NYC is the city of dreams, and the first one out of the gate for Fashion Month. See what the city’s designers have to offer for Spring 2021 with the five best looks from each standout collection.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.
A love letter to Pennsylvania doesn’t always sound like the most likely starting place for a new collection, but Tory Burch’s romanticized memories of a childhood surrounded by her “Quaker elementary school; woven baskets hanging in the mud room on our farm in Valley Forge; handmade quilts from Pennsylvania Dutch shops I used to visit in Reading,” make it so. This deceivingly simple collection melds caftans, dresses and tunics, poplin blouses with removable lace collars, and soft suiting, in a soothing palette as a visual and tactile tonic for these trying times. And we’ll take those preppy sweaters, too.
“Even in a very dark moment … I am an optimist,” said Michael Kors in a BTS short that accompanied his collection video. “I’m still convinced that people will do the right thing. That we can work to a better future.” At their best, Kors’ collections are filled with classic American sportswear, the sort of sort of pragmatic yet elegant pieces that are so very New York. And spring 2021 had that in spades, from refined takes on pajama dressing such as crepe de chine bathrobe dresses and pajama pants to breezy linen gauze pareos and crushed satin charmeuse maxis paired with luxe cashmere and cashgora knits. Filmed at a New York Restoration Project community garden in the Bronx (to which Kors, who is major supporter of food insecurity causes, made a donation), the show featured a live performance of Carol King’s “Up On the Roof” by American Idol winner Just Sam. All together, it was a poetic love letter to the resilience of the city.
For all the designers who went to the drawing board this spring thinking of practicality and pieces meant for a life lived closer to home, others went guns blazing in the opposite direction. Wes Gordon belongs to the second camp and found himself falling deeper in love with fashion as he returned to his atelier post-lockdown. “Fashion is healing for the soul,” he said in the show notes, a way to make “ordinary moments extraordinary.” He committed to making this collection ultra-Carolina too, taking all the color, volume, and feminine accents the label is known for and turning the volume way up. The result, not surprisingly, will thrill the Herrera woman. There are puffed sleeves, floor-sweeping silhouettes, bows, and polka dots. Nods to Mrs. Herrera, perennial best-dressed lister, are throughout, from the belted gowns to the crisp white shirt tucked into a mini with embroidered tulips that gleam like jewels. All together, these clothes put you in a New York City doyenne frame of mind.
If our minds and hearts spent the entire spring and summer in a split-reality, dealing with conditions unlike any before while simultaneously trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy, Rosetta Getty was going through the same thing too. It’s why spring mixed both the practical and the dreamy: These are easy basics that can be worn a multitude of ways, yet haven’t given up. Tailored wool separates and striped cotton poplin shirts provide literal structure to your day without feeling out of place if the “office” is now a fancy word for your kitchen table. Vintage nightgowns inspired day-to-night pieces with a glamour that modern pajamas rarely have; they could be dressed to the nines, but also worn to lounge at home. As a final nod to the unique season this collection was created in, the graphic prints were adapted from doodles absentmindedly drawn during cross-country Zooms. It’s a collection for the times, but one with staying power.
For many designers, quarantine was a time of reckoning what really matters, of tapering down to the bare essentials. This sentiment certainly rang true for Christopher John Rogers, who presented a collection inspired by kindergarten mainstays of primary colors and geometrical shapes. “Really thinking about what inspires us, and how we feel when we make clothes that we love was the starting point for this new collection,” John Rogers tells BAZAAR.com. “During the beginning of quarantine, I spent some of my time doodling using old crayons and colored pencils—not rendering anything representational, but just having fun with color. Manifesting that energy into clothes was what this collection was all about.” He was also inspired by artists Corita Kent and Angela de la Cruz, and how they used simple forms to create momentous works that comment on the socio-political climate. The results? A lineup of oversized silk suits in bright hues, gowns with corset-like bustiers, and colorblocked knit dresses that are playful, vibrant, and speak to the optimism that is so needed in these uncertain times.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen understand that there is beauty in simplicity. And for spring 2021, The Row designers drove this point home, presenting a collection of sizable coats, boxy button-downs, and roomy suits in shades of black, beige, and white. These qualities are certainly not new for the label (oversized silhouettes and monochromatic neutrals are in The Row’s DNA), but in the era of biz-leisure, when working from home is standard, this sense of calm and comfort (both mentality and sartorially) is perhaps what we should all adopt.
Stuart Vevers is on a mission to lower Coach’s carbon footprint. To that end, the lookbook for Coach Forever, as the creative director named his spring 2021 collection, makes the case for slow fashion. It remixes the American heritage brand’s past, present, and future styles in remotely shot portraits of 16 international, multigenerational celebrities shot by Juergen Teller. “Past” and “Present” comprise fall 2020 styles and reissued greatest hits from the recent archive—a Keith Haring t-shirt (2018) and NASA logo sweatshirt (2017)—as well as a made in New York capsule, all of which are available immediately. “Future,” of course, is the newness you’re going to be wanting next spring. And at Coach, what’s old is new again: trench coats inspired by classic ’60s Bonnie Cashin pieces as well as actual vintage jeans and oversized men’s shirting that Vevers has given a new lease on life with seasonal embroidery. Taken together they offer a vision for a more mindful future, one involving pieces to buy and love forever.
In a candid letter to accompany his Spring 2021 collection, Tom Ford explains his mindset while designing this collection, saying, “fashion itself just seemed like an extravagance. It was hard to focus, to concentrate, and to be inspired.” Continuing, “I thought about skipping the season altogether. After all when no one can go out of their house, who needs new clothes?” But design a collection, he did, inspired in part by a documentary about the fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez that Ford watched while in lock-down and the women in his circle like model Pat Cleveland. The result is a mix of what the CFDA president calls, “classic relaxed clothes but clothes that make me smile. Clothes to have a bit of fun in.” Think: silky PJs, knit maxi dresses, cobalt logo leisure sets, bikinis and printed caftans, some airy statement gowns, and a leopard print jumpsuit. Chill but not staid. This is still Tom Ford, after all.
In a season that was marked overwhelmingly by digital lookbooks consisting of no-fuss basics, Chrstian Siriano presented a backyard spectacle in Westport, Connecticut that brought the pomp and pageantry. The designer’s quarantine doldrums—spent binging on favorite films from his childhood like Clueless, Troop Beverly Hills, and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead—inspired a whimsical collection filled with bikini tops and larger-than-life ball skirts. He paired all of the looks with SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker heels and the season’s most important accessory, and one that was absent from too many presentations at New York Fashion Week: matching masks. He used some of those face coverings, as well as wide-brimmed hats and a fishtail dress, to send another important message: “Vote.”
Spring 2021 marks the 5th anniversary of LRS, designer Raul Solís’s genderless—or “Gender X” as he likes to call it—collection. And to mark the occasion, the Proenza Schouler alum served up the cool denim he’s known for in new elevated shapes including knee-length tailored shorts and a couture-like bubble mini dress with a built in cape. His signature wit and new attention to silhouette were also evident in an ethereal blue acetate overcoat with heavy chain details and an XL ribbed turtleneck dress that can be worn above the nose as a face covering, while leaving the midriff exposed.
Catherine Holstein has been churning out insider-favorite collections for seasons, each with their own unique DNA that adds to Khaite’s distinctive brand identity. Spring 2021 feels almost like a distilled best-of from the young label—all of the pieces that seem to sell out of each collection reworked here. That translated to a sparse palette of mostly white, black, nudes, and brown on puff sleeve tops, sumptuous knits, sleek fitted dresses, and suede and leather jackets. If now is about building a perfect, edited wardrobe, this feels like a great place to start.
With travel bans and orders to social distance still (mostly) in effect, Claudia Li scoured her memories for inspiration. She landed on her own destination wedding on Oahu last September. Titled “Till We Meet Again…,” the collection reflects the colorful, easygoing vibe of island life, but not in an overt way. To wit: A structured shirt dress features a custom tropical flower organza jacquard, and a yellow tulle bow-neck overlay is worn casually over a black maillot and accessorized with large coral-shaped earrings, as though Li’s woman got back from the beach just in time to log onto a Zoom gala. Sculpture artist Kennedy Yanko modeled each of the looks, perfectly capturing Li’s signature streetwise, sporty aesthetic and the vibrant motifs of Hawaiian culture.
With raw hems and dropped shoulders, there’s a thread running through Marina Moscone’s Spring 2021 collection that captures the way we all have gotten dressed for the better part of a year: Undone even when fully outfitted. She spoke about being inspired by the pragmatic fashion choices of New York City’s chicest women during the ongoing pandemic. That latter push-and-pull materialized in knit dresses and tunics, easy pieces that look effortlessly elegant. Moscone’s brand of tailoring and artful twists and tucks are beautifully approachable always, but especially needed now. There’s nothing too fussy or constrictive about it, allowing us to bring those clean lines into the mix without feeling like we’re throwing it back to a time when popping by our local dry cleaner’s was a regular part of our routine. That New Yorker she was watching has certainly had to adapt over the past few months—she was paying close attention.
Maisie Schloss is no stranger to the fashion industry. Indeed, the Los Angeles-based designer has worked for Yeezy, and counts the Kardashian-Jenner clan as fans. She was set to make her New York Fashion Week debut this season, but even though she had to make do with a lookbook instead, the format worked in her favor. “My collection’s theme explores the effect of viewing images instead of having live interactions with design,” she said in a statement. “Coincidentally lockdown generated the exact environment of rarely seeing things in person, an ironically perfect setting for this research.” Schloss’s fan favorites like jersey and perforated knit pieces were present and she explored new fabrications such as silk and woven metallics with faded milky color schemes that convincingly replicated our Zoom called world.
Take the coolest girl you know and imagine what it would look like if she designed the clothes she’d want to wear; that, in essence, is what you have in Bevza. The Ukrainian label’s spring collection is chock full of sleek dresses and separates that appear simple until you spot the oversized stitch at the hem or the fine gauge of the fabric. These are the staples you already have in your closet, but better, different. Slices at the midriff, billowing openings at the knees, and closures shaped like chunks of coral found on a deserted beach create a romantic, deconstructed feel, as if our heroine washed up on some new island with only a single trunk of perfect separates in tow.
Take a bit of prep, add a dash of arts and crafts, then finish with a swirl of tennis team and—voila, Overcoat Spring 2021. The streamlined shapes could belong to any decade, supporting the idea that moving forward, we’ll be hunting for pieces that can live in our wardrobes for years. The spring-weight outerwear (fuss-free car coats, perfectly cut trenches) is endlessly adaptable to whatever layers your heart desires. If you’re a head-to-toe Overcoat sort, that’ll mean faded pastel blouses, tailored bottoms, and, or a matched set of dip-dyed separates that can be worn as a full look or on their own.
What if we had to craft shopping profiles the way we do dating-site bios? “Woman who loves bright colors and cheerful silhouettes seeks something different that’s tailored but relaxed and ready for staying in or going out.” One could be chided for asking for the stars—but then you haven’t met Aknvas. Designer Christian Juul Nielsen hails from Copenhagen (AKA Ganni-land) and spent time at Dior under John Galliano. He escaped to the Caribbean when the pandemic hit, designing Spring 2021 from that sunshine-soaked place. Those personal details explain the delightfully madcap attitude of the voluminous shirting, candy colors, and this-all-goes-together styling. There’s nary a neutral in sight, though if you’ve been jonesing to return to the fashion-is-fun side of things will you even mind?
Designers Veronica Miele Beard and Veronica Swanson Beard didn’t have to look far to source inspiration for their Spring 2021 collection titled Wildflowers. It “came from looking inwards and from finding peace and freedom outdoors,” the duo jointly said in a statement. Their lookbook features models frolicking in verdant fields wearing bikini tops under floral sundresses and polished blazers as well as jumpsuits and maxi dresses the color of sunrise, speaking to their hope for brighter days ahead.
Anna Sui told BAZAAR.com she’s all about exploring the “new now” for Spring 2021 and that focus was apparent from mask to toe. The gingerbread house set served as a perfect backdrop for the on point accessory styling—sandals worn with socks, as if the models stepped outside realizing they needed to pull on shoes. From more refined versions of the nap dresses that have proliferated as of late to knee-length shorts and roomy trousers, these are silhouettes designed for the well-dressed WFHer who might need to join a video call at a moment’s notice. Sui’s bohemian aesthetic works best when comfort is a priority, resulting in a well calibrated mix of what we find ourselves both wanting and needing from clothes at the moment: namely, cozy pieces that are also redolent of the things we’ve always cherished about fashion (an embroidered trim, gossamer-thin ruffles that only serve to delight). Sui offered a blueprint of how to get dressed next year and enjoy it.
Kate and Laura Mulleavy have always created Rodarte through a dream lens, and that feeling exists for Spring 2021 even without the pomp and circumstance of a runway. Although the bridal themed collection that walked in an Upper East Side church last season was certainly evocative, we still have brides for spring, except this time around they’re frolicking on sun dappled mountains. The Rodarte woman is also exploring ’40s–inspired suiting and an array of loungewear from printed pajamas to logo sweatsuits—all topped off with a flower crown, of course. The design duo is embracing uncertainty here, knowing that women might still desire that standout piece, but are also in need comfort now.
While Hanako Maeda would typically be in New York come September, the designer has been quarantining in Tokyo with her family. Adeam’s Spring 2021 collection was, therefore, that much more global—showcased live in Japan, and released virtually to time with New York Fashion Week.
Maeda typically infuses elements of her heritage into her garments, but this season it was all about summertime in Japan, illustrated through linen and cotton, the fabrics traditionally used to make yukata, the warm weather kimono traditionally worn to “summer festivals and hot springs.” Those fabrications appeared in a myriad of forms, from easy dresses to wide-leg trousers. They were joined by the brand’s go-to Japanese crepe and cotton poplin, which were used to create convertible (and comfortable) daytime pieces. In a mid-pandemic world where designers are challenged to dictate what a now sweatpants-obsessed clientele will wear next Spring, it seems Maeda has the answer: easy, breezy, effortless silhouettes—in a hopeful palette of soft blues, camel, whites, sunset orange and rich fushia—that are just as comfortable, but feel infinitely more polished than loungewear.
Jason Wu is one of the few designers who presented in-person for New York Fashion Week, keeping his show small and adhering to COVID-19 restrictions. Set against tropical foliage on a boardwalk-inspired runway that calls to mind one of Wu’s favorite destinations, Tulum, Mexico, the designer showed a range of easy warm-weather ready maxi dresses and suiting in bold, bright shades of orange and yellow, offset with blues and greens. The cotton poplins and lightweight knits are part of his new contemporary-priced line, and serve as inviting propositions to wear on an escape from the city—or for a new life in closer proximity to nature. Wu took his bow wearing one of the “Distance Yourself From Hate” masks he designed in collaboration with Fabien Baron to benefit Gay Men’s Health Crisis, an organization food and PPE to communities of color who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic and social injustice.
Ulla Johnson is the reigning queen of bohemian cool, and this season she takes us to Japan, even if it’s just a journey of the imagination. Johnson references ceremonial dress and traditional Japanese artisanal techniques—including shibori resist dyeing, hand weaving, and boro patchwork— in looks that meld structure with a welcome delicacy. There’s plenty of crocheted knitwear and easy denim pieces, as well as cascading ruffles on romantic looks that manage not to abandon an urban sensibility. The message is clear: no matter where we’re living or how we’re living, a pretty dress is always a welcome proposition.
This season may just end up being about finding your cozy profile. Are you a sweatpants girl? A fancy pajamas lady? A maxi skirt and knit woman? If the latter describes you, Brock is your first stop. Designers Kristopher Brock and Laura Vassar hewed closely to their brand DNA of floral gowns, cool jeans, and other feminine staples, while lightening up the fabrications and playing with layering. The results are just the dreamy, beachside looks a certain woman will be searching for come spring.
Private Policy is a label unafraid to address social issues—Fall 2020 was themed around Big Pharma—but this new collection called “Searching for Aphrodite” felt more immediately personal, albeit no less political. Co-designers Haoran Li and Siying Qu, who created it together while separately self-isolating in New York and Shanghai, respectively, wanted to unpack the idea of beauty and self-love. There was a new ease to the collection thanks to soft Grecian drapes and relaxed tailoring in calming shades of sage and lilac, shown on an inclusive range of modern muses including amputee model and singer Marsha Elle and trans model and activist Dominique Castelano.
Olivia Cheng describes her floral dress collection Dauphinette as “the happiest brand on earth.” It might be one of the most environmentally friendly too, thanks to the young designer’s focus on lowering her carbon footprint by making her puff-sleeve mini dresses and floor-sweeping maxis from deadstock twills and innovative bio-based fabrics like rose petal silk. From a hand-painted vintage leather jacket and a crop top formed from daisies preserved in tree-derived resin to earrings made from the wings of butterflies collected at the end of the creatures’ natural life cycle, circularity is the message.