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NYFW Fabrics Reflect Fashion in the Time of Coronavirus

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When it came to fabric choices for Spring 2021, designers at New York Fashion Week showed diversity, leaning toward the current comfort trend but also showing a longing to dress up again.

There was also a nod to sustainability in the use of leftover fabrics and yarns and upcycled or recycled trims and embellishments, trend observers noted. They also cited an acknowledgement of the pandemic in laid-back work-from-home styling and nostalgic looks.

“Despite the prowess of comfort dressing during the COVID era, the city focused primarily on dressier materials and textures, offering an antidote to casual aesthetics,” said Ashley Graham, a retail analyst at retail market intelligence company Edited. “Eveningwear was presented in silky and sheer fabrications with frills and embellishment for added drama, shown by SUKEINA and Frederick Anderson.”

Jersey fabrics and light cottons embodied the current comfort trend, with elevated sweater dresses and sweatsuits championed by Rodarte, Graham said. Knitwear mostly took form in ribbed cords and maxi-dresses, while heavier yarns offered more structure, such as cable knit cardigans at Sandy Liang.

She cited head-to-toe sequins at Naeem Khan as adding to the “occasion-ready feel of the show.” Nostalgia remained an integral theme, backed by several designers, Graham said, while 60s-inspired lace gave a nod to the era that was further accentuated by muted color palettes and floaty silhouettes.

At the same time, crochet reflected on “childhood sentimentality” with button-up cardigans at Batsheva and girlish puff-sleeved mini dresses at Anna Sui.

“Interestingly, we observed designers mixing fabrics, with Imitation of Christ upcycling to create patchwork-esque looks, while Snow Xue Gao played with contrasting themes for the half suiting and half kimono looks,” Graham said.

During NYFW, two contrasting color stories emerged, she said. The first drew on maximalism and the 80s, with jewel-toned emerald green and bold hot pink palettes backed by Dur Doux for eveningwear looks. Voluminous silhouettes and silky fabrics further emphasized the eye-catching trend.

The second took a subtler approach, with pastels presented in barely-there shades. BEZA utilized the subdued tones for contemporary suiting, while Rodarte showcased femme dresses in soft pink tints, adorned with roses and frills.

Sharon Graubard, founder and creative director of MintModa, said the pandemic and resulting lockdown offered a pause and restart for the fashion industry, and New York designers responded with plenty of comfy at-home wear, as well as taking into account key initiatives like responsible production and a “better but fewer” approach.

“Almost every collection showed some sort of elevated loungewear, usually a matched set, whether in cut-and-sew jersey, full-fashioned sweater knits, or printed pajamas that can be worn day or evening,” Graubard said. “One new item in particular is the housedress: an easy, unfitted dress that would be appropriate for working from home, running errands or for a casual gathering. These can be solid or in wonderful prints, A-lined or tiered, and may have a loosely tied waist or elastic shirring at the bodice to control volume. Many of these frocks find their roots in caftans, muumuus, 60s shifts, pleated goddess dresses or peasant styles.”

She cited the shirt as another easy item, oversized or fitted, in fresh cotton stripes or ginghams. Graubard said gingham underlines the current desire for all things “Cottagecore–think baking bread, gardening, needlepoint”–and along with simple checks “we are seeing a return to homespun trims like ricrac and doily crochet collars.”

Even when clothing was minimal, a romantic country mood was conveyed with poet or puff sleeves, flounce details or drawstring necklines, she said. More romance came from all kinds of lace, which designers used for frilly tops, often styled with jeans, as well as in skirts, dresses and even tailored suits.

“Craft is still a driving force, but has gotten more refined and subtle, showing itself in a bit of gathering, a well-placed pocket or a delicate string-tie,” Graubard added. “On the flip side of all the wearability and timeless artisanship are the collectible items like hand-painted jackets, upcycled patchworks and densely ruffled party dresses, all ready to be layered with vintage Ts, back-of-closet favorites or luxury resale finds for an exuberant display of pure individuality.”

After a steady diet of loungewear, consumers will likely crave a more polished look but still wish to maintain the level of comfort to which they’ve grown accustomed, said Hannah Polskin, vice president of TOBETDG by the Doneger Group.

“Enter the ruched knit fabrics from Khaite, where the manipulation of the material looks novel, but the stretch and give is easy enough to lounge in,” Polskin said.

The concept of social distancing seems to have had an influence on designers, she said, with the idea manifesting in styles from Simone Rocha, where fuller skirts and roomier, more structured silhouettes in a thick canvas seem to designate personal space. There’s also a notable amount of tulle, simultaneously aiding volume while injecting a much-needed dose of lighthearted playfulness, according to TOBETDG.

“The pandemic has really put the climate change issue in perspective, and more and more lines are focused on eco fabrics or processes,” Polskin said. “Stella McCartney’s just launched Stellawear, a lingerie-swimwear hybrid collection entirely made from recycled yarns. There is an abundance of leftover fabric and leftover yarn from last season, so designers are getting creative in repurposing and patchworking. Preen’s hodgepodge fabrics, combining popcorn textures and mesh speak to this salvaged-sustainable aesthetic.”

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