There's been a great deal of hand wringing and gnashing of teeth in the past few seasons over what "direction" American fashion is going. There's something intrinsically amiss with that as a statement but I'll get back to that in a bit. The retro movement of the late 90s and 2000s ran out of steam many seasons ago and although there were scattered '60s & '70s influences and references in the past two or three seasons generally there have been two intriguing themes emanating from the New York runways and presentations. The first cross collection change has been a recognition that the needs of a 21st century woman are very different than the needs of a 20th century woman and that old structures and shapes don't work very well in a practical sense. There's been an increase in new styles of suits and separates that are designed and cut differently than the classic "menswear for women" approach. In the 1980s women appropriated the suit as a symbolic act of grabbing power from men. The women of the 21st century don't feel the need to do this in the slightest. Their fashion choices are driven by a sober look at the demands of their day in day out lives. It can be as simple as requiring pocket sizes that fit a smart phone or as profound as perhaps permanently rejecting ankle length dresses that are even a touch restrictive.
Christian Cota F/W 2012-13
The second major development has been a steady increase in tinkering with shape and structure. Designers such as Sally Lapointe, Katie Gallagher, Mandy Coon, Ohne Titel, Christian Cota, Joel Diaz, and others have been designing garments that are fundamentally divorced from what has recently come before them and more importantly from what the market would seemingly dictate that they should be doing. One of the classic divisions between designer fashion and contemporary clothes is that the elite fashion designers of the world lead and everybody else in the industry follows by copying or distilling their designs. The artists of the fashion world push the entire industry forward into spaces and places that it has never been before. This has been happening consistently enough with a just large enough group of NYC's young designers that it could be a movement. As I complained in my post on Thursday I have no idea how these collections are selling, though I do know that they are carried, where they are carried, and that these designers have generated repeat orders which is one of the surest signs of health a designer can display. So it seems as London was in the aughts New York City may be in the teens.
Now back to the major misconception at the top of this post. Why does an art form need to have a unified direction? That's a very big money corporate bit of thinking that speaks more of chasing dollars than designing clothes. High fashion isn't and should never become overly commoditized. Yes it's true that a designer needs to sell their designs to stay in business but if the designs are unique, powerful, and well made that tends to take care of itself. The reason that Narcisso Rodriguiez is designer fashion and J Crew is not is because Narcisso is a genius at the designing of pieces and Mickey Drexler is a genius at marketing and retail. There's nothing wrong with designing clothes to sell and there's nothing wrong with designing clothes as artistic expression, but don't confuses the two.