At NYFW, Designers Trade Overt Politicism For The Fantastical Unknown
Where recent runways have championed
normie culture—think: Balenciaga, Vetements, Vaquera, and Eckhaus Latta—designers this season, as it would appear, are more interested in mimicking the unknown as opposed to the mundane.
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In the face of an national identity crisis and international political discord, it seemed as though designers were finding the radical in the banal by projecting their interpretations of Trump's America onto their collections (as seen at Pyer Moss, Public School, Prabal Gurung, and the aforementioned Balenciaga, among others). Through casting and hair and makeup, as well as some unimaginative nods to candidates' platforms, the first fashion offerings following Trump’s installment heavily referenced topical tidbits—even if their attempts at doing so were, at times, half-baked.
To what extent was this widespread investigation of societal values via fashion successful? History will be more successful at appraising that query than any one think piece, but in terms of agenda-setting and stoking discourse, the industry provided plenty of fodder to advance a conversation that is ultimately more multifaceted and impactful than any one presentation.
Conversely, the widespread pivot to wokeness, so to speak, oftentimes felt contrived. Human rights conveniently presented themselves as trendy and profitable platforms to which designers could hitch their bandwagons—many by way of slogan t-shirts that felt like little more than lip service.
If we consider recent repetitions of
local culture an exploration of beauty and style in Trump's America—working through the idea in hopes to better understand it, in artistic terms—this season's NYFW shows couldn't stray any further in the opposite direction. Perhaps we've taken a hard look at the ugly underbelly of America's virulently hateful inclinations and have found no
common ground or redeeming qualities. Perhaps, after meditation and ample thought, the situation left-leaning folks were once energized to stamp out seems hopeless in the face of increased violence and widespread bigotry. Perhaps—after careful thought and consideration—designers are more interested in starting anew than working to repair an ugliness that can seem all too suffocating and bleak.
For their AW18 collections, designers traded rage in favor of escapism. In turn, beauty looks this season skewed fantastical and otherworldly, many drawing inspiration from places that seemingly exist only in designers' minds. Between the New York Times' exposé on credible UFO reports and the inability to reconcile with an administration that incessantly disenfranchises its own constituents, collective consciousness found its footing in this season's beauty looks, which were a love letter to the extraterrestrial unknown.
In the face of nonsensical times, designers dug deep into their mind to communicate, realize, and execute a physical manifestation of the world they prefer in favor of realistic renderings from season's past. And after all, isn't that what makes fashion fun; the ability to retreat into a fantastical world that exists only in one's imagination?
If three’s a trend, the crop of designers who dabbled in daydream this season comprise a veritable movement: Tom Ford, Jeremy Scott, and Ulla Johnson led the charge on night one, and throughout the week, countless others followed suit. More often than not, this evidenced itself in vibrant cosmetic hues and, and as seen at the three aforementioned labels, in dramatic eye looks. (The latter of which popped up in a significant contingency of presentations, unofficially anointing the statement eye as this season’s most prominent beauty trend.)
Across the board, hair and makeup conveyed an otherworldly longing, culminating in a range of looks that were reminiscent of extraterrestrial, animalistic, and alternate universes. In show notes and interviews, designers were quick to categorize their aesthetic references as such. And though wild sartorial offerings lined this season’s runways, not every industry creative is interested in the more-is-more aesthetic that’s currently all the rage.
“I’ve been doing this long enough that I know this, too, shall pass,” Danilo Dixon, hair stylist extraordinaire, said. “Sometimes I don’t know in beauty; I think there’s a lot of followers, I don’t know how many leaders there are right now. I do think there’s a collective of talent out there that wants to see artistry and produce artistry. I’ve always said hair can be big or small, and small can be big. It’s not always about the glamour or the wig—but it can be.”
Setting the tone for the week to come, emerging label Laurence & Chico kicked off NYFW with a vivid presentation that would foreshadow a week brimming with bold beauty. Its collection, called “Doudou”—French for “security blanket”—drew upon the designers’ nostalgia for their childhood stuffed animals, and lended plenty of inspiration in the vein of out-of-this-world beauty. The dramatic hair and makeup — including millinery by Chico, which accompanies each season’s presentation—was punctuated by the inventive application of inverted false eyelashes to the brow bone, further dramaticized by tiny, neon foam balls affixed to the lash’s tips that brought insect antennae to mind.
“Laurence & Chico’s look was inspired by high-maintenance pets,” makeup artist Camille Thompson said. “We wanted to take the delicateness of beautiful skin and anchor it with very avant-garde, eye-popping looks that just really shock you. So we were thinking pastels, neon, glitter, glam—that was the go-to for the look today.”
Laurence & Chico were not alone in curating arresting looks inspired by a melding of zoomorphism and the supernatural. All week long, designers parroted optimistic buzzwords when describing the general gist of their respective hair and makeup. Where in recent season’s past, politicism in fashion may have seemed forced, designers this season reapproached their craft in a more abstract sense, offering far more interesting, if not subliminal, interpretations. Due to the cyclical nature of fashion, the ’80s have pushed to the forefront as the driving force behind recent maximalist trends, making this season’s repetition of the bold eye perhaps the fullest expression of the loud decade’s lasting aesthetic influence.
Maryam Nassir Zadeh described her models’ day-glo eyeliner as reminiscent of “something futuristic, something to look forward to”; Jeremy Scott cited the ’80s-era stuffed animals Popples as a direct influence, and his catwalk featured vivid, exaggerated cat-eyes; at Sies Marjan, thick, rainbow-brite, contrasting eyeliner shades reminiscent of Kenneth Noland’s iconic color field paintings surrounded models peepers; Chromat’s red brow jewelry and electric blue cat-eyes were juxtaposed by Hot Cheetos, which were sent down the runway as an accessory; Anna Sui favored bright washes of eyeshadow over last season’s minimal, ethereal beauty look; and at Area, gradations of eyeshadow hues opposite one another on the color wheel made a striking impression.
Raf Simons’s third collection at the helm of Calvin Klein was the perfect proverbial bookend to NYFW. Though his models’ makeup skewed minimal, being that he is Raf, he managed to pull off a Gesamtkunstwerk of a show, one that couldn’t be farther removed from our green planet — complete with Warhol imagery painted onto barns and a popcorn-laden catwalk. It was a stark contrast from last season’s decidedly macabre, American Psycho-tinged collection. Simons distilled the overarching theme among many of this week’s shows with the following take on his most recent collection: “Less horror this time, more hope.”
In these uncertain times, political anxieties seem inescapable, thanks in no small part to our push-notification-happy digital landscape. Yet at the same time, projecting activism onto fashion to make a snappy, SEO-friendly headline should be avoided, as it dulls sensitivity to expressions that actually merit discussion and inform public opinion. That said, it seems more than a coincidence that ’80s styles have found a new life in the present. After all, it was the decade that saw the first celebrity president, one who falsely promised economic growth via government deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy, and whose mental health eventually caused widespread concern regarding his fitness for the presidency. Sound familiar?
It seems as though New York’s AW18 collections exhibited artistic expression as a coping mechanism, perhaps the purest form of artistic expression there is. If there’s one lesson to be learned from makeup artists’ hedonistic indulgences this NYFW, it’s that the choice whether to go all-out or stick to the no-makeup makeup look is a personal expression that can be imbued with meaning that’s far more than skin-deep. Democracy may be en vogue in the beauty realm—here’s hoping the sentiment, in a Reaganesque nod, “trickles down” to all other aspects of society.