Its not surprising that many in the fashion industry designers and press especially are clamouring for the return of real, live, physical fashion shows. the kind with benches, catwalks, models, clothes; appointments, dinners, interviews; gossip and unvarnished commentary from the front rows.

Because without all of that, new york fashion week is pretty dull. at least from where i sat, on the other side of the atlantic, huddled over a 13-inch pc on a cluttered kitchen table in south london. sure, it was nice to watch shows or whatever each designer had released in lieu of a show in the comfort of sweatpants. it was also efficient. a days worth of shuttling between shows could be condensed into little more than an hour, washed down with a glass of wine.

Pre-recorded videos were what was mainly on offer this new york fashion week, where most of the big names (marc jacobs, michael kors, ralph lauren) were absent and 95 per cent of the collections were shown online-only on account of covid-19. budgets were obviously tight. even tom ford decided not to host his usual dinner-and-a-show, both because of the pandemic and also because hes been forced to lay off staff during the crisis.

I thought about skipping this season altogether, ford confessed in the notes accompanying the lookbooks for his spring/summer 2021 mens and womens collections. during lockdown at home in los angeles, the famously well-groomed designer stopped changing his clothes or trimming his beard. he binge-watched hgtv. to put together a fashion collection seemed frivolous amid a global pandemic and the social unrest gripping america, he wrote. when no one can go out of their house, who needs new clothes?...i felt that honestly fashion should simply go into hibernation for a year.

But ford, the consummate professional, pulled through. the clothes he has envisioned for spring are sexy, glamorous, fun and rather loud nothing like the quiet, classic, conservative styles pundits have predicted well invest in during the pandemic and its aftermath. the 70s working-girl dresses, hibiscus-print flares and tie-dye caftans are clothes to feel both glamorous and comfortable in, even when stuck at home. ford describes them as clothes that make us smile.

The same mix of glamour and ease could be found at rodarte. designers kate and laura mulleavy released their spring/summer collection through an escapist lookbook shot in the california hills. their 40s-esque silk dresses, rendered in handkerchief prints and wallpaper florals with pie-crust collars, felt pastoral and homey. they were accompanied by luxe pyjamas, robes and oversized sweatshirts not the typical fare of a rodarte show or lookbook, and a definite nod to the moment.

Injecting a bit of escapism into a dark period was the raison dtre of many of the weeks videos and lookbooks. imitation of christ returned to the new york schedule after a seven-year break with a wonderfully uplifting video featuring teenage skater girls in sequin sweatshirts, tie-dye tees and ruffled dresses. they were sold on secondhand site the realreal with proceeds benefiting greta thunbergs fridays for future. ulla johnson staged a gorgeous catwalk show, sans audience, on roosevelt island. carolina herrera and wes gordon, the creative director of her line, sat down for a warm tte--tte to swap anecdotes and points of views on style.

But under these bright surfaces, designers are recalibrating. while fashion executives in europe are eager to return to business as usual, with the same number of collections and shows, many of the us-based designers i spoke to over the course of the week pointed out the need to cut back, to produce fewer samples and address fashions overproduction problem.

Its a little bit of a dial-back moment, says jason wu, the taiwanese-canadian designer favoured by michelle obama and meghan markle, duchess of sussex. he was one of the only designers to host a physical show, opening new york fashion week on the sun-drenched rooftop of spring studios in lower manhattan, which he transformed into a leafy jungle in an ode to his home-away-from-home in tulum, mexico. thirty-six people attended, most of them family and friends, masked and seated on stools scattered at a government-regulated distance.

In a departure from past seasons, wu showed clothes from his more casual, lower-priced line, which felt more relevant for the moment, he says. the collection of easy, holiday-ready dresses and striped caftans was smaller than usual. we simply dont feel responsible if we overproduce, he says.

With budgets tight and so few able to attend, why show at all? i felt like it was very important for new york to be represented in the scheme of international fashion weeks, he says. and i was inspired to do a show; im like many other people and have been inside working remotely for a very long time. it just seemed like if we could be responsible and we could be safe, it felt nice to have that element again.

A smaller audience also pushed wu to focus more on the digital experience, which this time included four roving cameras instead of one. the result was transformative. in many ways it was a digital fashion show, he says. we had to think video first. ninety-nine per cent of views were coming from that.

If there was a silver lining to the constraints on new york fashion week, it was the flashes of digital innovation. although designers have been live-streaming shows for a decade, and the audiences online far outnumber those present, for most brands the online experience has remained a secondary consideration. and while most videos were not exactly thrilling some designers seemed to think a scrolling slideshow was a good idea others showed a real inclination to push the envelope.

In lieu of a show, menswear designer and 2017 lvmh special prize winner kozaburo akasaka photographed his studio and turned it into an interactive space. in an experience akin to google maps satellite view, viewers could click on objects in the studio to learn more about the brand, and jump to a separate showroom space to examine his spring/summer looks on mannequins. it was fun and unexpected.

Khaites cate holstein transformed into an interactive lookbook. which was an engaging way to showcase the collection of pared-back essentials: leather jackets, knife-edged blazers and the georgette dresses with the ruched bodices and puffed shoulders that are most recognisably khaite. she also sent 150 lookbooks to press, buyers and her 30 top clients, which contained fabric swatches and an augmented reality tie-in that allowed users to view shoes on their phones in 3d.

I wouldnt have done this if it werent for thinking differently because of the pandemic, holstein says. she is nevertheless eager to return to showing as soon as we are able.

But perhaps the clearest sign of a transformation in american fashion came during the cfda awards. a high-wattage affair often described as fashions oscars, this years were announced online by tom ford, the designer who is also the cfdas chairman. three of the six main recipients pyer mosss kerby jean-raymond, who was awarded menswear designer of the year; telfar clemens, who took home the accessories award; and christopher john rogers, named best emerging designer were black. few designers of colour had ever won the awards before.

Catwalk shows will return after the covid-19 crisis. but in other ways, american fashion is moving ahead.

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