Fashion Weeks

New York Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2021 Puts the Digital World in a Different Light

With a shift in the NYFW structure, designers thought of new ways to root their collections in our contemporary moment, celebrate cultures, and look towards a possible future.
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Gabriela Hearst Fall/Winter 2021

In any ordinary year, New York Fashion Week is jam packed week of shows, high profile events, and after parties, a time where the streets become just as important as the runways in determining the upcoming year’s new styles and the place to spot celebrities who flock to the city from around the globe. But this year, things were a little different. Because of the pandemic, shows and events are entirely digital, and many of the headliner designers and brands that usually occupy the main stages of NYFW, like Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford, and Marc Jacobs, and more, are sitting this one out. 

NYFW also underwent some structural changes this year. Tom Ford, designer of the eponymous label and chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), announced that there would no longer be an official NYFW schedule but instead renamed it the “American Collections Calendar.”

Part of Ford’s change in the NYFW format was branching out from the five boroughs. In a letter published in January, Ford wrote on behalf of the CFDA, “We will publish on the schedule not only a schedule of designers showing in New York during new York Fashion Week but also those of American designers showing off calendar and abroad.” The move to digital fashion experiences due to the pandemic only encouraged a trend that was beginning pre-2020, where some brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Gabriela Hearst, and Ford's own began presenting shows in other places like Los Angeles and Paris.

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In a NYFW moment that went viral, comedian Leslie Jones hyped up model Coco Rocha at the Christian Siriano Fall/Winter 2020 show.

For the Fall/Winter 2021 season, Taiwanese-Canadian designer Jason Wu was the first to show on Sunday, and one of the only designers who took NYFW IRL, presenting his collection in a socially distant runway show with face masks and a live stream accompaniment. His collection transformed a retail space in NYC’s NoHo to “Mr. Wu’s General Store,” with models surrounded by baskets and crates of flowers and vegetables (which were later donated to City Harvest, a non-profit that delivers food to New Yorkers in need), dressed in bold floral prints and colors to match.

Designers didn’t shy away from the contemporary times. In fact, the contemporary moment and the struggles it brings was incorporated in many of the collections and the format of the shows, as designers brought together dreams of escapism with the digital reality of our world.

Rebecca Minkoff, for example, accompanied her socially distanced NYFW shows this year with a multi-platform live stream of her virtual show on Instagram and TikTok. She also did something daring by partnering with OnlyFans, the infamous platform known for its X-rated content and for its exponential takeoff throughout the past year (even warranting a Beyoncé shout out), to show behind-the-scenes fashion content. 

Though Minkoff's virtual set up may have embraced the digital tone of the past year, her collection dared to dream of trips we may take someday (hopefully) soon. With a palm tree oasis at the top of Spring Studios, Minkoff set the stage for the escapist tone of the collection. A play on New York City's nickname "urban jungle," the collection combines sandals, billowy dresses, floral and animal print designs in earth tones, all vacation ready.

For her Fall/Winter 2021 collection, Anna Sui took inspiration from something we've all been gazing at for the past year: the television. With chiffon dresses, faux-fur leopard coats, and florals, the vibrant and vintage is reminiscent of ‘60s films like “Wonderwall” starring Jane Birkin. It's also inspired by television’s shift from black and white to color, a switch that Sui imagines for the future, as we reach the end of a tunnel and emerge into a post-pandemic world. And when the time comes, we’ll have plenty of party outfits from Sui’s collection to wear.

Designers also took the opportunity to address the current moment. Amidst rising hate crimes against Asian Americans, some took the opportunity to not only bring Asian culture to the forefront of their collections at NYFW, but to take a stand and raise awareness on the current situation.

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, Phillip Lim has been outspoken about anti-Asian hate crimes, using his platform to raise awareness. During NYFW, Lim posted videos to his Instagram sharing personal stories of his experience with racism and xenophobia. He implored his “fellow Americans, fellow human beings:” “will you stand with me to stop Asian hate?”

In his collection, Lim focused on comfort and utility, tailored to the transition between office life and work-from-home Zoom life. Old-fashioned garments and ‘70s streamlined style came together with A-line skirts and unique sweaters.

Private Policy, an inclusive fashion brand by designers Hoaoran Li and Siying Qu, embraced Chinese culture and history in its Fall/Winter 2021 designs. Taking inspiration from Chinese migrants who moved to California during the gold rush era, the brand collaborated with the Museum of Chinese in America for historical photographs from the time.

“Maybe this is the season we can inspire and encourage people to learn about the culture and history,” Qu said, hoping to honor the Chinese workers during this time in history as well as acknowledge and bring awareness the increasing hate crimes against Asian Americans today.

Fashion-wise, the collection itself highlights Chinese design and culture, using qipao dresses and Mandarin collars with their signature slanted checkered patterns.

Victor Glemaud's Fall/Winter 2021 collection name, Ode to Hope, couldn't be more applicable to the contemporary moment. Glemaud designed the dynamic and versatile knitwear while in quarantine, a mixture of merino wool and cotton cashmere made specifically for today's day and age.

The inspiration for the colorful collection was New York City itself, fitting for NYFW, with odes to the quintessential yellow cabs, chain-link fences, and the faces that make up the city.

On the last day of NYFW, Proenza Schouler caused quite a bit of talk, as newly signed IMG model and step daughter of Vice President Kamala Harris Ella Emhoff made her surprise runway debut. Her looks, as well as the rest of the collection, features earth tones and the minimalist, structural, yet soft aesthetic that reflects the concept of balance, a key thing we’re all trying to master in the time of COVID.

Gabriela Hearst also closed out the week with a collection inspired by the multidisciplinary existence of Saint Hildegard of Bingen, who was alive during a time when women were ostracized from intellectual and creative life. The collection is centered around two of Hildegard's constant threads, and two repeated themes we've seen in the past year: science and art. The leather and lace floral prints were knitted and crocheted by two not-for-profit women empowering co-ops in Uruguay and Bolivia.

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