New York designers may have been under WFH lockdown while preparing their collections for FW2021 fashion week — and this was reflected in the relaxed pieces like big, easy knits, roomy suits and puffer coats — but they were also dreaming of a dressed-up future thanks to the rollout of vaccines, which promised some form of normalcy.
There was a renewed energy, with many New-Gen designers showing some interesting pieces and even the vice president’s stepdaughter, Ella Emhoff, adding frisson to the proceedings by modeling for Proenza Schouler.
So while there were pieces that were the fashion equivalent of comforters and security blankets, there were also high-octane ensembles that referenced the ’80s era of excess, with statement-making accessories like oversized scarves and tights in bright, happy prints. For Tom Ford, it was being “fierce, powerful and badass, especially after being trapped at home for a year.”
Blame it on the lockdown: Millennials have veered away from form-fitting clothes to slouchy pieces that are reminiscent of the ’90s grunge uniform: plaid shirting and skirts, frayed-edge denims, and old jersey shirts.
Chris Leba of R13 mashes up the messy teen look of 2021 with their historic antecedents through Gen-Z “It” girls cosplaying grunge heroes Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.
Coach and Rentrayage take elements from grunge and make it preppy-wholesome. Tanya Taylor makes it sleeker with a T-shirt and high-waist trouser ensemble, while Marina Moscone layers plaid box pleats on the jacket of a pantsuit.
Another slouchy look that has inspired designers is the layered look of skater kids, with long-sleeved tees underneath a boxier one.
Maisie Wilen adds a DIY touch with matchy-matchy tee and sweatpants in tie-dye, while Private Policy uses the look to add pops of color in an otherwise all-black ensemble. PH5 is more ladylike with a scallop-sleeved blouse and pleated plaid skirt.
The New Knits
Vice presidential stepdaughter Ella Emhoff’s obsession with knits has placed this craft front and center in many collections. One of her favorite brands, Bevza, has upcycled versions in easy shifts and separates.
Ulla Johnson supports female artisans across the world, from handcrafted braided crochet in Brooklyn to space-dyed crochet from Uruguay.
Victor Glemaud uses innovative knitwear techniques like patchwork knit jacquard designed as a single piece with no linking, producing both sporty pieces and cocktail ensembles.
The Crown’s revival of the Princess Diana cult has made her fondness for the ladylike pleated skirt an inspiration for designers like Phillip Lim, who updates it with an oversized tie-front shirt or tops with peek-a-boo cutouts. Carolina Herrera has black polka-dot versions matched with heart-filled tops. Jonathan Simkhai goes all ivory with the top highlighted by lace inserts.
The Granddad Tank
The granddad tank goes playful, teaming up with sweet, floral bowed dresses at Adam Lippes, sleek turtlenecks, and flares at Bevza, over billowy blouses at Eeenk, going print-on-print at Colin LoCascio and layered over a long skirt at PH5 and Jason Wu.
To brighten up those lethargic days, joyous tights are the prescription in many of the New York collections, from Maisie Wilen’s mismatched ones with pastel skirt sets and lace-up sandals to Rentrayage’s florals matched with floral balloon-sleeved blouses and denim skirts.
Designers haven’t given up on suits; they’ve just made them more relaxed. Phillip Lim lengthened and loosened the jackets and pleated the trouser. Oscar de la Renta added a tulle bustle for flourish while Tom Ford paired double-breasted jackets with the tiniest shorts.
With the revival of grunge comes the clash of prints, but the key is to mix those with related color palettes and combine them with exuberance the way Collina Strada mixes floral flares and vests with chevron-print blouses in monochrome earth tones or Rentrayage’s multi-patterned top with two-tone color-blocked denim.
Craft encounters in quarantine have produced a wide range of DIY looks like the beribboned wonders of NIHL, floral appliqué minis of Oscar de la Renta and the knit and lace appliqués at Gabriela Hearst. Libertine had quaint, hand-painted designs on otherwise staid pantsuits.
How could a collection be called American without the Western influence? Ponchos come in Jonathan Simkhai’s asymmetric monochromes and Gabriela Hearst’s multi-print collage. Anna Sui’s coat dresses are in Native American wool prints and cowhide patterns, while Victor Li has gaucho tie-dye trousers with cowboy boots and hats.
If we’re finally going to go out and dress up, let it be a big celebration and nothing could spell party more than ’80s excess, which Prabal Gurung, inspired by a sighting of trans artists vogueing in ’80s prom dresses, channeled in his collection.
Alexandra O’Neill of Markarian, a brand that shot to fame after dressing up US First Lady Jill Biden, also went the same route with bustled micro-minis.