Retailers Rave About Return of In-person Shows at NYFW

From bare midriffs to power suits, merchants celebrated the creativity and innovation of the American design community.

That was the sentiment among pandemic-weary retailers, who hailed the return of in-person shows and celebrated the successful comeback of a live New York Fashion Week.

And it wasn’t just the opportunity to disconnect from Zoom for a few days and get up close and personal with designers and other merchants. There were also a lot of innovative collections and trends that emerged during the week, including party-friendly styles, bare midriffs, cutout dresses, psychedelic prints, and power suits. The look was definitely feminine.

Among the collections that garnered the most thumbs-ups from retailers were Peter Do’s very first runway show, Khaite, LaQuan Smith, and some of the established who continue to impress: Proenza Schouler, Carolina Herrera, Jason Wu, and the always-exciting Thom Browne. Even the limited amount of men’s wear found its fans with help from Willy Chavarria, Studio 189, and Teddy Vonranson.

Lisa Aiken, Neiman Marcus Group fashion and lifestyle director

What is the mood for spring 2022?: We feel very confident going into spring/resort 2022. The client is back, shopping for statement fashion and occasion dressing, and wants to feel excited and inspired.

We are looking for potential new brand introductions and having conversations on what we can collaborate on. We are planning big projects for the Neiman Marcus client, and that will be reflected in how we approach the buy.

What were the trends and best shows?: It was a very feminine season. I feel very confident that the Neiman Marcus client is going to respond to the emotional, bold fashion coming through. With the industry in kind of a rebuilding phase, the tendency can be to play it safe and play it commercially. But that’s not where we are.

That’s not where the designers are, and that’s not where our clients are. There was a lot of print, a lot of color in a very wearable way seen in handcrafted and artisanal techniques — tie-dyed prints, crochet, embroidery. It’s about the feel of the human hand in the clothes, citing Altuzarra, Ulla Johnson, and Gabriela Hearst, as examples.

The counterpart of that soft femininity is this sexier, more glamorous body-conscious approach, (citing Khaite’s evening pieces.) Proenza Schouler was a highlight with pops of strong color and I loved Peter Do’s first runway collection. The red carpet is set to be colorful next season with Carolina Herrera and Jason Wu.”

Khaite, spring 2022
Khaite, spring 2022 courtesy via wwd

How was the return to in-person shows?: It’s been really great to have that energy back in the fashion industry and back in the city. This past week was a reminder of the importance the fashion industry plays. It helped to have clarity from the CFDA on guidelines early on which, allowed people to prepare. But there is still a need for caution and most designers adhered to that.

Linda Fargo, senior vice president of the fashion office and store presentation, Bergdorf Goodman:

Call it the Great Reunion! It was one of the most uplifting fashion seasons to date! Seeing each other and the clothing in person brought it all home again. We needed this. The collections were rife with great products and relatable trends.

We loved all the return to glamour, the welcome reveals of the body seen in the shorter lengths, bare midriffs and shoulder shows, the handcrafted techniques of tie-dye, fringe and macramé, and softened feminized tailoring. Vivid colors and florals were beautiful and spoke to the rebirth of a season.

Dressing up again was fully embraced, and could be seen all over the streets and front rows. Sportswear dressing was a strong offering too. It all added up to being able to buy with more confidence.

There were so many shows we loved. Peter Do was phenomenal with its sensuous modern takes on tailoring. Both the anniversary collections for Michael Kors and Carolina Herrera were perfect pitch brand celebrations.

There were very strong and signature collections by Altuzarra, Jason Wu, Proenza Schouler, Gabriela Hearst, Adam Lippes, Rodarte, Ulla Johnson, and Khaite. Naeem Khan delivered on his high glamour signature.

Thank you to Thom Browne for the extraordinary TB World fantasy. Studio 189 will remain unforgettable, moving, and joyous celebration of inclusivity, fashion, and unity. Tom Ford hit the high note and wrapped the collections with his glam squad crescendo.

It was no surprise that New York and the fashion industry itself proves to be so intrepid and resilient. New York and fashion are back!

Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director, Bergdorf Goodman, and Neiman Marcus:

It was a homecoming of sorts as New York City resumed fashion shows and presentations for the first in-person NYFW since the onset of the pandemic. Many of us saw industry friends, colleagues, and designers in many cases for the first time in over a year and a half.

It was indeed fantastic to be able to see looks and garments in person, in motion, on bodies, and to experience the transportive visions of designers presenting their collections. As much as we all necessarily navigated the world of virtual buying and viewing collections for the past year and a half, there is just simply no great substitute to seeing and feeling and experiencing shows and presentations in person.

This has been the most diverse NYFW in memory with a bounty of collections presented throughout the week that shared expansive, inclusive points of view, designers, and collections. Overall there was an optimistic, uplifting, even jubilant tone to many of the collections and to the week as a whole.

courtesy via wwd

Harlem Fashion Row’s Style Awards and Fashion Show kicked off the week presenting collections from Charles Harbison and Shawn Pean’s June 79, among others, while The Runway of Dreams Foundation presented their very inspiring adaptive fashion show on Thursday.

Willy Chavarria presented a wonderful sculptural and proportion-driven collection inspired by delivery men and honoring Chicano heritage while Abrima Erwiah and Rosario Dawson included a significant men’s wear component in their joyful, inspiring, performance-driven Studio 189 show that was filled with bright, bold color and vivid prints accompanied by dance, poetry, and heartfelt words that had everyone smiling through many a misty eye, a highlight of the week.

Erin Hawker and her Agentry agency continue to be the most consistent supporters of men’s shows in New York City over the years with the New York Men’s Day showcase highlighting a variety of emerging and more established designers. Carter Young, A. Potts, and Teddy Vonranson were standouts.

Overall, there was plenty of strong, jubilant color and pattern that gave the collections a festive feel. We are seeing lots of colorful printed camp shirt-and-short sets in cotton and fluid silk fabrications, with great examples at Studio 189 and especially in the broadcast of Mike Amiri’s beautifully filmed fashion show.

There was refreshing femininity to a lot of looks and garments we saw; tunics, shifts, and lace that blurred traditional gender lines. Occasion-based clothing, outfits made for going out continue to be a focus in the market as well, worn in a very relaxed, louche way.

Roopal Patel, senior vice president, fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue

What were the trends?: Key trends included psychedelic prints and patterns, fringe, cut-outs, and lots of skin on the runway this season. Crop tops, bralettes, and bikini tops were seen in abundance, being worn under structured blazers.

We also saw a fresh take on short dressing, especially with the three-piece short suit. The idea of glamour and getting dressed up was definitely in the air this season, with a refreshing return of eveningwear in everything from embellished cocktail dresses to flowy ball gowns. From a color perspective, we saw a beautiful range of pastels and sherbet colors, spice colors, and bright ones. There was really something for everyone this season.

What were the best women’s shows?: Proenza Schouler’s epic presentation set against the water and sunset on Little Island was magical and breathtaking. The collection felt fresh with embroidered fringe dresses and fringe walking shorts, cutout gowns, power suits, and parkas.

Thom Browne’s creativity and imagination are always inspiring. The elaborate setup of Thom’s secret garden show made us feel like we were transported to a Disney movie set. Jason Wu’s collection was incredibly dreamy and brought back this feeling of glamour and getting dressed.

Wes Gordon delivered a whimsical collection with a sense of decadence for Carolina Herrera. It’s incredible to see Wes’ vision for the house and the Carolina Herrera woman continue to evolve, and the brand feels right on target for the new world we’re living in. Cate Holstein’s collection for Khaite was another personal favorite.

Cate knows what her woman wants, and puts forth this idea of effortless dressing that is so luxurious and elevated. I loved her evening satin parkas with full skirts that played on proportion and texture. Other standouts this season were Altuzarra and Ulla Johnson.

How was the return to in-person shows?: This NYFW was incredibly special. It felt like a love letter from the designers to the fashion community and to the people of the world. It was such a treat to feel like a tourist in my own city, exploring and discovering new locations and spaces that I haven’t seen in quite some time.

The designers were also very mindful of the world we’re living in right now, with so many of the presentations taking place at incredible outdoor venues and inspiring locations. They really used their imaginations to take us into their worlds while simultaneously helping us rediscover New York City.

Louis DiGiacomo, senior vice president, and general merchandise manager of men’s, Saks Fifth Avenue:

What were the top men’s shows?: June 79 was one of my favorite shows and collections. The way Shawn Pean blends fashion with comfort is brilliant and gives men the flexibility to go out straight from work without having to change. His collection was approachable and incorporated great use of color.

The Harlem Fashion Row show and awards ceremony was really well done. It was a beautiful evening that was full of energy, with a full-blown runway show on the street in Harlem. The setting was amazing, and it was great to see new Black designers being highlighted during New York Fashion Week.

I enjoyed the format of the New York Men’s Day at Canoe Studios, where smaller, emerging brands were able to have their moment in their respective venues throughout the space.

It was nice to be able to take your time to explore each venue, speak with the designers and see the product up-close. I also really enjoyed the Telfar show. There is such a buzz about the brand right now, and Telfar Clemens is definitely one of my favorite designers of the moment.

What were the top men’s trends?: Shorts continue to be a top trend in men’s wear for spring 2022. We’re also continuing to see dusty colors including toned-down pinks, lilacs, yellows and greens. Versatility is another key trend of the season, with sophisticated casualwear translatable for the workplace and social gatherings.

Joseph Tang, fashion director, Holt Renfrew

How is this fall’s buy different from last fall?: Last year, obviously impacted by the pandemic, we had to make some decisions, but it taught us a lot about the opportunities to drive the traffic back, where we could hone the buy, and where we could expand the assortment, with more outerwear styles, pumping up our denim offerings, corporately taking a stand behind sustainable denim and wider size ranges, and comfort slides and sneakers. Customers are looking for casual, ease, comfort, and mobility but still want to dress up.

What were the trends and the best shows?: With Thom Browne, it was cerebral. you got into inside his mind. It was about fashion in a conceptual way, and the bright bold colors were pretty unexpected.

Closing the week last night with the glamour and sexy allure of the Tom Ford show was really a big reminder of how great American fashion is and the talent in the city. Some key trends were bold cutouts and low waistlines, intricate cutout details from Proenza Schouler, or near sheer and transparency from Private Policy and Maisie Wilen.

How was the return to in-person shows?: It was extremely invigorating, inspiring. It reignited why we are in this industry. Walking the streets in New York, it was great to see that explosive return of individual style.

Will shipping delays and manufacturing concerns affect what you order?: We are really being super nimble, maximizing our product investment and ensuring a constant flow of newness coming through with different collections.

courtesy via wwd

We are also saving part of the budget for more opportunistic buys where we do find gaps in the matrix or find fashions that are performing and customers desire more of. In Canada, the shipping details and logistics deviate from America that we have to deal with.

What surprised you most about NYFW?: Telfar Clemens had an unconventional show. He’s a disruptor that continues to challenge us. He really pushes the fashion boundaries to make brands rethink how they can reach customers in a less traditional model.

Marissa Galante Frank, fashion director, accessories and beauty, Bloomingdale’s

How is this fall’s buy different from last fall?: As our Bloomingdale’s customer begins to socialize in new ways and attend events, we are shifting our buys to reflect their evolving lifestyle. In addition to cozy shearling pieces and lug sole boots, we will also have embellished dresses, party heels, and fun handbags.

What were the trends and the best shows?: Two of my favorites shows were Proenza Schouler and Staud. I loved how Proenza’s beautiful knit pieces reflect both our present and future way of living.

They are comfortable and chic, but the beaded fringe reflects the highly anticipated return to parties and overall excitement around dressing up. Staud was an absolute party, complete with a giant lemon disco ball in the middle of the venue.

I wanted to wear every single look, from the knit bikini top to the cropped skirt set. Accessories were emotional and covetable: crystal embellishment, crochet and wrap up sandals.

A prominent trend we’ll see in Bloomingdale’s spring 2022 assortment is what we’re calling “retro resort,” where designers showcased psychedelic prints, checkerboard prints, crochet, matching resort sets, cutouts, and bikini tops meant to be worn everywhere. It was also refreshing to see such bright, bold colors this season.

How was the return to the in-person show?: It was uplifting to see inclusivity embraced, with models of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and genders on the runway. Moschino had an incredible cast and seeing Aaron Rose Philip on the runway was a highlight for me.

Designers did an amazing job of finding incredible iconic outdoor venues throughout the city, whether it was Pier 76 for Coach, taking over Mercer Street for Tory Burch, Bryant Park for Moschino, or the Little Island for Proenza Schouler.

In-person shows allow for opportunities to reconnect and moments of togetherness that have been missing. At Studio 189, Abrima Erwiah and Rosario Dawson sat guests in a circular formation to show “the circularity of clothes, of each other, of our humanity.”

What surprised you most about NYFW?: Across the board, the energy this season was filled with genuine happiness, excitement, and a sense of community. Between the collections, the shows, and the guests reconnecting with one another in person, this NYFW truly feel like a celebration and a reminder of why fashion is so important and special.

Tiffany Hsu, Mytheresa’s fashion buying director

How is this fall’s buy different from last fall?: The buy has not dramatically changed for us, but we do see a trend shifting towards more going out clothes and more elaborate and statement items. Brands seem to be moving away from the more understated pieces; however, we still see the minimal aesthetic going strong.

What were the trends and the best shows?: NYFW was all about sexy party pieces, we saw a lot of cutouts, metallics, and bright colors. Definite highlights were Peter Do’s first runway show, as well as the collections by Rodarte, Tom Ford, LaQuan Smith and Khaite.

Are there any new designers to watch?: Although [he is] not a new name, LaQuan Smith really caught my eye this season. I also liked Rui Zhou very much.

April Hennig, chief merchant, Moda Operandi
How is this fall’s buy different from last fall?: Whereas last year it was all about the statement top, this year we’ve seen a huge resurgence in the dress business. With (hopefully) the worst of quarantine behind us, she’s now thinking ahead and planning her wardrobe for future events and occasions.

She’s also more than ready to dress up again; the long hiatus has left her eager for standout items — for novelty and head-turning occasion pieces, outerwear, and shoes.

What were the trends and the best shows?: I loved Gabriela Hearst, Proenza Schouler, Khaite, Peter Do, Rodarte, and Jonathan Simkhai. Trend-wise, I’m noticing a lot of fresh and modern spins on prep, body-con, and nods to the ‘70s.

Crochet continues to dominate the runways, as well as artisanal details and traces of craftsmanship (as seen at Altuzarra and Ulla Johnson), bold primaries and rainbow palettes, couture-like caped silhouettes (at Gabriela Hearst, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera and Rodarte), side cutouts or “chic obliques” (at LaQuan Smith and Rodarte), and psychedelic motifs (at Brandon Maxwell and Rodarte).

How was the return to in-person shows?: It felt like a family reunion for the fashion community. We seem to have all reemerged with a fresh perspective and renewed appreciation — as well as endurance — for runway shows, I really enjoyed the intimacy of smaller formats, too.

I loved meeting with some really exciting new, emerging names like Theophilio and Alejandra Alonso Rojas. Seeing their collections and connecting with them in person brought their stories to life in a way we weren’t able to experience over Zoom.

What surprised you most about NYFW?: Though not surprising per se, I was definitely thrilled to see more diversity and size inclusivity than ever before. It was also exciting to see designers double down on “going out” clothes — updated with considered details for our post-pandemic world. The New York designers seem to be placing their bets that it’s going to be a glamorous spring season, and I’m fully on board.

Divya Mathur, chief merchant of Intermix

How is this spring’s buy different than last year?: Spring’s buy is definitely more trend-driven, where last year it still felt like everyone was trying to play it safe. We saw a lot of knit-based and elevated sweatpants dressing and not much in the way of trends and color. This season we’re seeing very clear trend focuses.

What were the trends and best shows?: Crocheted and fringe details were everywhere. We also saw a real evolution of the cutout, this time with more modern architectural takes. There was a return to volume and layering, especially in evening and cocktail wear, like voluminous minis and baby-doll dresses.

There was also a ton of color ± green being the standout color across all of the shows — shades of orange, hot pink, and lots of primary colors like red, blue, and yellow. Proenza Schouler, Monse, Jonathan Simkhai, Studio 189, and Sergio Hudson were some of my favorites.

How was the return to in-person shows?: It felt so great to be back at shows in person. The brands were very organized in checking vaccination cards and IDs, which helped with the comfort of being at shows all week.

Many of the shows were outdoors, at smaller venues, and had a smaller capacity, which made for a more intimate experience. It really felt like the return of New York fashion, and that the city was back.

Will shipping delays and manufacturing concerns affect what you order?: We’re working with a lot of our brands to proactively address this on an ongoing basis. We’re addressing what we can and doing our best to secure things earlier.

Not to mention that brands are also proactively addressing this, since they are the ones that control the supply chain, like moving production from one place to another.

What surprised you most about NYFW?: Being back for New York Fashion Week reminded me that even though fashion is about clothes, it’s also about people. I really felt the emotion and magic that fashion brings when I was talking to the people behind the brands like design and merchandising, which makes what we all do worth every second.

Sam Lobban, senior vice president of designer and New Concepts, Nordstrom
For fall 2021, we really geared up for the return of in-person events, be that parties, cocktails or just consistently leaving the house. There was a very celebratory feeling in the collections through the use of color, print, and sparkle, and we’re excited by the optimism.

It was great to be back out and about attending shows in person. While the digital experience has been refined and works well, nothing beats the atmosphere and energy of seeing beautiful products presented live in a setting full of people excited to be there — still with masks on, of course.

We loved Proenza Schouler, Gabriela Hearst, Khaite, and Altuzarra — each really spoke to the modern luxury customer’s wardrobe. Wes Gordon’s 40th-anniversary collection at Carolina Herrera was truly stunning, and personally, I loved that LaQuan Smith’s epic show on the roof of the Empire State Building was straight after (the poodles need a special mention).
We thought all of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Designers had great shows, and Thom Browne being back on the NYFW schedule was great to see. Last but not least, Tom Ford’s show to wrap up the week was truly incredible.