No in-person New York Fashion Week? No problem for these standout L.A. labels

Looks from Wolk Morais, Tom Ford and Lavie by CK.
Looks from Wolk Morais, left, Tom Ford and Lavie by CK presented during the mostly virtual New York Fashion Week run of shows from Sept. 13-16.
(Fiorella Occhipinti, left, Tom Ford, MC Gregor Lapierre)

The much-shortened, mostly virtual version of New York Fashion Week that came and went earlier this month was a strange beast indeed.

Most of the big-name brands were M.I.A. — Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren among them — and only a handful of those who did show their spring and summer 2021 collections went with a traditional runway show with masked and socially distanced in-person attendees. One of these was Jason Wu, who kicked off the official calendar on Sept. 13 with an easy, breezy, tropical-inspired collection (livestreamed for those not in New York) that left us longing to travel.

The rest of the spring and summer 2021 collections (and a few in-season fall and winter 2020 collections) were unveiled by way of short films, prerecorded runway shows and, in some cases, static photos — essentially the pages of a look book — posted to the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Runway360 streaming platform (and/or at show time. CFDA chairman Tom Ford took the last approach to presenting his latest collection, and you know what? It was such an enjoyable collection from first look to last that we barely missed the runway walk at all. (What we did miss, though, was ogling the traditionally star-studded TF front row.)

Below is a look at his spring and summer 2021 offerings — as well as those of two other L.A.-based labels that presented memorable collections during the mostly virtual New York Fashion Week. (A fourth — the resurrected Imitation of Christ label — was recapped separately.)


Tom Ford

Models wearing clothes from the Tom Ford spring and summer 2021 collection.
Looks from the Tom Ford spring and summer 2021 women’s collection presented virtually on Sept. 16 during New York Fashion Week.
(Tom Ford)

In a short video that accompanied the images of his women’s and men’s collections, Ford cited as inspiration California living, the ’70s (“the exuberance of those years between the pill and AIDS where life seemed to be more carefree,” he said) as well as model Pat Cleveland and the hope for a happier time. “That’s what this collection is for me,” he said in the video clip. “[It’s] still a somewhat casual moment as it relates to fashion but a time in which we need clothes that make us smile. Clothes that make us feel good.”

As L.A. labels adapt, back-burnered projects and faraway trends come into focus — fast.

That translated as a collection full of casual, colorful pieces that, on the men’s side, included baggy drawstring sweatpants (some with the designer’s name on the waistband) in bright shades of fuchsia or purple, bold floral-patterned robes, trousers and blazers (the latter layered over slouchy T-shirts and dress shirts), and zip-front hooded jackets in lime green suede.

Being a Tom Ford collection, there was also a smattering of animal-print pieces in the mix, including leopard-print drawstring sweats and embossed crocodile-pattern hoodies.

What started out as a way to add feminine flair to judicial robes ended up speaking volumes.

If the men’s collection was a cheery pick-me-up — and it was — then the women’s offerings were closer to a one-dose cure-all for pandemic pessimism. The bold florals bloomed here too, but the real focus-pullers were the voluminous caftans the color of the SoCal sun, the billowy tie-dyed swim coverups (some pink, others green) worn over crocheted bikini bathing suits, and the dresses that were black as India ink from the shoulders to the waist where they were met by tongues of flame in shades of bright orange, pink and blue flickering up from floor-length hems. (If you’re looking for a wearable symbol of lightness and brightness overcoming the dire darkness of the moment, look no further.)

Overall the silhouettes were relaxed for both men and women: V-neck sweaters slouched, fabric billowed cape-like from the shoulders of bikini-clad models, and the legs of leopard-print jumpsuits flared dramatically at the ankle.

Wolk Morais

Stylist Elizabeth Stewart and her son, Ben Bragin, in looks from Wolk Morais Collection 9.
Stylist Elizabeth Stewart and her son, Ben Bragin, in looks from Wolk Morais Collection 9 presented via a short film called “Driven” during the mostly virtual New York Fashion Week.
(Fiorella Occhipinti)

Also in step with the generously cut leg trend was Wolk Morais, which presented its most recent collection by way of a short film titled “Driven,” shot across Los Angeles entirely from a moving car (how’s that for social distancing?) by cinematographer Fiorella Occhipinti. It featured friends of designers Brian Wolk and Claude Morais as models — Moon Unit Zappa, Lydia Hearst and stylist Elizabeth Stewart. The collection took inspiration from the silent-film era (after all, as the duo pointed out to Women’s Wear Daily, Buster Keaton was basically the O.G. of the wide-legged trouser/snug vest combination) and was made completely from upcycled textiles sourced within a 12-mile radius of the designers’ studio.

Days before showing during the official New York Fashion Week lineup, the film was screened as part of the London Fashion Film Festival, where it was awarded best fashion film, the festival’s top honor. Collection 9 (the designers prefer to number their collections instead of assign them a specific season) was a winner in its own right.

Rooted in an Old Hollywood vibe with a touch of thrift-shop melancholy, it served up richly textured fabrics that could almost be felt from the car window, including wide-wale corduroy cut into roomy jackets and voluminous high-waisted trousers, nubbly knit sweaters and matching hot pants, and a smart-looking gray tweed skirt and overcoat ensemble given a dash of whimsy with a floral-patterned shirt with a banker’s collar. (The same gray tweed was also cut into a two-button, notch-lapel suit with trousers that hugged the hips but flared gently at the ankles.)

Lydia Hearst in a look from Wolk Morais Collection 9.
(Fiorella Occhipinti)

The same silhouettes were served up in an exploded houndstooth check — with cropped trousers, a miniskirt and cropped biker jacket thrown in for good measure. Double-breasted vests cropped up throughout, trim at the waist and widening near the shoulders, with a multiplicity of buttons in between. Wolk Morais’ love of metallic fabrics was in evidence too — although in this collection the shine and the colors felt more subdued, almost like celluloid images faded by time. Pieces here included a floor-length, long-sleeve pale blue metallic dress with padded shoulders and a Peter Pan collar, and high-waisted pink metallic hot pants paired with a puffy-sleeved shirt with an allover purple floral print.

Lavie by CK

Looks from the Lavie by CK 2020-2021 ready-to-wear collection.
(MC Gregor Lapierre)

For the New York Fashion Week debut of her 8-year-old label, Lavie by CK, L.A.-based designer Claude Kameni presented a 15-look collection filmed live for a handful of guests on the rooftop terrace of Spring Place in Beverly Hills and posted to NYFW’s streaming platform the next evening. What the collection lacked in size it more than made up for in bright colors and bold patterns, the latter inspired by her Cameroonian heritage.

The designer cited the 1980s as one of the inspirational starting points for a collection chock-full of body-conscious dresses with sharp-edged shoulders, dramatically belled sleeves, and midriffs that were either bare or wrapped in corsets fabricated from contrasting textile prints. The men’s looks were in the same eye-catching West African-textile-inspired prints — although the silhouettes were decidedly more relaxed, with baggy on-trend trousers and oversized button-front shirts that fell to mid-thigh.

Looks from the Lavie by CK 2020-2021 ready-to-wear collection.
(MC Gregor Lapierre)

“I love ’80s fashion so much,” Kameni said. “I really cannot live without shoulder pads. It’s such a huge statement in a look.” She added that the bold shoulder also tapped into the collection’s other big inspiration. “I’m calling it MYB,” Kameni said, “As in ‘Mind Your Business.’ I wanted to create something bold that every boss — or aspiring boss — can mind their business in and look good at the same time.”

Based on the collection’s closing look — a ruffled coat dress in a leafy green textile print with a high-low hem that ended at mid-thigh in the front and trailed out dramatically on the floor behind the model — we’re likely to be minding Kameni’s business for a long time to come.

Laidback luxe and awards-show-from-home chic carried the night.