Pragmatism in fashion is underrated. It’s why American brands become commercial behemoths with effortless, pared-back style, yet critical acclaim still goes to edgy European designers who manage to sell a handful of one-legged sequin jumpsuits before their business implodes.
OK, simple clothes don’t translate into viral moments on social media, and OK, the street-style influencers won’t clamour for these collections when they hit shop floors in the spring. Let’s face it, the sight of ordinary clothes on catwalks isn’t likely to get anyone overly excited.
But if there was anything to be learnt from a low-key New York Fashion Week, which closed on September 13 with a distinct lack of drama, it’s that easy dressing is back. Don’t think of it as being boring: this is the kind of stuff that can change your life, sartorially at least.
Tory Burch said she’d been thinking about the idea of clothing that “frees up space in your mind”, while Michael Kors felt that the era of being “tortured by your clothes” was over, asking: “How do we give women something that performs but also brings joy?”
If you’re looking for fresh ideas on fashionable wearability for spring 2024, start here.
The new mood of understated dressing looks back to Claire McCardell, the mid-century American designer credited with inventing sportswear and revolutionising the way women dress. McCardell is a recurring muse for Tory Burch, whose elegant collection – the epitome of modern glamour – was designed, she says, “to be lived in, to move with you and to instil a sense of lightness and optimism.”
It’s a mantra shared by Wes Gordon at Carolina Herrera, who is gently deconstructing the idea of what uptown dressing should look like. His inspiration this season was Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, whose 1990s minimalism came from McCardell’s successors, Calvin Klein and Narciso Rodriguez. The show’s first look, a crisp white cotton shirt worn over a black mid-length pencil skirt, was pure perfection. In a similar vein, the opening look from Proenza Schouler was a white single-breasted jacket and black trousers. Keep it simple, stupid.
Cocktail for day
Flats with everything was the rule, but make sure that “everything” means a delightful white lace empire line dress with bell sleeves, as at Michael Kors, or Tory Burch’s short gauze navy goddess dress, seductive yet unencumbered. There’s a 1960s vibe already running through the season: a nod to liberation, perhaps, or just shorthand for a carefree attitude.
Whichever, the idea of a throw-on dress in a luxe-y fabric is the very definition of feel-good; the stand-out street style look of the week was Instagram’s Eva Chen in a short white Loewe A-line shift with cropped hair and bare legs, epitomising chic simplicity. There’s definitely a move towards mini, but so far it’s optional: Kors also showed lace cocktail pants with matching long-sleeve tops.
Fancy pants denim
There’s nothing more American than denim – and there’s no designer who does it better than Ralph Lauren. Back on the NYFW calendar for the first time in four years, his front row was starry (Diane Keaton, Jennifer Lopez, Julianne Moore), but the mood was rustic, referencing his Double RL Colorado ranch with a runway made of wooden planks. The show opened with denim, but this was not workwear; instead, it was elevated with couture levels of craftsmanship, hand-painted and intricately beaded.
Timeless style is very much Lauren’s forte and these were truly forever pieces. (Timeless style was also the theme of Christy Turlington’s finale turn, wearing a glorious gold lamé goddess dress that shone brighter than the sun.) More everyday denim came at Proenza Schouler, whose bleached straight-leg jeans were worn with a black leather car coat. The street style denim du jour, meanwhile, is loose-fitting and often frayed round the hem, as if cut with kitchen scissors. Do try this at home.
We’ve all got to grips with suiting by now and there was still plenty of it in New York, most significantly the deliciously precise black tailoring at Peter Do’s debut for cult Noughties minimal label Helmut Lang, ribbon-trimmed and razor sharp. But a new key piece emerged and it’s one of those things you’ll wonder how you ever lived without: the broad shoulder blazer. From Gabriela Hearst to Altuzarra to Khaite – the latter channelling 1990s Tom Ford, cool and tough – this really is a case of bigger being better. Yes, we’ve been here before – but done right it’s an incredibly stylish statement.
All that 1990s influence naturally means a lot of black – and white, caramel and beige. A lack of colour was evident across the week, though Khaite threw in some scarlet, as did Altuzarra. Monochrome is a shorthand to chic – the street-style crowd had swapped last season’s Barbiecore for just that and looked all the better for it. Graphic simplicity really is an easy route to elegance: Emily Ratajkowski ruled the runway in Tory Burch’s asymmetric black knit mini dress teamed with white pumps.
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Avril Mair is the fashion director of Elle and Harper’s Bazaar UK