What comes down the runway during New York Fashion Week is only part of the story. Where and how designers decide to present their collections are a big part of a label’s seasonal marketing and branding strategy. Serving up a surprise performance (as Michael Kors did last season when Barry Manilow sang the runway to a close) or presenting your collection in a never-been-done-before venue (as Christian Siriano did — also last season — when he showed his collection at the Top of the Rock, as in the upper floors of Rockefeller Center) has become more important in the Instagram-or-it-didn’t-happen era. Here are several of the novel locales, buzziest moments and notable shows that helped make this a most memorable New York Fashion Week.
Janelle Monáe rocks Ralph’s Club
To present his eveningwear-heavy see-now, buy-now collection on Sept. 7, Ralph Lauren transformed the former Bank of New York Building at 48 Wall St. into an Art Deco-style “Ralph’s Club” and spared no detail, from the branded awning over the front door to the black-and-white RL matchbooks sitting on the bar. However, it was the spirited after-dinner, after-show musical performance that made an indelible impression.
Janelle Monáe, who was clad in a tuxedo-inspired ensemble that paired a skirt with a sleeveless, backless tux shirt, started out mellow enough, singing from the stage backed by a 12-piece band. But within a few minutes she’d bolted into the audience, where she energetically leaped onto tables (including the one occupied by Cate Blanchett and Henry Golding), splashed Champagne and tossed potato chips in the air and then crawled across the floor back to the stage, where she kicked her shoes into the crowd and wiggled her toes in the air — singing the entire time.
Tommy X Zendaya “Live at the Apollo!”
Tommy Hilfiger chose Harlem’s Apollo Theater (well, technically the space behind the historic venue) as the place to present the label’s latest collaborative see-now, buy-now collection on Sept. 8 with Zendaya, which included a convertible Cadillac (New York state vanity plate: THZ APOLLO) full of musicians and singers crooning from a faux brownstone stoop. No matter that pieces from the ’70s-flavored collection — tailored blazers, wide-legged trousers and wrap skirts heavy on reptile prints, polka dots and houndstooth checks — had already been unveiled online a dozen days before, this snapshot of a retro street that never was was the sizzle that would sell the steak — and beam it out on livestream all around the globe.
Pyer Moss pays homage to Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Creative director Kerby Jean-Raymond chose another legendary concert hall — Kings Theatre in the Flatbush, Brooklyn, neighborhood where he grew up — as the place to show his most recent collection on Sept. 8. However, it wasn’t the venue that made this show one of the highlights of New York Fashion Week calendar but rather the inspiration — early rock ’n’ roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a black woman who despite influencing the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis has almost zero name recognition today.
To that end, music was a recurring motif on the clothes. Think guitar-shaped leather purses, piping tracing the sinuous outline of pianos across silk tops and suits, and scenes from Tharpe’s life created by artist Richard Phillips. Making the show all the more memorable was the music that accompanied it — songs from “Proud Mary” to Cardi B’s “Money” joyously belted out by the Pyer Moss Tabernacle Drip Choir Drenched in the Blood. By the time the final footfalls had faded from the runway, it was clear that who Tharpe was — and the important contributions she made to American pop culture — wouldn’t soon be forgotten.
Tom Ford goes underground
A designer deciding to stage a runway show in a gritty urban locale is hardly novel. However, when it’s Tom Ford whose collections are routinely exercises in more-is-more glamour luxe, and that venue is the platform of a mothballed subway station in Nolita, it makes for a standout moment. The designer credited a 1965 photo of Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick posing in a manhole as the inspirational starting point for a decidedly dialed-down spring and summer 2020 collection — as well as the subterranean venue. The juxtaposition of glamour and grit would have made for a memorable show alone, but watching celebrities such as Russell Westbrook, Miley Cyrus and Ansel Elgort descend into the dimly lighted space on Sept. 9 to wait for the Tom Ford fashion train to pull out of the station made it one of the week’s highlights.