The news seemed particularly bleak: Donald Trump blustering; another senseless school shooting; in Europe, migrants throwing themselves against wire fences…
So is it surprising that the message I received from New York Fashion week was of a romantic escapism: poetry in motion at Rodarte; merry imagination from Proenza Schouler; Carolina Herrera creating a collection about “tranquility – transparency and illusion, evoking sensuality”; Tory Burch talking about “beauty found in unexpected places”.
When Calvin Klein designer Francisco Costa took silver screen glamour as inspiration for his satin slip dresses (albeit slightly distressed), it reinforced the general message of a dreamscape.
For me, it was a strangely distant fashion season, as a personal situation obliged me to return home early. I tried to follow the shows, as so many fashion addicts do, by looking at images on the screen. But I found myself frustrated by the one dimension, which gave no real sense of place or space.
So I decided to ask the designers, all of whom were understanding about my sudden absence, to explain their visions in their own words. Some did just that. Others suggested that I call them for a one-to-one discussion. A few were silent.
I realised immediately that my on-screen judgement was correct. Romance was overtaking reality — especially considering America’s fashion heritage of clean-cut sportswear, which you still find — mostly in a baggy, oversize form — on the streets.
The Marc Jacobs extravaganza in the Ziegfeld Theatre seemed based on the golden age of Hollywood and I was mortified to have missed such a spectacular show. I asked Marc what was behind his Ziegfeld Follies:
“The last couple of seasons have been very uniform. The girls looked identical; they were perfect, they were polished. Whether it was the military show or the last season, with its Vreeland perfection, I just wanted this one to be extremely up… but down.
“It would still have lots of glamour and odd combinations of things,” he continued. “I definitely wanted it to feel more individual, as if each girl was her own character in a story.”
Following a story line, whimsical or escapist, was a general trend. Tory Burch made a romantic statement when she bid for “slow fashion”, saying that she was “inspired by how beauty is enhanced through time and nature”.
Michael Kors, usually a cheery, sportswear designer, used the word “romantic”, pairing it with an “earthy elegance” and adding another unlikely element for a straightforward New Yorker: “rustic”.
“Natural glamour” was another pairing of words to encompass Michael's “sensuous attitude of clothes that wrap, tie and slide”.
Tommy Hilfiger, a designer focused on preppy looks for the here and now, surprised me with his nostalgia for family holidays in the 1970s, while giving the theme a current twist.
Two designers who seemed to personify the escapism of romance were Ralph Lauren and Oscar de la Renta.
Ralph Lauren was thinking about the tang of the sea and the elegance of the South of France, even if that world is a cinematic fantasy far from today’s reality.
“It is a modern expression of the glamorous spirit of the French Riviera,” said Ralph, referring to long-lost days of a Côte d’Azur lined with hibiscus flowers and glamorous people.
“It has a romantic rusticity, as well as a sleek and luxurious sportiness that represents the cool insouciance and understated style of the women who inspired me,” insisted Ralph.
Peter Copping, the British designer at Oscar de la Renta, has worked in Paris and his meticulous detail and understanding of the sumptuous is worthy of the house’s founder. He might have modernised the couture spirit by slipping a black lace body suit under a wool skirt with a lacy hem, but his evening outfits — like the shimmering taffeta dress with iridescent embroidery — looked opulent, even on screen. And being able to zoom in on the jewellery to see a pom-pom of an earring gave me a sense of detail that I might otherwise have missed.
For me, Carolina Herrera summed up the season’s approach to not letting too much reality interfere with one’s reverie.
“In fashion, it’s important to keep a little mystery,” she said. “I design clothes that are seductive and sensual, but always leave something for the imagination. Fashion is, after all, about fantasy.”