In New York, are good dresses enough?

For many independent American fashion brands, the past year has been good for business. in late March 2021, when unit sales of women’s dresses were up 50% from 2019, according to research firm NPD.

What does this mean for the track? While New York Fashion Week always puts marketing front and center, there was something downright practical — for the most part — about what’s been shown so far.

Jason Wu, who posted record sales in the last three quarters of 2021, zoned off the hip with faux peplums tied in bows, an ode to the 1950s, his favorite era. There were plenty of Wu signatures in there — shiny faux wood taffeta crafted into little cocktail dresses, stiff polka-dot tulle — as well as new uses of old techniques, like warp printing, a process where the yarn is printed before the garment is woven, giving the resulting pattern a fuzzy, fuzzy look. Victor Glemaud, who has made a name for himself in knitwear, also leaned into the dress, using point de Rome jersey for a form-fitting evening wear.

They were nice clothes. Do they need to be more than that?

Never was this question more important than at Proenza Schouler, where Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez sent their glossy collection to the Brant Foundation’s expanse. The designers have spent the last few seasons recalibrating their business with a sincere intention to dress real women. Expectations, however, are high. Their friend, novelist Ottessa Moshfegh, was prescient in the show notes she contributed: “We allow ourselves discord. For inspiration.”

What stirred the pot? People want everything from them: new ideas, but also clear accessibility. It’s an almost impossible request, and it was easy to call this derivative: a corseted waist was all too familiar, as were some costumes. And yet there are no new ideas in fashion, only new interpretations. Perhaps they should be judged not on whether the proposal is entirely new, but on whether they fully own it. In this they were more successful, from their take on the glove shoe, almost sucked on the foot, to the mid-century polish of a sculptural gold brooch, pinned strategically to the collar of a hoodie. black that had been elegantly tucked into a jacket.

Ulla Johnson is a designer whose aesthetic is so strong that she’s able to blend in with the ideas of the day while keeping a solid grip on her own thing. She understands that there will always be a demand for a pretty floral dress, as long as it is rendered with relevance. (This season, that meant swirling peacock prints and metallic threads, with chunky shapes often pepped up.) Johnson’s business was on fire long before the pandemic, and the seemingly endless category launches, most recently the denim and eyewear – not to mention the flocks of women wearing his wares in the public – indicates that things are still on the rise. As she continues to build her world, it would be modern to see people who better reflect her clientele on the runway, where her cast never deviates from the traditional.

Dresses may be back in full force, but knits continue to dominate. Two knitwear designers, retail mainstay Lauren Manoogian and still-newcomer Henry Zankov, took the medium from category to concept. Manoogian, who has been in business for about a decade, manages to drape his lofty sweater dresses and cardigans into wearable, stackable sculptures: it’s no wonder his pieces serve as the staple of so many people’s wardrobes. Zankov brings depth to the fancy sweater. Neither should be ignored.

At Khaite, 40 percent of the business is designer Catherine Holstein’s hourglass knitwear, reflecting the way she dresses in her daily life. “I aspire to look like a ’90s Gap model,” she said. On the runway, however, she’s more edgy, Matrix-y, with oversized leather going against form-fitting cocktail dresses and plunging sweetheart necklines. Holstein’s true talent lies in product design. Every piece – from the almost hidden curved heel on the back of a pair of sandals to the thigh-skimming moto jacket – has a purpose.

Sintra Martins, which presented its first Saint Sintra collection last fall, has the ambition to build a brand that combines pure creativity and solid sales. This season, she showcased 14 looks that ranged from utterly wearable — like an icy blue satin dress with a wrap-around train — to almost conceptual, ending in a tiered wedding dress with tubes. of white oxford cloth.

“I came into fashion knowing it was a business venture – it was in school that I learned there was an art to it too,” said the recent Parsons graduate. “Ultimately, my goal is to create pieces that are commercially viable, artistic, and beautiful at the same time.”

Shayne Oliver, the designer behind Hood by Air, separated creativity from publicity, separating his musings on the runways from selling HBA. “Coming back to HBA I noticed there’s a lot of expectations, like being commercial and giving people what they want and then people want that drama too, the heat, you see what I want to say ?” he recently told BoF. “The idea of ​​focusing on two of these things and being a small brand is very difficult.”

Friday night at The Shed, a cultural venue near Hudson Yards, models wearing his eponymous new collection shook the crowd through the crowd in clownishly elongated pointy white boots and scrunched shoulders so intensely they cleared the tip of their skull by at least a foot. The presentation may have been titled “Headless,” but what’s exciting about Oliver is that his designs can feel like they offer a glimpse into his brain. This makes it worthy of attention.

You can also see inside Elena Velez’s brain: like many of her young peers, she loves to research. One obsession is the industrial Midwest, so she finds herself using materials like sailcloth and parachute nylon on ripped-bodice dresses, painting her models’ forearms with sooty black paint to look like gloves up to his elbows and sticking small pieces of cement on his heels, as a recognition of the work of his mother – a ship’s captain – and others.

Was that too literal? Sometimes, but it felt new – and it’s fascinating to watch these young creators craft their story on stage. Dauphinette’s Olivia Cheng has done a magnificent job of preserving childhood memories, galvanizing Ginko leaves — which remind her of a soup her mother made growing up in suburban Chicago — and then threading them over a halter top .

Of course, designers often fail to fully realize an idea. But when they are able, the effect can extend far beyond the confines of a single track. I was reminded of this on Saturday night, as Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta celebrated their 10th anniversary in the crumbling remains of the old Essex Street Market. Once entrenched as the next big thing, they remain observable: the coarse hand on many knits looks sophisticated now that garments are cut in a confident, sexier way. But it was their approach to casting that influenced the industry more than anything they did. Casts today are often diverse not only in terms of race, but also age, body shape, and gender expression. Their version was never a marketing stunt, and it’s thanks to them that it’s now an expectation, not an exception.

Additional reporting by Robert Cordero.