New York Fashion Week returns with socially distant and digital shows

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CNN  — 

It is looking to be a fashion month like no other. The coronavirus pandemic has upended the traditional runway format, and in its place a mix of virtual and, in some cases, physical shows with limited audience numbers has started to roll out.

New York Fashion Week (NYFW) arrived first, running from September 13 to 17 ahead of London, Milan and Paris.

 A model walks the runway for Jason Wu Spring-Summer 2021.

Organizers adapted to circumstances by hosting a number of outdoor events, and Jason Wu opened the schedule with a runway show on the rooftop of Spring Studios in Manhattan. He showed his Spring-Summer 2021 collection to a socially distanced crowd of just 30 people, sending models such as Indya Moore down a plant-filled set inspired by the Mexican town of Tulum.

Harlem’s Fashion Row, a platform founded to promote diversity in fashion by supporting designers of color, also kicked off NYFW Sunday with a virtual showcase of collections by Black designers Kristian Lorén, Kimberly Goldson and Rich Fresh.

Returning designers include Anna Sui and Chromat, with digital presentations, while a number of notable NYFW regulars like Michael Kors didn’t participate this time around.

Meanwhile, popular social media app TikTok is looking to engage Gen-Z audiences through its own online fashion month, partnering with labels such as Louis Vuitton, Alice + Olivia and Saint Laurent, among others, to livestream runway shows and present capsule collections.

To broadcast the virtual events at NYFW, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) created Runway360, a digital platform to show new collections or other creative projects. And although the usually star-studded fashion week will be wholly different this year, the switch to virtual may also make for more sustainable presentations – a recent report by Ordre, which specializes in online showrooms, found that international fashion weeks emit the same volume of greenhouse gases annually as a small country.

Below are our five highlights from New York Fashion Week.

The end of sweatpants?

Many people are still spending a lot of time at home due to the global pandemic, but judging by some of the collections this season, designers are hoping that by spring 2021 our lives will demand glamorous ensembles.

Jason Wu kicked off NYFW with a summer holiday-themed runway show, with models breezing in donning beach-ready maxi dresses and tailored shorts, in tones of blue and terracota.

Indya Moore walks the runway for Jason Wu during New York Fashion Week on September 13, 2020.

Wu wasn’t the only designer with an escapist mindset. Dreams of better times and of jetting off to far-flung oases were visible in several collections, from Badgley Mischka’s bright and luxurious gowns to Naeem Khan’s intricate hand-beaded tops and dresses.

Fashion with a message

Alongside the expected displays of opulence, some designers took advantage of digital platforms to share messages of activism and empowerment. NBA player Carmelo “Melo” Anthony launched a streetwear collection as an extension of his clothing and lifestyle brand, and as part of a new initiative, the Stayme7o Propel program, to support Black creativity.

Chromat Spring-Summer 2021.

Meanwhile, architectural swimwear and athletic brand Chromat, known for its diverse runway shows celebrating all bodies, released the film “Joy Run” by filmmaker Tourmaline. The fashion film, which shows masked models in neon sportswear, featured transgender track star Terry Miller, advocating for the fair inclusion of all genders in sports.

Sustainable fashion label Collina Strada is also supporting trans rights through its latest Spring-Summer collection. The designer Hillary Taymour is auctioning off 11 T-shirts to raise money for trans sex workers.

Fresh faces

NYFW’s digital format offers emerging designers a chance to shine without having to invest in expensive live shows. Ten new American brands showed this week, including former Yeezy designer Maisie Schloss, who created a collection for her label Maisie Wilen featuring larger-than-life boots and shimmery tinfoil-like yet fluid dresses.

Maisie Wilen Spring-Summer 2021.

Another newcomer was the avant-garde mother-and-daughter wearable-luxury label Dur Doux, and Oak & Acorn, a Harlem-based sustainable denim brand that makes bold, genderless styles.

AKNVAS, meanwhile, took notes from Scandinavian minimalism and Caribbean beach style with vivid hues of orange, pink and green in effortless shirt dresses and cropped pants.

Designer Davidson Petit-Frère opted for a film to show off his slick menswear suits and debut his womenswear line, tapping actor Michael K. Williams of “The Wire” and “Boardwalk Empire” fame to star alongside “Den of Thieves” actor Ron J. Rock in the short flick “Destined.”

Imitation of Christ Returns

The digital approach offered a space for offbeat labels to flex their creative muscles, including the newly revived early-2000s collective, Imitation of Christ, founded by actress, artist and designer Tara Subkoff and designer Matt Damhave.

The conceptual fashion label, which was upcycling garments before the practice was a trend, made its NYFW debut almost 20 years after it staged a gothy ready-to-wear show in a New York City funeral parlor (Chloe Sevigny was famously involved in the label’s original iteration).

Imitation of Christ Spring-Summer 2021.

This time around their theatrical presentations, which took place simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles, featured a capella singers and a video screening, while their Spring-Summer 2021 collection was rife with skateboarder style including eclectic mixed prints, vintage T-shirts and a sequined race track jacket.

Joyful finale

NYFW officially closed with designer and filmmaker Tom Ford presenting his Spring-Summer 2021 women’s and menswear lines through a digital lookbook.

Ford chose an optimistic slant, saying in a short film, “The last thing I want to see are serious clothes.” While still comfort-inducing, his soft shirts, 1970s-inspired jumpsuits and caftans had a fun and glamorous edge, with whimsical animal prints and florals. And his menswear collection was no less lively, with a series of silk pants in tropical prints.

Tom Ford Spring-Summer 2021.

Inspired by a documentary about the fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez and the smiles of the ’70s models Pat Cleveland and Donna Jordan, Ford’s collection exuded joyful elegance.

He said in a statement that he had found it difficult to find meaning in new clothes during the early days of lockdown, but once restrictions eased he felt inspired to create for a “slightly more dressed world.”

Adding that it was still a “casual world” but “one where I actually felt like making a bit of an effort to get dressed,” he said.

This article was updated throughout New York Fashion Week, which ran from September 11–16, 2020.