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American design and local production were at the heart of New York Fashion Week AW23

By Rachel Douglass



Rodarte AW23 show, NYFW. Image: Launchmetrics Spotlight

The fashion capital New York came to life this week for the AW23 season of New York Fashion Week (NYFW), seeing designers new and old take to the runway in a series of refreshing shows. While the absence of high-profile names, such as Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and former CFDA head Tom Ford, could not be ignored, the city was abuzz with new opportunities for the likes of young talent, whose presence had overtaken established brands for this season.

It came as New York continued to double down on its efforts to revamp its fashion industry, supported by the state’s current governor Kathy Hochul. In recent years, Hochul has made her intention of growing the industry known through a series of fundings and initiatives. Last NYFW, Hochul announced that 10 million dollars in State funding would go towards the establishment of New York’s Fashion Innovation Centre, which would cater to the collaborative production of local crops and technology for fibre creation. The governor also later signed the ‘New York Textile Act’, with the goal of supporting farmers in the textile industry in order to drive sustainable development and new marketing opportunities.

Faces old and new take to the runway

This focus on American-centred design was an integral part of NYFW this season, as evident in the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s (CFDA) choice of largely emerging designers and notable figures in the US design. Among the headlining individuals was Thom Browne, who returned to the schedule after being appointed as the new chairman of the CFDA. His presence and role were celebrated during an event hosted by Anna Wintour, where he addressed a designer-infused audience stating it would be his mission to help drive the American fashion industry.

In his speech at the event, Browne said: “Each and every one of you inspired me to challenge myself everyday in pursuit of pure creativity. My mission is to put creativity at the forefront. My commitment to you in this position is to promote all of the truly unique and diverse stories which make American fashion so unique around the world…in the most pure way…because true success, I believe, should not come at the expense of creativity.”

Thom Browne AW23, NYFW. Image: Launchmetrics Spotlight
Thom Browne AW23, NYFW. Image: Launchmetrics Spotlight

This season was the first time Browne has shown in New York since September 2021, having previously taken to the runway in Paris, yet he still applied his theatrical essence to the event. Set in The Shed, onlookers were treated to an extravagant view, with planets and stars suspended from the ceiling above a crashed biplane, which sat at the centre of the runway. The collection itself consisted of variations of Browne’s signature deconstructed tailoring, alongside quilted space suits, a selection of print silk dresses and refreshed classics, each presented in a show that referenced the story of The Little Prince.

Browne’s sentiments of support and growth for American production and design were also mirrored in the lineup for this year’s NFYW, where emerging designers took the reins to show off their wares, in what many counted as their first show. Among them were Maya J, designer of Amiri Prize-winning brand Ayama, who presented a feminine take on her usually masculine-inspired collections, and Kate Barton, a designer focused on technologically-advanced production processes for her line of eveningwear.

Aknvas AW23, NYFW. Image: Launchmetrics Spotlight

Meanwhile, next to the new faces were that of familiar individuals, already known to the industry yet presenting a new take on their work. Creative director for Hervé Legér, Christian Juul Nielsen, presented at NYFW albeit with his minimalist brand Aknvas, for which it was the second time participating. A similarly new but recognisable face was that of Robert Rodriguez, a former Dior designer, who branched off on his own with the launch of his new luxury eveningwear brand Kolston. The line looked to merge art and luxury, with a presentation that took place alongside expressionist paintings by Vicky Barranguet.

Heron Preston was another well-known first timer at NYFW, presenting his eponymous label at the event nearly six years on from his last show at Paris Fashion Week. While much of his collection aimed to point towards the importance of recycling, Preston also took the opportunity to unveil his first collection of skiwear. The move saw Preston join a growing group of designer brands taking their first steps into the winter sports category, with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Armani and Off-White also recently releasing collections specific to the market. It comes as the segment begins on a path of significant growth, with WWD stating that the domestic ski jacket market in the US is expected to reach 2.26 billion dollars in annual sales by 2031, an increase on Verified Market Research’s 1.45 billion dollar valuation of the ski gear market in 2022.

Looks from Heron Preston AW23 for NYFW. Image: Launchmetrics Spotlight
Looks from Heron Preston AW23 for NYFW. Image: Launchmetrics Spotlight

Another to update their presence was that of Jonathan Simkhai, who presented his eponymous brand’s first collection under its “new” name ‘Simkhai’ – dropping the ‘Jonathan’. With the name refresh came a revamp of the brand’s identity, seen through a shift towards tailoring and the creation of heritage pieces made to spotlight craftsmanship. While much of the AW23 line referenced Simkhai’s link to Iranian production methods, seen in his use of lace, the brand’s collaboration with Wolford was also on display in bodywear and apparel that incorporated the designer’s signature techniques.

Looks from Simkhai AW23 for NYFW. Image: Launchmetrics Spotlight
Looks from Simkhai AW23 for NYFW. Image: Launchmetrics Spotlight

Fashion week regulars make their strategies known

In fact, collaborations were present throughout much of NYFW. However, compared to that of European runways, New York’s were more subtle in appearance, presented in the form of accessory lines and footwear. Khaite, for example, showed off its eyewear partnership with Oliver Peoples on the runway, while Kate Spade offered up a green-themed Pantone line and Heron Preston and Area displayed shoe collaborations with Zellerfield and Serigo Rossi, respectively. While collaborations aren’t exactly a new form of marketing, they do bring the possibility of engaging with a fresh set of customers. This especially rings true for brands at NYFW, where designers arguably have less of a reach than that of luxury giants like Gucci or Prada, both of which have previously debuted collaborations with major sportswear players.

Meanwhile, other brands were leaning heavily into appealing to the younger crowds – some through a renewed sense of design, others with references to pop culture. While NYFW returnee Rodarte offered up a gothic take on cocktail dresses, for which CFDA referenced a link to the current Netflix favourite Wednesday, Christian Siriano debuted looks inspired by 90’s cult classic Clueless, which had already been unveiled as part of the financial firm Rakuten’s 2023 Super Bowl campaign.

Looks from Coach FW23 at NYFW. Image: Coach
Looks from Coach FW23 at NYFW. Image: Coach

A revitalised take on youth was particularly evident at Coach, where the brand’s creative director Stuart Vever put the codes of young generations at the front and centre of the line. The result was an update on Coach’s American heritage “through the eyes of a new generation”, a press release read, visible in youthful proportions and modernised classics. Vever also went out of his way to play up Coach’s recent exploration of circularity. This could be seen in ready-to-wear items and accessories made of upcycled materials, as well as the expansion of the brand’s (Re)Loved programme, initially dedicated to pre-loved bags, into footwear and jewellery. A collection of leather sneakers were presented, each with an upper crafted from repurposed Coach bags, while jewellery was reimagined from repurposed vintage pieces.

A brand that stuck closely to its roots, however, was Khaite, which once again presented an elevated luxury collection for the trend-led consumer. Silhouettes were structured and strong, contrasting the use of softer textures like plush shearling, layered chiffon and sleek jersey. While the brand’s range of floor-sweeping coats, intricate corsetry and quality knitwear seemingly went down well with the crowd, the location of the runway was something to note. The show was set in Khaite’s first ever flagship, opening February 16 as part of the brand’s plan to scale over the next five years after it surpassed the 100 million dollar revenue, as reported by WWD. The space itself looked to mirror the industrial and creative setting of its Soho base, through the use of voluminous architecture and references to the nature of the environment.

Looks from Khaite FW23 at NYFW. Image by Hanna Tveite, Khaite
Looks from Khaite FW23 at NYFW. Image by Hanna Tveite, Khaite

Social media’s favourites

While brands set about tackling their own in-house strategies, others were sparking discussions on social media, drawing attention for everything from their whimsical presentations to their flippant PR styles. Dion Lee and Collina Strada captured the feel of nature in their collections, both quite literally incorporating the animal world into their presentations. It was the latter however that left a particular mark on observers, with the brand’s designer Hillary Taymour opting to show models sporting animal prosthetics on the runway. Speaking to Vogue, the young creator said the collection, largely exhibiting an elevated take on American sportswear, was the result of her experimenting between the balance of fashion versus the recession — an inescapable factor for every fashion week so far.

Looks from Collina Strada FW23 at NYFW. Image: Launchmetrics Spotlight
Looks from Collina Strada FW23 at NYFW. Image: Launchmetrics Spotlight

As some took to low-key extravagance on the catwalk, others took it to their communication styles, as seen in their invites, an element of fashion week that has become increasingly influential — think Balenciaga’s broken iPhones for AW22 or Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton clock. However, in light of the macroeconomic climate, designers at NYFW instead opted for slightly more discreet forms. Area, for example, requested its guests’ attendance through what appeared to be a food delivery bag, with lifelike banana replicas. The fruit also made its way into the brand’s collection, inspiring the shapes of skirts and dresses.

Meanwhile, akin to his upcycling-focused AW23 line, Heron Preston brought recycling further into the spotlight by creating 400 invitations out of discarded items from New York City garbage, which he could be seen rummaging through in a teaser video prior to the show. The invites-turned-artwork built on Preston’s ‘Less Environmentally Destructive’ philosophy, which he makes evident through both his creation and operation methods. Speaking on the invites, the designer stated on his Instagram page: “If discarded they return to trash and if kept, it’s a treasure to collect. Either way, it’s a win. If a fashion show invitation does not hold utility, then the changes of it being thrown away are very high. Wasted.”

Looks from Area AW23 for NYFW. Image: Launchmetrics Spotlight
Looks from Area AW23 for NYFW. Image: Launchmetrics Spotlight
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