The biggest takeaway from the spring and summer 2018 collections presented here during New York Fashion Week was color: vibrant, cheery bowl-of-Starburst hues of bright orange, piercing pink and a school bus full of yellows that ranged from freshly churned butter to neon lemon — sometimes in the same collection.
There were several other through-lines in the spring collections, including a bumper crop of bustiers and bra tops, free-floating fly-away strap details and Americana-inspired influences that skewed more contemplative and patriotic than the political commentary of the fall and winter 2017 collections.
With the NYFW shows now in the rearview mirror, here's a closer look at some of the top trends and the labels that made them memorable.
Were the cheery shades of yellow that dominated the runways an antidote to (or escape from — take your pick) a dour national mind-set? That's certainly how it landed, though the designers' stated inspirations were as varied as the mustard yellow jackets and tops inspired by the animals of the Congolese rainforest at the Simon Miller presentation, and the Post-It yellow of Sies Marjan's airy chiffon dresses, and the psychedelic greenhouse at Christian Siriano's that sprouted tiered, sunflower-yellow flounce gowns and shawl-collar moto jackets. A deep bench of yellow dresses was also in evidence at Carolina Herrera's show, where impressive yellow gowns brightened up the Museum of Modern Art's outdoor sculpture garden like miniature suns.
But the most memorable manifestation came with the last look of the last show of the season — a sleeveless butter-yellow dress with an outsized folded fabric flower at the left shoulder that closed Marc Jacobs' colorful, inspired-by-somewhere-else collection of clothes for the eccentric traveler.
Underwear as outerwear has its boom-and-bust cycles on the runway, and the prevalence of the bra top is definitely pushing spring in the boom direction. Adam Selman's denim-heavy collection (more on that below) and Opening Ceremony (which technically presented a pre-spring range) both offered bra tops in a denim fabrication. Brock Collection had lace bra tops in the mix (along with lace-trimmed slip dresses and a few nightgown-inspired dresses), and Tom Ford made the bra top feel downright respectable (in addition to sexy as all get out) layered under a strong-shouldered jacket.
But the buzziest bunch of bra tops came courtesy of Shayne Oliver, co-founder of the on-hiatus Hood by Air label, whose capsule collection for Helmut Lang included bras so deconstructed, reconstructed and tweaked that they more framed than covered the breasts, making these bras supporting players in the free-the-nipple movement.
Oliver's take on Helmut Lang also keyed into the general strap happiness on the season's runways (though it should be noted that Oliver was doing the free-floating strap thing at Hood by Air since that label's beginning). At Fenty Puma by Rihanna, the fly-aways came by way of bungee-cord closures, Velcro wrist straps and belted webbing on one-piece "race suits," outerwear jackets and vests, adding a mountain-climbing/extreme sports vibe feel to the motocross-meets-retro-surf collection.
Elsewhere, the trend had a more genteel interpretation, including Michael Kors' washed-down take on the tropics where the loose ends fluttered from the cuffs of gauzy cotton streamer shirts. At Monse, skirts and dresses with fringe that dangled from mid-thigh to calf bounced enthusiastically with each model's step like a waving cheerleader's pom-poms after the big win. It turns out that's what the label's designers Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim (whose design duties also include helming Oscar de la Renta) were going for, taking inspiration from vintage American sports uniforms and showing their spring and summer 2018 collection on a sports club's basketball court.
Americana light and dark
Backstage after the show, the design duo explained that the emphasis on Americana, including (but not limited to) patriotic red, white and blue stripes and the star-spangling of shoes, tops, skirts, mink towels and shoulder-baring intarsia knit sweaters, was an homage to the good old U.S. of A.
"We wanted to celebrate America and the fact that we have the opportunity to show here. We couldn't have gotten where we are without New York's support," Garcia said, adding that nothing "sinister" should be read into the mining of American motifs (a reference to Raf Simons' Calvin Klein show on Sept. 7, discussed in more depth below). Garcia's shout-out to the New York Fashion Week scene comes in a season where some of the heaviest hitters, including Thom Browne, Rodarte and Proenza Schouler, have opted to present their collections in Paris.
Monse's cheerleading-for-America mind-set was shared by Adam Selman, whose spring and summer 2018 collection was full of prairie-appropriate gingham shorts, skirts, work shirts and denim pieces that ranged from white short-and-shirt sets to crisp blue denim coveralls with painted flowers blooming at the ankles. "Georgia O'Keeffe said that denim is sort of our only national costume," Selman said backstage. "And I just wanted to embrace that. I was really focused on American sportswear — and making 'America' not a bad word." He demurred when asked if he was commenting on the current political climate. "I just wanted to make sure that people focus on the good things about America," he said.
Raf Simons' sophomore runway show for Calvin Klein, one of Fashion Week's blockbuster shows, took exactly the opposite approach. The Belgian designer, whose debut collection for the label was an outsider's view of America, used the genre of the Hollywood horror film to mine the landscape of the America dream — and the American nightmare.
Presented in a total-room art installation titled "Sophomore" by artist Sterling Ruby that included firefighters' axes and blood-red pom-poms hanging from the ceiling, the spring and summer "Sweet Dreams" collection started out looking very much like last season's (think western-inspired shirts, dark denim and floral lace dresses under slip-cover-like plastic) before veering abruptly into a very dark place filled with blood-like paint splatters and screen-printed imagery of crossed kitchen knives, overturned ambulances and tainted cans of tuna from Andy Warhol's Death and Disaster series on a range of tops, jackets and nightgown-like dresses. (These pieces were a collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.)
The parade of voluminous hand-painted leather overcoats, paint-splattered boots, knife-print lumberjack-check men's suits, diaphanous run-from-danger nightgowns and road-cone colors could have come across as schlocky at worst and scary at best. But in Simons' hands the result was provocative.
"When there is beauty there is always an opposite. When there is horror there is always an opposite," Simons explained to a knot of reporters backstage after the show. "So in a sense I hope everybody sees that the two cannot exist without each other. … Sometimes allowing things to go wrong, allowing things to be wrong [is necessary] to find beauty."
Which is as cheery and optimistic a seasonal statement as all those yellow dresses combined.
For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me at @ARTschorn.