Here we are in the 90s

New York Fashion Week nodded to the decade but pushed boundaries on what the future might hold.

Emma Nelson

 

The fashion world is a time warp.

Trends go in and out of style faster than you can say “jeggings,” things we laughed at in our parents’ old photographs have wiggled their way into our own closets, and preparations for spring begin before we’ve fully closed the door on summer.

This year’s New York Fashion Week — for spring 2014 — staked claims in multiple decades and countless trends. Some things were familiar (androgyny, underwear as outerwear, animal prints) while others felt comfortingly fresh.

 

Where we are

CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund darlings Jason Wu, Thakoon and Alexander Wang all winked knowingly at the 90s last week.

Sheer fabrics, blocky silhouettes and smart, masculine trousers appeared in all three lineups.

Wu took a soft approach — barely-there slip dresses in shimmering pastels and demure draping that flirted with the shapes beneath.

Even safari jackets appeared in cotton candy shades, with pushed-up sleeves looking more sweet than hurried.

Still, all that sweetness didn’t feel over-the-top. Body-length zippers and corset lacing were exclamation points in the form of fitted dresses and suiting tailored just-so.

Thakoon’s collection was more evenhanded in its prettiness, with cutouts, lace and pleating roughing up everything from dresses to jumpsuits.

Particularly clever were his multiple takes on the little black dress. The first down the runway was subtly new, formed by artful draping and laces at the sides.

Several looks later, it was manifested almost as a dress chopped in half — while one side was traditional, the other revealed lace hot pants and a string of jeweled beading slung from hip to thigh.

If Wu and Thakoon were a whisper, Wang was a roar. Pieces stamped in his own name adorned models who looked more miserable than usual — think Kate Moss in the “heroin chic” days.

The logo play was smart, though, appearing in forms of varying subtlety from cutouts to stitching.

One of the cheekiest bits of branding was a take on the “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” stamp. One model appeared in a sweatshirt almost entirely sheer, save for a strip of white across her chest with the warning branded in black.

 

Where we’ve been

Of course, not everyone is ready to ride the 90s train — or even planning to buy a ticket.

Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sister-duo comprising Rodarte, had their feet firmly planted in the 80s.

Over-the-top use of animal print and leather, backward baseball caps and shoulder-padded blazers clung to the models, who themselves were a nod to the glowing, all-American Brooke Shields era.

But the looks felt dated, even a little cheap — a disappointment considering Rodarte’s reputation for wild imagination. (The sisters, Vogue Fashion Fund runners-up in 2006, designed costumes for “Black Swan.”)

Taken in small doses, though, there’s no reason pieces we’ve seen before can’t feel new. Indeed, bra tops — a trend with maximum triteness potential — appeared in numerous shows, including Rodarte, but achieved elegance in Michael Kors.

Ironically, they look most modern when placed firmly in classic context. Kors’ collection was clearly 40s-inspired but was confidently, accessibly now.

Play with zippers, beading, cutouts and sheer fabrics happened in moderation, while crop and bra tops were styled demurely with cardigans and ultra-high pencil skirts.

Stand-out pieces appeared in moments of classic androgyny. Male and female models emerged in near-identical trousers and crewneck sweaters, boasting the same tomboyish sway.

 

Where we’re going

When looking for what’s next, there’s no truer barometer than student work. Sure, it can be risky (and probably won’t hit shelves for some time) but it’s also likely to be uninhibited and forward-thinking.

Students at Parsons The New School for Design showed samplings of 16 different collections last week. Coming away, one thing was clear: Volume isn’t going anywhere.

First down the runway was work by Melitta Baumeister, whose all-white pieces played with scale and proportion —asymmetrical coats, oversized Oxfords and origami-like dresses.

Similarly massive were Alison Tsai and Claudia Li’s respective knitwear-based collections, which ranged from cocoon-like cardigans to a creepy, sheer headdress hanging like a single nylon from the head of Tsai’s last model.

Elegance came from Anna Stephenson and Jihye Nam in the form of silk dresses that were, in a word, lovely. Nam’s brilliant, painted-silk color palette gave the illusion of texture to what otherwise would’ve been simple shifts, while Stephenson’s artful draping and carefully placed pockets made for pieces that could spend a lifetime at the front of one’s closet.

On the more architectural side, Sinjing Chen, Amelia Lindquist, Julian Guthrie and Jae Woo Lee gave presentations that nodded to space-age structure while keeping a sense of humor.

From an oversized T-shirt printed with a naked woman’s over-tanned torso to high-necked dresses that seemed made for the end of the world, these pieces were a reminder that fashion might just be a glorified game of dress-up.

And these days, that might be exactly what we need.