Maybe it is a function of age, but time does seem to pass more quickly the older one gets. Memories of events which seem to have occurred only weeks ago actually happened months ago. You blink at the start of one season, and by the time you realize it, it is over, and you are on to the next. Tiny children you haven’t seen in what you perceive as a short while are suddenly prepubescent and have cracking voices. Time is objective, and yet our emotions bend its lens to make the ticking slow or speed with our given circumstances. It is with this ephemeral sentiment that I write, just back from the New York spring 2017 presentations.
Spring fashion is, more often than not, the most straightforward of equations. Filmy fabrics in pastel colorways plus open-toed sandals and earthy accessories equals what designers show and what women want.
We expect certain things out of spring, and designers and the industry at large are usually happy to oblige us.
So whether it is the increasingly polarized, violent world we face or the constant talk of the legacy we are leaving our children, the collections reflected this uncertainty, and most definitely without impartiality. The fashion season was filled with political undertones, whether it was the Rainbow Brite dreadlocks on insouciant models at Marc Jacobs or the standing ovation after Muslim designer Anniesa Hasibuan’s sea of hajib-clad looks. Opening Ceremony’s show at the Metropolitan Opera, which involved theatrics, pageantry and an army of hip celebrities, bluntly addressed their perspective on transgender rights and voting equality. And no matter which side of the fence the audience was on (the fashion industry is, of course a famously liberal group), there was a sense of gravity and unease. We wanted to be transported to the world of Monet’s “Luncheon on the Grass,” but we were not. We were still in a web of circumstances we could hardly comprehend, much less untangle.
If you linger during fashion or market week, trends start to become apparent. And while there were heavy themes of liberty florals, off-the-shoulder dresses and espadrille sneakers, the shape that I kept seeing over and over again was the empire waist, also known as the baby doll. And when I first started to see these high-waisted dresses and tops in my appointments, it felt dated and irrelevant, as the baby doll shape dominated fashion silhouettes through the late ‘90s and early millennium. Not enough time had passed for it to feel reinvented — maybe the pony had run out of tricks. But as I saw iteration after iteration, some with ruffles, others with deconstructed hems and others that formed an exaggerated, architectural peplum, the empire waist came to symbolize a less complicated time, when the world was mostly predictable, safe and one could forge a dream of happiness without the tedium or drone of politics, endless switchbacks and dissolving ideals.
The silhouette happens to align perfectly with high-waisted bottoms, which continue to gain momentum through next season. The design will fit in with the peasant tops, make the shirt dress feel new again and inject a certain amount of levity and youth into fashion, which has been amiss for some time. The return of the empire waist won’t make life simple again, but it can remind us that it once was.