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The Old Man’s Guide to Fall Fashion

For the past several years, I have spent the months of February and September writing runway reviews during the ready-to-wear fashion seasons. I cover the four major cities: New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Honestly, those are the only ones that matter. All the top-selling international brands show in one of those four cities. If one wants to know what’s going on in fashion, those are the shows one needs to watch.

Of course, I don’t publish those reviews here. They’re all published over at PATTERN because they’re a fashion magazine. What you are reading now is not a fashion magazine. I just happen to be talking about fashion at this moment because this is what is on my mind as it has occupied every single waking hour of my existence for the past month.

When I first started, it was fun. The shows are in concise order, most were at the same location, and it was easy enough to see all the shows that really mattered. What has happened in recent years, though, is that retail sucks, fashion shows are expensive, and the whole freaking model was turned upside down when Rebecca Minkoff and some others decided it would be cool if instead of showing a season ahead, which is how this monster has worked for almost a century, they would show current season clothing that would be for sale immediately. Boom. Everything fucking fell apart.

Yes, I’m oversimplifying the matter. There were actually several factors contributing to the chaos that is now the ready-to-wear runway season, most of them having to do with the fact that fashion shows are expensive to produce and smaller brands lose money on the whole proposition. In New York, once Mercedes Benz dropped its primary sponsorship and the location contracts expired, the costs skyrocketed. In London, the British Fashion Council responded to increasing costs there by cutting services, such as live streaming all the shows. The ability to live stream on social media, especially Instagram where most labels have several thousand followers, forced a change in tactics for some, and others, notably Alexander Wang, moved everything to the men’s schedule, showing in July and December. It’s become a mess.

I still enjoy a well-considered runway presentation. Models walking at a sensible pace down the catwalk and back is enough time to see how a garment moves, how it sits on a person, and what it communicates. Every ensemble, every piece, says something. An eight – nine-minute show of about 40 looks is all one needs and when a label does that well most people respond affirmatively.

Unfortunately, some have felt the need to create spectacles of their shows (looking at you Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors) in an effort to hide the fact they’ve run out of ideas. Those distractions got a lot of attention for a couple of years but now people are beginning to see them for what they are: an attempt to hide incompetence.

I’m chosing to write these things here rather than offering them to PATTERN because when I’m writing for the magazine I have to be careful in addressing their audience which they’ve worked so hard to gather and maintain. Here, I don’t have that restriction. I can say exactly what I’m thinking without having to worry about offending anyone because, on any given week, I’m lucky if ten people read this stuff. Hey, we’re up from three, so that’s good, right?

I also want to make very clear that in the grand scheme of things fashion is not the more important topic in the world. Getting upset over some event or happening in fashion is rather liking losing the top scoop off an ice cream cone. Yes, we might be upset and disappointed for a moment, but maybe we didn’t need that anyway and there’s still another scoop for us to enjoy.

Let’s take a look at what happened last month.

Streetwear is out, bourgeois is in

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Streetwear has been ruling fashion for the past four seasons with labels like Vetements and Off-White taking the lead in creating a look that comes straight out of the hood. Sort of. Assuming folks in the hood are paying $500 for a damn hat. As a result, major mainstrream labels all rushed to compete where they could. We saw denim and clunky work boots and baggy pants and oversized coats that couldn’t help but hang off one shoulder. The concept felt cool enough for the first season or two, but then we slowly came to realize something: the looks are fucking sloppy.

This season’s fashion corrects that move in a way. We saw it first with Ralph Lauren, who last season celebrated his 50th anniversary in fashion with some great ready-to-wear that actually was ready to wear. This season, though, he returned to his flagship store on Madison Ave. and the looks coming down the runway were pure glamour. They were trim, they fit the models well, and they had a polish to them that said, “Hi, I’m here and I’m not playing around.”

This wasn’t necessarily new ground for the designer, he’s definitely covered this area before, but it has been several years since we’ve seen this much effort and commitment to quality. I would be lying, though, if I said I wasn’t surprised to see that trend carry through all four weeks of fashion shows. Typically, any trend that starts in New York has run its course by the time we’re half-way through the Milan schedule, if it even makes it that far. This was different. We saw a strong shift toward refinement, tailoring, professionalism, and statement clothing all the way through to Alexander McQueen and Miu Miu.

What’s pushing this surprising turn of events? Millennials are getting older. The largest shopping demographic in the world is now largely over the age of 30 and starting to realize that there are times when they need something other than that torn pair of jeans they’ve been wearing since their sophomore year of high school. They’ve turned their back on streetwear and started buying button-down shirts, pleated trousers, and masculine-tailored suits.

Driving the point home more than anything was when Off-White walked without so much as a single pair of sneakers in the whole collection. None. Zero. This bastion of streetwear took a huge shift toward tighter tailoring and refined looks this season, and if that doesn’t put streetwear in the backseat for now I don’t know what does.

I have to admit, I like this trend. I like seeing people who look good when they exit their house in the morning, or afternoon, or evening. Seeing someone dress well communicates that they care about themselves and how they look. It doesn’t mean they dressing to please anyone else but rather that they have a specific image they want to portray and that image isn’t sloppy and slothful.

The question is whether the trend can actually catch hold off the runway. Showing a higher quality of fashion doesn’t mean people will buy it. WIth the greater attention to detail and trim and fit comes a higher price tag. How many women can afford to drop $3,500 on an outfit to wear to work? For how many people is that even appropriate? Just because I like the trend doesn’t mean it translates well to the real world. We’ll see come October.

Sustainability is the buzzword of the season

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Sustainability, being concious of how materials are sourced and the impact that fashion has on the environment and the people who make it, has been one of those words kicked around on designer’s notes off and on for quite a while, but this season we saw it actually beging to take hold. Where it shows up most often is with younger designers such as Natasha Zinko who has an arrangement with Wrangler for putting their castoff jeans, specifically those that weren’t sold after five seasons, to use in her designs.

This is a shift that’s been a long while coming. While designers would routinely acknowledge that sustainability is important, they’ve been reluctant to actually incorporate it into their clothing because of the fear that people wouldn’t want to buy clothes made from something other than brand-new materials. One can rather understand why people might feel that way.

However, thanks primarily to Stella McCartney, who has been actively incorporating upcycled and recycled materials in her collection for several seasons, the concept has finally caught hold. Brands have actual numbers and shopping data to show that yes, those coveted Millennials will actually shop for sustainable clothing over traditional materials when given the opportunity to do so.

Sustainability has had an impact beyond just upcycling and recycling materials, however. This is the first season where large-scale bans on the use of fur have come into play. While there’s still some debate over whether faux fur is worse for the environment than the real thing, only the most defiant holdouts in New York continued to show real fur, and the fact of the matter is that no one who has a lick of respect is paying any attention to those holdouts. We also saw a strong move toward vegan leather in a number of places, once again an animal-rights issue that has found a more solid hold in the area of sustainability.

What really surprised me, though, was to hear that fast fashion retailer H&M is taking sustainability seriously. Now, before anyone gets overly excited about that statement, let’s remember that fast fashion is largely rresponsible for the whole problem of buying too many clothes and then throwing them away. Exactly how they’re going to maintain their business model while talking sustainability is something that has more than a few skeptics. Still, the fact they realize the issue is important is at least a step in the right direction.

When it comes right down to the crux of the matter, though, sustainability is about buying fewer clothes and when a fashion label starts talking about buying fewer clothes while trying to sell us more clothes it tends to hint at a bit of hypocrisy. Consider what happened with the Vivienne Westwood collection that showed in London. This is what used to be known as Westwood’s Red collection, the lesser important stuff. The show was a nightmare that involved environmentalists and actors walking around a stage yelling about how we need to take global warming seriously right now or else we’re all going to die. And by the way, buy fewer new clothes but make sure they’re ours.

While the industry has a lot of tolerance and respect for Dame Westwood and her support of environmental causes, the show was largely panned by those who even bothered to review it. By contrast, the collection that showed in Paris, Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, formerly the Gold collection, whas much more refeined and actually made use of materials left over from previous collections. The response was much more supportive from everyone except US Vogue, which now seems to have a feud going with the label.

What matters is that sustainability has proven to have some real market power and labels are finally taking it seriously. This is not only a good thing for fashion but for the entire planet.

Put a little shoulder (pad) into your style

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Shoulder pads, either one loves them or hates them but apparently part of this whole shift toward glamour/bougeous thing means one has to have shoulder pads of one kind or another. No one agrees on what size they should be, but almost everyone agrees that women should be wearing them and in some cases men, too.

Shoulder pads have been a part of contemporary womenswear off and on since the 1920s. They are most frequently used as a means of helping to define shape. One’s waist looks thinner if the shoulders of a garment are broader. Somewhere around 1978, though, they started getting a bit larger than normal and by 1984 they were out of control, going large in every directino: diagonally, horizontally, and vertically. We saw the size calm down a bit in the 90s only to have them come back around 2002. That revival was short-lived but low and behold they came charging back in 2008. We started seeing some hints that they were making a return last season but this time around they were everywhere as though it had been ordained by deity.

Of course, as always, how large they go and the shape they take depends dramatically on the designer. In New York, Prabal Gurung went broad but rounded, most notably in his coats. Bibhu Mohapatra, on the other hand, had an opening piece that was large and rectangular, reminding one more of an airfield. In London, Matty Bovan probably had the most obviously broad shoulders while in Milan Karl Lagerfeld’s last collection for Fendi has some serious shoulder work going on.

What’s interesting is how the tone shifted by the time we got to Paris. While Balmain and Kochè started with fairly broad shoulders, by the time we got to Maison Margiela there were looking considerably more trim and with the exception of the final flower-based pieces the shoulders were incredibly trim in Sarah Burton’s collection for Alexander McQueen.

Here’s where things get interesting. See that whole discussion about sustainability in the previous section? Shoulder pads often mean having to use more fabric not only in the shoulders but the rest of the garment. Several designers prefer a rather boxy look to their jackets especially and when one has to drape from broad shoulders the amount of fabric used can become excessive.

Remember when I said Andreas Kronthaler used leftover material from previous collections for this one? He said that forced him toward more trim silhouettes. “One tends to throw things around and be a bit unsure, but this time I had to be careful not to waste anything and not make anything I didn’t need,” he said. Although, it’s worth noting that carefulness did not keep him from sending some coats down the runway that looked like the behemouth coat New Englad Patriot quarterback Tom Brady wears during the playoffs. Even the concept of “being careful” is a subjective matter.

Still, when it comes to sustainabiliy one of the more important aspects is that desigenrs begin using less material in their clothes and it’s clear that those with the broadest shoulder pads aren’t quite getting the message. Those are also the designers that tend to have the largest coats and massive skirts on evening gowns. I’m not going to be the least bit surprised if we see a trimmer silhouette come spring.

The ugly shoe contest

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Did you know that accessories account for roughly 80 percent of a fashion brand’s revenue? Primarily purses, to be honest, but for a number of houses footwear plays a big role. Think Salvatore Farragamo and Prada (the devil’s favorite shoe). While options were all over the place, which is expected, there seemed to be an ongoing contest for who could have the absolutely ugliest shoe in all of fashion. It’s not unusual to see an ugly shoe here and there every season, but this time around there were some real doozies and everyone seemed to be trying to get in on the act.

I should probably mention that one of the long-term trends has been away from anything with a high heel. Two-inch pumps are about as high as most designers go now because women are too health conscious to risk the myriad problems that come with four inch stilettos. Ashley Williams, for example, put flats on all her models this season and did a fantastic job of making them look fantastic.

Then there are the designers like J W Anderson who think it’s cute to leave fabric or fur trailing from the back or along the side of a shoe. No. Obviously, no one who has ever had to actually walk more than fifteen feet wants a shoe with anything trailing. While they might look good on the runway, they’re just not practical. In real life, one walks through all kinds of shit from puddles on the sidewalk to whatever that is in the floor of the bathroom stall. We’re not asking what it is but we’re damn sure no one wants to carry that around on the back of their shoe the rest of the day.

What really takes the cake this season, though, are the ugly as fuck boots. Again, we’ve seen combat-style boots for several seasons, but this time several designers seemed to go out of their way to make the tops flat and broad, often with some kind of modification that makes them stand out egregiously from the rest of the ensemble. I don’t really want to take the time to list everyone who had a bad boot, but Miuccia Prada won the contest with the god-awful clodhoppers she sent downt he runway for her MiuMiu collection. As much as this fantastic desigenr knows about footwear, these boots are an absolute eyesore. The ones showing a few minutes later at Louis Vuitton weren’t much better.

I get that everyone wants to create a show that stands out and for many people a combat-style boot is comfortable and fun to wear even with more formal clothes. I understand where that sentiment comes from even if I don’t agree with it (and I don’t).

However, don’t be surprised if we start seeing the same backlash from millennials when it comes to footwear as we’ve seen with clothing. There comes a point where the look is too demeaning and disrespectful of oneself. If one is going to drop several hundred or thousands of dollars on designer clothes does it really make sense to wear some ugly-assed footwear? No, it odesn’t. I’m really hoping that this is one trend that doesn’t take hold.

Karl Lagerfeld died

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

The whole tone of the fashion season changed on Tuesday, February 12, when it was announced that Karl Lagerfeld had died, leaving both Fendi and Chanel without their primary designers. Lagerfeld had been a force in fashion since the 1960s and there was a collective gasp across the entire fashion world when it was announced he had passed.

Naturally, all the tributes came pouring in and both Fendi and Chanel made special points of mentioning his contribution to their label. On Instagram, every designer who had one shared their picture of themselves with Lagerfeld, implying at least visually that they were friends. Reviews and articles for the remainder of the season made continual reference to his influence and talked about the “genius” that he was.

I’m here to call bullshit and yes, this is the primary reason I couldn’t post this on PATTERN. Contrary to what everyone else seems to think of the man, I didn’t like Karl Lagerfeld. I had occasion to meet him twice, once in 1991 and again in 1993. Neither were pleasant exchanges. I found him rude, self-centered, narcissistic, and self-serving. I consider him an opportunist who ultimately made his fortune manipulating the work of Coco Chanel rather than actually coming up with any great new ideas for himself.

I’m not necessarily the only one with this opinion, but views like mine are shoved to the bottom of every search result. Fortunately for me, I’m rather accustomed to being at the bottom of every search result so I’m not too terirbly upset by the whole idea. Sure, Lagerfeld was a marketing mastermind, and I suppose he was a great friend to those he actually liked. Since I wasn’t a friend, however, and he quickly let me know I would not be achieving that status, I can’t really say. All I experienced was the negative.

Going beyond my own experience, though, Karl could say some very hurtful things. Perhaps the ones I found most hurtful were those regarding the size and appearance of women. He considered size 2 too large for a model and wouldn’t use any that weren’t a size 0. He called Princess Diana stupid, said Pippa Middleton (Kate’s sister) should “only show her back,” and said that singer Adelle was “too round.”

He also said: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” Funny, the very next season Cara Delevigne came down the runway in a pair of Chanel-branded sweats.

On another occasion he said, “I read somewhere that now you must ask a model if she is comfortable with posing. Its simply too much, from now on, as a designer, you can’t do anything.If you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery, there’ll always be a place for you in the convent. They’re recruiting even!”

The Karl Lagerfeld I saw was a bigot, a misogynist, an opprtunist and a backstabber. He was a contemporary of Yves Saint Laurent who preceeded him at Chanel and never missed the oppotunity to skewer the late designer’s legacy. For that matter, he never missed an opportunity to say something insulting about almost any designer who died except Coco Chanel, who herself did some rather dispicable things during WWII.

The fact is Lagerfeld held Chanel back because there was no one there to push him. Looking at the difference between his Chanel collections and his work for Fendi, where he had at one time FIVE strong, opinionated Italian women over him, one can see the extreme difference in the progression between the two labels. Fendi moved forward, Chanel did not. Chanel stuck with the same boxy suits and the same tweeds that were the hallmark of the labels’ founder nearly 100 years ago.

It will be interesting to see how both brands proceed now that Lagerfeld is gone. I have to say, his passing was only a surprise in the sense that one didn’t know exaclty which day it was going to happen. He’s been shuffling rather than walking for three years now. When his notoriously clean face suddenly sported a beard it was a sign that he was no longer able to attend to his own grooming. The last sign was when he missed the couture shows in January.

Karl Lagerfeld is gone and by this time next year his memory will have begun to fade. Sure, there will be a museum tribute here and there because for the moment there is money to be made off his memory. His eponymous label, however, is likely to disappear and both Chanel and Fendi will move on without him, possibly more successful than ever.

Inclusion and a few other things

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Finally, there’s the ongoing matter of inclusion. I’m happ to say that we saw many more models of color and many different sizes and ages on the runways of American designers. New York shows were “woke” to the topic of inclusivity thanks to the ongoing attention to the subject of brands such as Chromat, whom I dearly love.   It’s nice to know that casting directors and designers are paying attention.

However, it’s rather sad that we lose that momentum completely when we jump “the pond.” While some are doing better, for far too many of the labels all we see are token non-white models, sometimes only one, in the midst of a sea of white faces. I honestly don’t know what it’s going to take to change this. With immigration and nationalism both such hot topics all across Europe, fashion houses seem relctuant to expand their vision beyond what they see immediately around them.

Larger models faired better than did models of color. We saw several plus-sized models throughout a number of the shows, including Dolce & Gabbana whose collection was so pared back and wearable as to give one whiplash with the doubletake. And there was a point in Milan where it seemed that everyone did their best to bring back a “legacy” model from the 80s, most of whom are now in their late 50s or ealy 60s.

As much as I harp on Tommy Hilfiger for subjugating the popularity of young women to further his brand, the all-black cast at his show in Paris did a lot to remind Parisian designers that the world is multicultural and multicolored. Of course, Hilfiger actually gets none of the credit as it was Zendaya’s insistence that dominated the casting. Left to his own devices, I’m sure that Hilfiger would have simply given us more white, elitist looking models on the runway.

I should also mention the role that protests had in this season’s shows. From Vivienne Westwood’s hijacking of her own runway to yellow vest protests outside several Parisian venues. People inside and outside of fashion are quite upset about the state of things and don’t mind commandeering a fashion runway to make their point.

Fashion has changed so very much and it’s going to continue to change. It must change. What is going to be most important, though, is that we find a way to make and buy fewer clothes without bottoming-out the whole industry. Do we need fewer clothes in our closets? For many people the answer is yes. How we get there, however, is a problem for which we’ve yet to find a solution.

By the way, before you take off to more enjoyable things, would you consider making a donation to help with our operational expenses? Or maybe buy some of our swag? We’d greatly appreciate the assist.

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