave as a reference, which appeared through the collection as a vibrant colour. Richard Bernstein too, whose illustrations were used as graphic prints throughout. Beyond that, something about the show venue at the High Line park in New York? It was disparate and lacked any sort of conceptual cohesion. The clothes themselves were incredibly pedestrian. Some of the only standouts were the opening trench coat in red leather, and a series of shirtdresses which had a Bonnie Cashin sense of unfussy American sportswear. Some of the knitwear veered, graphically, too close to lazy Prada imitations; the cropped leather bomber jackets had no real point of differentiation from mall copies; and a lacy blouse that recalled previous collections lost all sense of sensuality and appeal.
I don’t know what Vevers is trying to say about the coming decade, but as far as the fashion went it was a real step down from the clarity that he had brought to the brand. The brand still undoubtedly has a lot of Americana to mine – and it’s good that it’s gone beyond the hardy desert image – but this collection had absolutely no point of view.
This was the case too at Michael Kors, where the designer set his show up at the Duggal Greenhouse in Brooklyn. The Young People’s Chorus of New York City were invited to perform music. Kors talked about celebrating the optimism and can-do spirit of Americans – New Yorkers like himself, particularly – in what’s surely a similar bracing for a new decade.
American sportswear is very hard to do well. At its best, it draws its chic from utility, movement, and freedom. At its worst, it is dull, pedestrian, and uninspiring – mall fodder, essentially. Kors’ Spring/Summer 2020 collection was unfortunately the latter, a far cry from his usual mode of jet-set chic – albeit tinged always with the hallmarks of European style.
The chorus had little to no relation to the clothing which came down the runway. A cashmere t-shirt with the word hate crossed out; duffle coats and jackets with anchors tacked on; dresses and coats with ruffles pointlessly added on. It was baffling because Kors can turn a beautiful collection without conceptual pretensions. Here, there was neither.
The choral moment had, of course, a parallel to Kerby Jean-Raymond’s own Pyer Moss show. That show was the closer to Jean-Raymond’s three-part “American, Also” series. The brand and designer are all about engaging with ethnic discourse about black people, and its timeliness cannot be overstated – what with the New York Times magazine’s 1619 Project and the general conversations in the zeitgeist about postcolonialism. That had urgency and social relevance, on top of beautifully-made elegant fashion. When you put the two together, Kors’ runway paled by far.
Oddly enough, Tom Ford also had a problem with context and relevance. The designer, who is now the chairman of the CFDA, took his show underground to a New York subway. Ford talked of a return to simplicity, and of the great days of American fashion. The names that throws up are obvious: Halston, Charles James, Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass – you know the ilk.
The show opened with draped muscle tees, worn with large clumsy skirts. Materially, they made you think of the constructive glamour of Charles James’ ball gowns, in silhouette they attempted to perhaps evince the shapes of Balenciaga. In total, those looks accomplished neither. They simply looked odd and completely out of step with the times. Much of the collection used high-shine fabrics, which seemed a call back to Ford’s Gucci days of high-gloss glamour and sex appeal. They might have made a fabulous statement were they not cut into pleated, gathered jumpsuits with matching sandals and baseball cap in the same fabric. Else, gathered column dresses with a slight Grecian undertone ruined by a neckline detail that mimicked a t-shirt pulled over and behind its wearer’s head.
If these womenswear looks were anything, they were at least an attempt by Ford to expand his vocabulary and get in touch with what’s happening on the streets. Trouble is, the designs too often referenced a clichéd viewing of hip hop and urban culture, which failed to marry his luxurious bourgeois style. It was worse with the menswear: the same old mixes of skinny cut trousers with classic leather or loud evening jackets. All that changed was the colour.
Perhaps the best moments in the show were the molded breast plates, which seemed like a direct reference to the casts made by Yves Saint Laurent and Claude LaLanne in the Fall/Winter 1969 haute couture collection. Those were indulgently highbrow, and seemed designed completely independent of everything else. I’m not sure where the desire to mix high and low appeared from, but that approach is anathema to Tom Ford. It’s probably why this collection looked and felt so stilted. Ford is finding and refining his contemporary voice – after having been one of the defining voices in the industry in the 90s – but it sometimes does well to stick to your guns, bougie as they are.