Ty Dolla $ign, Diplo and Whoopi Goldberg view Rihanna’s motocross-inspired collection at New York Fashion Week. (Sept. 11) AP
It was Rihanna’s week, and we were just happy to be there.
Starting with her Fenty Beauty makeup launch party and continuing a few days later with her jaw-dropping, BMX-themed Fenty x Puma fashion show that turned NYC’s Park Avenue Armory into a motocross rally, Rihanna hit the sweet spot of well-executed clothing, a solid dose of celebrity and inclusivity that feels like the future of American fashion.
As the industry struggles to figure out what’s next for New York Fashion Week, Rihanna may have shown the path forward.
Her star power brought the attention of fashion editors and the masses, but instead of putting on a spectacle for spectacle’s sake, she delivered with sportswear infused with enough of her trend-setting style but not so much to render it unwearable for everyone else. Her legions may not be able to carry off the entire look, but women across the country will be scoping individual pieces to buy come February.
She also debuted a makeup line of high-quality products including an impressive 40 shades of foundation to match a multitude of skin tones. And did it all with a diverse set of models who look like the broad spectrum of her fans, and realistically reflected America. A feat in an industry that’s thrived on exclusivity and white, thin standards of beauty.
She wasn’t the only one to achieve the winning formula of inclusivity, celebrity and great clothes during Fashion Week.
Christian Siriano staged a show Saturday that was fun — largely thanks to Leslie Jones’ effervescent presence (and commentary) in the front row, which felt like watching the presentation with your BFF screaming “Yas, werk!”
“I would love to know how many runway shows elicit this type of reaction afterwards, of just sheer joy,” curvy model Candice Huffine told USA TODAY backstage after the show. “And I’m sorry but I don’t think that’s due to just a really bright color palette.”
Huffine attributes the energy to Siriano’s diverse models and guests, who encompassed a variety of body sizes, races and gender.
“Every person in that audience, men and women this time, everybody had someone they could be like ‘Yes, girl I see myself,'” she said. “And that’s what we need across the board.”
Philip Plein’sAlice In Wonderland-inspired show and after party featured black artists that often serve as inspiration for fashion designers but aren’t always credited. Teyana Taylor took the stage, as did Rich the Kid, 21 Savage, Yo Gotti, Rae Sremmurd and Nicki Minaj, who praised the German designer and called out the industry for its issues with cultural appropriation.
“Designers get really big and really rich off of our culture, and then you don’t see a [expletive] that look anything like us in the front row half the time,” she said.
Taylor also appeared at the end of the GCDS presentation, her fierce walk sparking one of fashion week’s early memes. She reflected on that moment and the rarity of seeing a short, black woman with curves on the runway.
“I think it’s amazing, that day I walked in the show. And it’s so crazy because I was like, I’m short, and when I walked out I wasn’t even expecting people to clap,” she told USA TODAY at the Harper’s Bazaar Icons party.
“But it was kinda dope to see that black girl magic, and to put my own ‘umph’ on it.”
Coach featured a wide range of models, who were styled with their natural hair that included afros and dreads on men and women, chopped locks and free-flowing waves. Enlisting Selena Gomez and model-of-the-moment Kaia Gerber could have been a cheap trick, but the collection delivered with a glittering homage to New York with satin slips and leather jackets, perfect additions to any brightest young thing’s wardrobe.
Michael Kors debuts Spring 2018 collection at NYFW Video provided by AFP Newslook
Michael Kors proved his haute beach style works for all with one of this week’s most diverse set of big-name models: The 43-year-old veteran Carolyn Murphy opened the show, curvy models Sabina Karlsson and Ashley Graham mixed in the middle alongside young faces Kendall Jenner and Joan Smalls, with the buxom Kate Upton making her fashion week debut at the end in flip flops and a black slouchy dress that will likely be everywhere come spring.
Not every label fared so well.
While the Torrid show was marketed as a landmark moment for plus-size brands, its seating arrangement proved that fashion week isn’t quite as progressive as the institution wants to believe. The show had one of the best-dressed crowds, full of men, women and non-binary fashion lovers done up in eye-popping style. Yet, even at a fashion show for a plus-size label, the front row was dominated by straight-size attendees, with most of the fabulously-dressed plus-size bloggers and influencers slotted in the back rows.
Alexander Wang, who brought the coolest of street girl aesthetics to fashion week 10 years ago, was clearly more focused on his #WangFest party Saturday, a Bushwick warehouse bash that was like a nightmare scene of Lena Dunham’s gritty Brooklyn misadventures from the first season of HBO’s Girls. His bus of top models may have caused a scene, but the dresses were like bad Xeroxes of his past work.
Fashion Week designers have a new set of expectations: To present a show that’s racially diverse and body-inclusive; that’s an appealing spectacle but not dominated by gimmicks or celebrities; and as always, to nail the clothes.
“Taking yourself too seriously or trying to create something that’s not important or not where we are in the world is when it becomes serious and mundane,” Huffine says. “You gotta keep your finger on the pulse and listen to what people want.”
There may still be plenty of handwringing as brands fight to stay relevant in the digital age and debate whether fashion shows are even worth it anymore. But as always, Rihanna seems ahead of the game.