The buzz about this New York fashion week was that there wasn’t any. With Calvin Klein sitting out the season and Rodarte the latest brand to jump ship – the designers escaped the New York winter to show in sunny Los Angeles last week – this was set to be the fashion week nobody was talking about.
But the absence of marquee names has freed up the spotlight for new talent and innovative ideas. One of the hottest tickets on Friday was the first show by the little-known Tokyo-based costume designer Tomo Koizumi, to whom Marc Jacobs lent his Manhattan boutique as a venue. Invitations were issued at the last moment for the standing-only show.
Meanwhile, the hackneyed fashion week tradition of filling the front row with celebrity guests is being given a fresh spin at Rag & Bone’s event in Brooklyn, where an artificial intelligence system is to be the VIP attendee. And at Kate Spade, the Northern Irish designer Nicola Glass is bringing sunshine back to the brand that was rocked last year by the death of its eponymous founder.
Noticing how the proliferation of mobile phones has drained the atmosphere from catwalk shows, Marcus Wainwright, the British co-founder of Rag & Bone, was spurred on to stage a different kind of fashion week event. “A couple of years ago I was watching one of our shows from behind a curtain, and most of the audience were watching the show through the phones they were holding up in front of them, rather than truly watching what is in fact a live performance. I found that a bit sad. We stopped doing traditional shows after that.”
Rag & Bone’s event, A Last Supper, aims to incorporate technology into fashion week in a way that makes shows more interesting, rather than less. “Fashion week is still perfectly valid,” says Wainwright. “It still does what it was designed to do, which is operate as a marketplace for clothes. It is a congregation of the impactful people in fashion that you need to reach to run a business. We need to be here and to get across our point of view as a brand.”
A Last Supper will feature a dinner party with an artificial intelligence machine physically present at the table. The dress code for the dinner, naturally, is new-season Rag & Bone. The concept is “a nod to the way in which humans might co-exist with artificial intelligence, in the future – and to how technology is changing the way we interact with fashion,” according to Wainwright.
The machine will talk and learn through the night, using code written for the occasion, before making an after-dinner speech. “It might be really weird, but I think it will be fun,” says Wainwright. “I’m not sure how deep the message is, but it should be a memorable night.”
The death of Spade last June prompted a groundswell of warm feeling towards a brand with which many American women feel a connection, which has put it back in the limelight.
“It’s still her name above the door,” says Glass, who took over as creative director of Kate Spade a little over a year ago, during a preview the day before her show. “This is a brand both by and about a spirited woman. I was and still am inspired by what she represented to me, and her legacy will continue to live on in the work that we do, but my job now is to make the brand feel fresh for now.”
Glass is refreshing the brand by adding more nuance to the bright colours it is known for, and remodelling its jokey mood into one with a more subtle kind of wit. A “jellybean lineup” of delicious shades is a key part of the Kate Spade aesthetic, but unexpected shades such as golden raisin yellow, cherrywood, peppermint and evergreen, which Glass calls “our black”, are adding sophistication.
High-waisted flared pants are a key silhouette this season. “I love wearing them. They are really flattering, actually. I’m going to wear a pair to the show,” says Glass. “This is a brand with a sense of realness. It’s for a woman who loves fashion but has a really busy life.”
Some of the outfits on the catwalk will be styled with two bags, she says, “because that’s the reality of how the modern woman carries her stuff around, isn’t it?”
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