Fashion’s New York state of mind

From Helmut Lang to LaQuan Smith, we investigate the highs and lows of the latest iteration of New York Fashion Week

15 September 2023 - 14:45 By Ulindelwe Ratsibe
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Models walk the runway at the Helmut Lang fashion show during New York Fashion Week.
Models walk the runway at the Helmut Lang fashion show during New York Fashion Week.
Image: Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images

New York Fashion Week (NYFW) is the oldest character in the fashion calendar.

Born as Press Week in 1943, it was started to attract the attention of local buyers who were unable to get Parisian luxury garments during World War 2. Known as one of the big four weeks (alongside London, Milan and Paris), this congregation of America’s best fashion would take multiple forms before becoming what we know today.

Since it has come to a close, let’s take a look at some of the highlights and lowlights of this season’s festivities.

Peter Do’s iteration of Helmut Lang was highly anticipated. is one of the new class of US-based designers dominating the scene with their clean tailoring and classic essentialism. The appointment of Do at Helmut Lang seemed like a match made in heaven. However, it unfortunately did not meet my expectations. 

Inspired by the infamous guerrilla-style Helmut Lang signs on top of taxis in New York, Do uses the car as a vehicle for the collection (even using an image of a taxi with the sign as a print). Safety belts came in straps, twisted dresses and stripes across the clothing. The yellow of the taxis shows up and fuchsia, one of the first colours Lang would introduce into his offering, has a strong presence. 

The collection felt stuck in limbo where it would overextend itself or restrict itself. But retrospectively, maybe this was a moment of throwing things to the wall to see what sticks. After all, it is only the first collection. The Helmut Lang brand has been diluted over the years. While this reinvigoration has created interest, the brand needs to delineate a path for itself or interest will wane.

Grace Ling had her first show at New York Fashion Week. After studying at Parsons and Central Saint Martins, the young Singaporean designer spent time at Thom Browne and The Row before founding her brand. The brand integrates technology with fashion by harnessing 3D printing for accessories and CGI and laser printing to create zero-waste patterns.

The collection, titled Neverland was inspired by Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. It also interrogates the relationship between human anatomy and objects. Ling explores different themes and elements in the hard and soft. Elegance and edginess effortlessly dance. The collection is at its worst when trying to be simple and at its best when complex and gritty. The challenge for the brand lies in how it will create an accessible offering that makes its community feel like they are buying into the universe instead of buying a version of something.  

Ralph Lauren is the epitome of American sportswear. After a four-year break, the brand celebrated a return to New York Fashion Week.

After four years off, Lauren was welcomed with open arms and anticipation. The show was glamorous but not exciting. There was a manic confusion as the collection progressed from chic casual wear into eclectic pieces that didn’t stick the landing. NYFW has evolved in his absence. It has become a playground for the contemporary ideas of American fashion, and the ideas in this show feel out of place.

Ralph Lauren Spring/Summer 2024 | Full fashion show in high definition. (Widescreen - Exclusive Video/1080p - NYFW/New York Fashion Week) #Ralphlauren #RLSP24 #SS24 #NYFW Cody Page - Glowing Water/Cherry/Backflip

There are many brands I briefly want to mention.

Tory Burch took a leap of faith and landed in the arms of victory with an exciting collection. Diotima had its first outing at NYFW. It felt like it had abandoned its core DNA in the interest of securing a customer.

Proenza Schouler presented a relaxed collection that was considered, nuanced and balanced.

LaQuan Smith, the king of sexy, packed a punch but disappointed in his menswear.

Alice + Olivia created a classic and stylish collection with pieces ready to step up anyone’s style.

Area presented its latest offering that explores the idea of excess in a prehistoric context. Being incredibly cerebral, they use symbols of wealth of yesteryear in today’s context. This part of the collection is comical, which is what to expect from Area. Using a trompe lœil fur print and bones encrusted in giant Swarovski crystals make it seem like the garments are lifted out of The Flinstones.

Whether that is good or bad, I’ll leave it up to you. The collection takes off when we see the ready-to-wear offering. Molded claws with cutouts reinvent distressing and encrusted skull masks elevate the simple bodysuit or blazer. The show was either hit or miss and never in between.

I hope Area finds a balance and consistency between the comedic and the fashionable.

New York is always a shock to the system. As the first fashion week out of the big four, it reminds you how fast everything happens. It will forever be where dreams are made, but sometimes it feels like a stop on a journey to the next.

This season showed us some exciting emerging brands and houses that continue to define the zeitgeist. I hope you are primed and prepped for the craziness of the next few weeks.

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