American fashion has long been considered secondary or at least subsidiary to our European counterparts. People get a hazy, romantic look in their eyes when speaking of the effortless and yet mysterious French or Italian woman, while the American woman is described as practical, sporty and often excessive. But there is a part of the global style psyche that is preoccupied with American icons, almost to the extent that it seems caricaturized: Isabel Marant’s longtime obsession with the Old West, Karl Lagerfeld’s fixation with the paintings of American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, Miuccia Prada’s loyalty to the futuristic visions laid out by American filmmakers Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas.
This fall, the lens is focusing on American folk. Crochets, embroidery and patchwork are everywhere, and it references a humble but sharply innovative time in our country’s colonial history. Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior ultimately interpreted the trend through the use of quilting together reproductions of archival Dior prints that appeared in two predominant colorways. They were tailored into everything from shawl collar car coats, impossibly high-waisted culottes, strict-looking shift dresses, slouchy suede boots and oversized shearling coats. The feel kept mostly in line with its signature luxe, European, excessive look, but the multicolored patches and pastoral silhouettes gave the collection a quainter, more romantic feel.
The perspective that Angela Missoni took was an undoubtedly contemporary one. For the 65th anniversary of her family’s knitwear-turned-mega-fashion-house, Missoni reproduced prints from vintage fabrics but executed silhouettes in unfamiliar, nontraditional ways. The show opened with a model draped in an ankle-length wrap made up of perfect squares cut from tissue-fine knit fabric, which felt both geometric and organic. The inventiveness continued with the alternating and layering of different textures, with fuzzy bell-sleeved coats layered over stiff tapestry pants or the intermingling of several different prints anchored with thick leather belts and generous fringe hems. There didn’t seem to be a specific idea that Missoni drove at, but in the end created a new, worldly and modern view of an old, beloved idea.
Calvin Klein’s approach to the American folk art trend became one of the most celebrated and talked about collections of New York Fashion Week. With a synthesized dystopian barn designed as a catwalk, creative director Raf Simons’ statement was about safety. He cleverly integrated reflective stripes into shearling, trimmed reflective survival blankets with scalloped lace and referenced firefighter uniforms in cropped jackets and straight, low-slung trousers. And yet, he countered the protective, hazardous element with filmy, quilted organza pullovers, sheer floor-length prairie dresses with delicate crochet handwork and starburst quilt patterns embellishing otherwise Clockwork-Orange-esque white jackets and jumpsuits. The vision was about an absolute clash and coalescence of danger and protection and illustrated both the dysfunctional and consonant temper of modern society.
Of course one of the charms of fashion is that it makes the most humble and practical of things seem glamorous and luxurious, which was certainly not the case for early settlers. Leisure time, daylight and materials were always scarce for these colonialists, and yet humankind’s innate and irrepressible creativity still pushed the mind to turn scraps into patterns, holes into opportunity, the need for warmth into the desire for beauty. We may not live that way anymore, but we aren’t as far from there as we think.