New York Fashion Week has always been a tug of war between uptown and downtown, chic and not chic, underground and in-yer-face mega brands. But those contrasts feel increasingly blurred as the mainstream heads downtown (for its venues and perhaps for inspiration) and as the underground comes to the forefront as NYFW continues to push its new blood. Over the nine days of NYFW there were more than 300 shows jostling for attention: the one word that editors are repeatedly calling for is… well, editing. Is there a way to see everything that is worth seeing – whether it’s the big advertiser brands or the young up-and-coming talent? You’d hope so for the sake of New York Fashion Week’s future. 

Uptown girls

While most shows are beginning their shift downtown before the big NYFW venue move from Lincoln Center toward Chelsea next season, one of the week’s hottest tickets decided to go up-up-town.  To the old Whitney Museum to be precise. Proenza Schouler’s inside connections took us to Marcel Breuer’s brutalist building that will soon be taken over by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was the perfect venue for their ode to the mid-20th Century New York School art movement. Sculptor Robert Morris’ freefalling fabric installations led Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough to let their collection fall around the body with strategic cuts and slashes exposing some flesh in a sensual manner.  Their know-how in textiles resulted in complex technical tweeds, needle-punched detailing, dense mirrored embroidery and tufted feathers. For the ‘trashy’ counterpart to all this uptown chic, look to the skin-tight lace and leather trousers and razzle-dazzle sequinned and feathered showgirl dresses from Rodarte.  This wayward Californian sister duo are never going to err on the side of good taste. 

Rookie cutters

The imagination of New York’s newest designers lives up to their unusual sounding names. Take Canadian born Devon Halfnight Leflufy (yes, that is his real name) and his menswear featuring glitchy digital graphics. Leflufy hails from Antwerp’s Royal Academy, where leftfield creativity is nurtured and it’s positive to see it being celebrated in New York. Knitwear duo Eckhaus Latta have been building up momentum over the last few seasons. Their latest collection was their most impressive yet, as they showed their raw-edged textiles to a beautiful soundscape created by Dev Hynes. Ammerman Schlösberg took us into a mental hospital to salute Japan’s dark, gothic guro subculture. Earlier in the week, Alexander Wang was inspired by Tokyo’s Lolitas. Just waiting for a third instance and voilà: a trend. 

Women, fashion, power

With wildly different results, Marc Jacobs and its sister line Marc by Marc Jacobs (or MBMJ) looked to the theme of power for inspiration. One paid homage to the ultimate woman in fashion – the greatest editor of them all, Diana Vreeland, and the other harnessed the power of youth to empower girls with the positive aspect of protest. Marc Jacobs is undoubtedly still king of New York as he ended the week with a collection that was rich, sumptuous and decadent in all the ways you’d expect given the inspiration. Vreeland’s extreme and grandiose approach to fashion was uncompromising – something that Jacobs presented powerfully to jolting us out of from New York fashion ennui. Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley, the British designers behind MBMJ, have been interested in girl tribes for a few seasons now. This season, the clothes were emblazoned with words like “solidarity”, “suffragette” and “unity” and featured William Morris prints. (Morris was as much a social activist as a designer.) Protest and fashion don’t always go hand in hand, as last season’s Chanel show demonstrated, but here Hillier and Bartley weren’t just posturing. Instead you got the feeling you can be an ‘aesthete activist’ – into fashion as well as being mindful of everything else around us too. 

Susie Lau is a fashion journalist who blogs at stylebubble.co.uk. She is covering New York, London, Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks for BBC Culture.

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