The fashion shows must go on—at least in London, Paris, and Milan. But New York designers will be showing their spring ’21 collections digitally, this month. The world without Fashion Week in New York? How will the designers and editors cope without early breakfast appointments at Sant Ambroeus and Balthazar? What happens when the big September issues languish on newsstands, when cocktail parties and benefits are canceled or reconfigured? There will be no stylists from Paris checking in at the Mercer. No gathering in the lobby, either.
I have been attending Fashion Week since 1974. I still remember the debut of Carolina Herrera’s first collection under her own name, which I wrote about for Andy Warhol’s Interview in 1981. I was seated in the second row, right behind Bianca Jagger. Iman glided down the runway in a slinky ivory silk-panne-velvet gown and a floor-length cloud-like white marabou cape that fell to the floor. Her jewelry imitated the very pieces Mrs. Herrera owns but rarely is seen in these days. When she retired, to become the global ambassador to her brand, at the age of 79, she asked me to come to her final show, in 2018, and I was seated right up in front with her husband, children, grandchildren, and friend Fran Lebowitz, who was seated next to me in AA2. The show was held in the grand lobby of the Museum of Modern Art! Last season, I was back and seated right next to Mrs. Herrera as she viewed the elegant offerings of her creative director, Wes Gordon.
All the way back in February, Marc Jacobs’s show at the Park Avenue Armory was a lightning bolt, a tsunami, full of thunderous showmanship. It was a totally new way of aligning fashion with art, with choreographer Karole Armitage masterminding a performance that placed her professional dancers alongside more than 80 models, as well as Miley Cyrus, who wore a stunning black outfit and flat shoes. Wink and you might have missed her. The dancers celebrated gender fluidity, especially the Black man in stilettos and a trench coat. In a mise-en-scène, guests were seated among bistro-style tables. Marc staged the performance twice in a row, to accommodate the crowd, and Naomi Campbell watched both shows back-to-back. She sat out the first backstage, hidden in the shadows, then took a table for the second and had a front-row view. Marc shared his curtain call at the end with Armitage, and he wore black mascara, marcel-waved hair, rolled-up denim disco jeans, and high-platform boots. It summed up the new aesthetic he’s been developing since he married Char Defrancesco last year.
Iman glided down the runway in a slinky ivory silk-panne-velvet gown and a floor-length cloud-like white marabou cape that fell to the floor.
I used to have fun during Fashion Week, especially when there were moments like Fashion’s Night Out. Remember that great collective show of spirit to boost the retail slog of the luxury stores and shops after the 2008 financial crisis? Many stores all over the country stayed open late and hosted events, promotions—anything to get shoppers through the doors. One September night long ago, I took a sedan and trekked with Serena Williams from Manolo Blahnik to Prada to do some V.I.P. shopping. All of this right before she played in the U.S. Open.
I also used to love playing hooky in the afternoon and dashing out to the Arthur Ashe Stadium to watch Venus and Serena, as a guest in the family box, and grab a snack with their sisters and their wonderful mother, Oracene. Once, I even coaxed Serena to take to the runway in a short gown with a fishbowl-shaped skirt at a Midtown hotel for LaQuan Smith, a Black designer who now has a solid business.
Good-Bye to All That
But the scene in 2020 will be very different. It’s easy to come up with a plan that’s doable, especially if you have marketing genius, and a sense of truffle hunting for that magic moment. Take Tom Ford, the head of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and another giant who has no box to be trapped in on all levels of creativity. “I will simply put my lookbooks for men and women on my Web site on the 17th, which was when my show was scheduled, and then buy the collection for my stores,” he says from 100-degree heat in L.A. “I was inspired by the smiles of Pat Cleveland and Donna Jordan. Jordan was one of the Warhol superstars, and Cleveland was then a young brilliant model, working for designers like Halston. She was also a muse to Karl Lagerfeld at Chloé, and was featured as a romantic gypsy in Interview magazine in a stunning Zandra Rhodes crinoline dress. I was inspired by their joy and energy. This is not the time for dark clothes. Or sad, pouty, angry models. We need escapism. These women reflect that in their personalities. Somehow, they all had a flamboyance of life.”
We are all living so much of our lives on-screen these days. I spend more time on my computer doing Zoom events than attending fancy luncheons. Usually, the last few weeks of August are filled with them. Like the time I went to Martha Stewart’s country compound, in Bedford, New York, on a Saturday afternoon, and I was the only Black guest. She served a platter of pigs’ feet (albeit Asian-style) among a variety of diverse dishes. Can you imagine my amazement? My head did a Linda Blair twist and my eyes seemed to pop out of their sockets. I drummed up my response: “Pigs’ feet, Martha?” Then, I screeched, “I’ve never eaten a pig’s foot in my life. And I am not going to start now!”
The Black Lives Matter movement is in the air; tone deafness is not. It seems like everyone is apologizing for the lack of diversity in their businesses and social circles. Everyone is looking for ways to support emerging Black talent in design.
“Pigs’ feet, Martha? I’ve never eaten a pig’s foot in my life. And I am not going to start now!”
But designers are also consumed by the idea of shaping—and in some cases, reshaping—their brands through social media. How will digital collections spark interest? What will buyers do to make their jobs credible, as they no longer travel throughout the season from New York to London, to Milan, to Paris? No more selfies with the surprise-V.I.P., front-row, monumental guests—that is, Hollywood big ones such as Renée Zellweger, who showed up at the last Tom Ford runway show in New York in skinny jeans and flats.
The New New Look
Expect to see more of that look. Even the most ardent and passionate fashion editor has been on a systemic diet of non-shopping since March. Nordstrom, Net-a-Porter, Matches—they’ve all offered 80 percent off the spring ’20 collections, and yet they all have so much inventory left over. Are you running down to Balenciaga or Louis Vuitton for new luxury handbags in luxe reptile skins, on sale for $2,000? No Manolo Blahnik refresher stilettos?
My favorite fashion ladies claim they are buying only the essentials: household cleaning supplies, masks, Clorox wipes. Until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus, who really thinks about shopping and clothes? Or at least who admits to it? The election—and staying alive—are the primary preoccupations. Fashion? As Scarlett O’Hara would say, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.... Tomorrow is another day.”
If one has the energy and imagination and resources, one could make a lucrative pile designing masks. Nancy Pelosi surprises everyone with tone-on-tone masks to each trouser suit. Everywhere I go, people want creative masks, not just the blue paper ones manufactured in China. It’s the ultimate fashion statement, especially for women.
My favorite fashion ladies claim they are buying only the essentials: household cleaning supplies, masks, Clorox wipes.
Another preoccupation among the most stylish women I know is ordering the latest must-read book, such as His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope, Jon Meacham’s brilliant and illuminating biography on the late civil-rights hero, who died in July. Lewis wrote the book’s epilogue shortly before its publication.
Or the tell-all book of my friend Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who could be the subject of a bio herself. Her inside account of the craven White House, especially Melania and Ivanka, is a must-read. Melania and Me is just another moment where the beasts are exposed by an insider. Stephanie and I e-mail each other, but she’s been quite busy making the prime-time-media circuit during the first days of September. I mean, there she was on the virtual sets of The Rachel Maddow Show, New Day, and Cuomo Prime Time.
As I have done all summer long, I’ll be reading every single thing on the late James Baldwin, especially Eddie S. Glaude Jr.’s biography, Begin Again. My librarian Garrett Rittenberg recently sent me an a cappella recording of Baldwin singing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” a beautiful Black anthem written by the late Thomas Dorsey, a Black composer and religious songwriter.
These are the things that fill in the huge gap of New York Fashion Week. I miss the communal frenzy of back-to-school September, the dinners at Majorelle, with Tonne Goodman and her sister Wendy Goodman, design editor of New York magazine. I will miss my early-morning breakfast meeting at Balthazar with British Vogue’s Edward Enninful—the first Black man to edit a fashion magazine—although we continue to keep in touch over e-mail. The halcyon days of Fashion Week have gone, due to the virus. They will never come back as they once were.
André Leon Talley is the author of The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir