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Designers Downplay Streetwear-Inspired Denim at New York Fashion Week

Denim returned to its roots at New York Fashion Week. Following several seasons of splashy denim adorned with logos, bling and athletic influences, American designers like Michael Kors and Brandon Maxwell ushered in a toned down aesthetic for Spring/Summer 2020 denim.

Michael Kors chose a red, white and blue palette for his nautical collection presented at the Brooklyn Navy Yards. Kors unabashedly used anchor motifs, stars, stripes, polka dots and gingham to drive home the look, checking off all the boxes to achieve his elevated sailor look. A knee-length pleated jean skirt was casually paired with a navy sweater covered in gold anchor ornaments and a chunky version of a navy and white boat shoe, while wide leg jeans topped off with a navy pea coat puddled over espadrille platforms.

Echoing the all-American look honed by forefathers like Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors, Brandon Maxwell made a strong case for denim and tailoring. Slim and skinny fit jeans with clean and bright casts were presented with button-down shirts, sharp blazers and simple yet dramatic high-low strapless tops. Slouchy knits, basic tees and ripped jeans had a “borrow from the boys” look and feel.

Men’s wear was on Maxwell’s mind. The designer debuted his first line for men—a complementary line to the women’s consisting of straight fit jeans, button-down shirts (worn over polo shirts) and relaxed suiting.

Rag & Bone returned to the catwalk with a collection that melded sportswear, denim and British-inspired tailoring into one cohesive story. Denim mini-skirts and short-shorts were paired with collegiate blazers, knit polo shirts and button-down shirts. Dark indigo Trucker jackets were layered under parkas with preppy shirting-inspired stripes. And in an unexpected twist, Rag & Bone used its branding element like labels and patches as embellishments on relaxed fit jeans.

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Nostalgic references continued to trend. Laquan Smith and Eckhaus Latta embraced body-con silhouettes from the ’90s and curve-enhancing seaming.

Coach 1941 sidestepped the brazen acid wash styles of the ’80s in favor of the decade’s sophisticated pieces like a red leather trench coat, belted midi dresses and effortless chic blouses with scarf necklines. While leather was the material of choice for accessories maker, denim was brought into the mix as knee-length pencil skirts and jean jackets adorned with patch pockets and tabs.

Adeam designer Hanako Maeda experimented with layers by adding an off-the-shoulder blouse beneath a denim tank and wrapping strappy sandals over denim-clad legs. Maeda also paired nautical tunics over wide leg jeans defined with a center seam.

There was a sense of play when it came to denim designs. Kith’s collaboration with Disney resulted in a collarless jacket with Mickey Mouse embroidery peeking from pocket, and jeans decorated with the Disney logo. Ulla Johnson peppered in color denim to her range inspired by crafts and handiwork. The line included vintage-looking coral and dark green high-waisted jeans with exposed buttons and cropped jean jackets. Johnson also updated the denim jumpsuit with ruffled sleeves and small denim ties at the ankle.

Meanwhile, designer Jonathan Cohen replaced buttons with denim bow ties for his version of the jean jacket. Denim was also the canvas for Cohen’s statement-making denim button-down shirt embroidered with stars and stripes. In an interview with Vogue, Cohen said the shirts were hand-stitched by women in Mexico City and represent “the idea that we’re all better together.”

Prabal Gurung marked the 10th anniversary of his label with a collection with the politically-charged question, “Who gets to be American.” Red, white and blue tie-dye knits and dresses made a patriotic statement, as well as his denim. A slouchy dark indigo jumpsuit and a ruffled jean dress were executed with contrasting red stitching. A roomy jean jacket also featured red crochet inserts.

Some oversized denim jackets and jeans lingered, but their embellishments outshone the silhouettes. Gypsy Sport designer Rio Uribe continued to play with utility and baggy silhouettes, but jeans were adorned with tiger stripes, flame prints and tropical print appliqués. Beaded safety pins dangled from denim Bermuda shorts as charms and a denim mini-skirt was retrofitted with a maxi-length swatch of retro tropical fabric.

R13 also combined flames and animal prints with denim that had a subversive spirit. Ankle-skimming jean jackets were ripped with uneven hemlines, flung over bare chests and pants with flaming skull motifs. Jean shorts with a chopped-out waistline were worn over flame-printed boxers. The wild looks were pulled together with The Velvet Underground tees, cheetah print skate sneakers and heaps of layered jewelry.

In her first runway show, designer Sandy Liang presented a collection that captured the eclectic feeling of downtown New York. Fleece jackets and modest smocked dresses clashed with leather bomber jackets and baby doll dresses. And for Liang, denim meant heavily bleached Trucker jackets and straight cropped jeans and relaxed fit jeans with workwear-inspired seaming details.

A departure from his tulle and taffeta frocks, Christian Siriano took an artistic approach to embellished denim. Splatters of paint and cascades of colorful crystals decorated the sides of the jeans. The designer showed the cropped jean style on both men and women, pairing the bottom with tops made out of red lip-themed macramé.

However, elements of fantasy seeped into collections. Right on cue, Jeremy Scott presented a menagerie of glammed-up Space Age creatures dressed in acid wash jeans, dresses and denim sets—think zip-front mini-skirts and cropped moto jackets—adorned with multi-colored metallic shapes. The collection was a hodgepodge of ’60s and ’80s references that spanned galactic prints to mesh-covered cowboy boots.

And leave it to Marc Jacobs to close out New York Fashion Week on a lively and vibrant note with his collection that honored, as he described in the show notes, “the joy of dressing up” and “unadulterated love of fashion.” In an empty Park Avenue Armory, Jacobs’ girls—a troop of individualists born from the same free-flowing imagination—paraded through the audience dressed in floral pant suits, multi-print prairie dresses and patchwork flare jeans. The designed even introduced a new silhouette—the one-legged jean—which he balanced with a coordinating knee-high denim boot.