“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”, so said Oscar Wilde and so did many of New York’s designers on Tuesday. There was, however, a sort of wry irony at play, given that most of the collections were more accessible lines of bigger, glossier global brands. In that context, what exactly was that self?
“I wanted to use this season to really show our customers the other side of my wardrobe – these are all clothes that I regularly wear,” said Victoria Beckham at an intimate downtown presentation of her second line, Victoria.
“I chose not to do a show because I wanted personally to explain exactly what my brand aesthetic is about and how it’s evolving, something that doesn’t always come across from pieces when they just come down the catwalk.”
Beckham’s focus in New York was on chic, feminine dresses, mostly in a poppy palette of sorbets that were more sophisticated and less conversational than in seasons past and packed particular punch with pretty textured prints on cotton jacquard mixes or stiffened crêpe de Chine.
Her sleight of hand when it comes to creating a flattering silhouette is fast becoming expert, be it playing with volume – evident in a cerulean blue, dropped-waist “cloud” dress with a full and romantic crinoline skirt – or with a more controlled finish, as seen in a duchesse satin mini-shift, with couture neck detailing and a bust bedecked with edgy, laser-cut flowers.
Others seemed to engage in a meander down memory lane, for example at Marc by Marc Jacobs, where the audience was given playful, pared-down updates of the cult US designer’s most recognisable stylistic smash hits.
Pyjamas got the nod via pastel-hued, loosely tailored satin trouser suits and silky blue patterned tanks with navy piping, as did other core MJ classics, including casual 1970s sportswear basics, slouchy, off-duty, androgynous tailoring and drop-waisted, bedazzling disco shifts, awash with sequinned stars and stripes and finished off with sneakers. It was undeniably sellable and slick, but ultimately the show felt a little stuck in yesteryear, unconcerned with growing up or moving on.
By contrast, J Crew took the opportunity to show industry insiders how it continues to live very much in the present. Jenna Lyons and her team pumped out more of the vibrant, playful mix’n’match separates that have underscored the brand’s commercial success in recent years, infusing them this season with waves of nautical beach chic. Breton-blocking was out in force in the shape of cropped jackets and tees teamed with Club Tropicana-esque sunset tapered shorts, while signature neon splashes found berth in languid tangerine silk kaftans, or were woven into cropped cigarette pants with geometric patterning that mirrored the structure of propped-up surfboards.
But when it came to unforced, easy style and crisp execution, Tory Burch’s latest collection proved the closest reflection of a designer truly comfortable in her own creative skin.
Taking inspiration from the late 1960s French Riviera and the gardens of Southampton, her sun-bleached, cinched cotton minidresses and structured peplum tops, embroidered with sprigs of unwinding flora, felt fresh, informal and summery. Later, shimmery silk maxi shifts printed with Queen Anne lace and sweeping linen halter dresses with jewelled coral appliqué radiated a glamorous informality ideal for those in search of insouciant Mediterranean evening wear – or just the opportunity to look as if they are.
Ms Burch has made a fortune from her charmingly clever take on the new age moneyed aesthetic and has been widely imitated by numerous rivals only too aware of her ability to set major trends.
“At first, it wasn’t a problem, but now it is a starting to become one. Everyone should be inspired by people but then also try to differentiate. But you should never just copy,” she said at the end of the show, justifiably territorial about a brand that is truly her own.