Friday, March 1, 2019

Neon Dreaming

When the collections begin to make their way down the runways and into the presentation spaces of New York City, the work of discerning the dominant trends of the season starts immediately. Some of what we see is no surprise. Floral prints return every spring and summer without fail. Often enough they pop up for fall and winter as well. The silhouettes of the 1980s have hung around the periphery or been at the center of the ready-to-wear landscape for nearly a decade now, and at this point one could argue that their continued presence might be a sign of industry-wide creative malaise. But where a good amount of the fun, and fashion is supposed to be fun after all, rests is the unveiling of the unexpected trends. There is a thrill in experiencing the risks that land and those that do not. It is in this arena where many of the questions of the season arise.

Will we once again go a full year unable to find a tee, blouse, or sweater with covered shoulders? It appears for now that we will be spared a return to such indignity.

The colors are the most changeable aspect of the collections. Blues for a particular resort season might swing to yellows for the spring that follows. Reds in New York can easily transform into that timeless classic of black by the time festivities wrap up in Paris. Mood and season and moment all combine with something intangible to create The Color.

What was The Color during the Fall/Winter 2019 season in New York? Actually there were many colors, more than one might expect to see on offer for the colder months, and they were of a deeply saturated sort. But pulling focus from all the others was a pink that one could give any number of names. Brilliant. Electric. Eye-watering. An aggressive pink. A pink from which one can't look away.

At Narciso Rodriguez

At Monique Lhuillier

At Bande Noir

 At Novis

At Hellessy

At Adeam

At Brandon Maxwell

At Prabal Gurung

There has been a fair amount of pink in the cultural and design conversation for the past few years. Millennial Pink so dominated the discourse around the color that people began labeling pinks that in no way resembled the hue as such. It's a common enough reaction to trends, the chasing of a moment in the pursuit of relevance. The pink of the pussy hat, a complicated and sometimes controversial symbol created in response to our current political moment, rose to prominence just as its millennial sibling began to fade into the background. However, the pussy hat was never really one pink. It was many. It was the pink of whatever yarn you could find hiding around the house. It was the pink of whichever skein struck your fancy in the craft store. There was, in that regard at least, little uniformity in the project.

How pink came to be associated with the feminine in western culture is a topic worthy of a historical tome. I could never do it justice here. But when discussing the trends that come and go each season, what's most important is that in this moment, from the palest, whisper shade to the deepest magenta, pink has been assigned to a side. There is nothing wrong with being aligned with the feminine. (It feels silly that I have to make this statement but here we are.) The issues come from the ways in which so much of our larger culture views women and anything associated with them. There is a presumed softness, not only when it comes to the physical but also when it comes to the mental. A lack of an iron will. An airheaded frivolity. Like all colors, pink is many things. Often it is more than one of those things simultaneously. But like the women with whom it is associated, it is rarely given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to depth.

What about the mood, the season, and the moment led us to this particular shade? It was certainly not crowned The Color, either this year or last year or the year before that, by Pantone. Almost exactly one year ago in one of those odes to the 1980s that seem inevitable now, there were neons everywhere in New York. They encompassed almost the entire rainbow. Twelve months later, most of the others have fallen away. The blues flirted with indigo. The greens shifted to hunter. The yellows were burnt and the purples were rich. Yet the pink remained hot to the eye and, one might imagine, to the touch.

At Bibhu Mohapatra

At 6397

At Christian Cowan

At Oscar de la Renta

At Rachel Antonoff

At Alice + Olivia

At Christopher John Rogers

At Carolina Herrera

The packaging and selling of political ideas is not new nor, in my opinion, particularly interesting. For me it often grates and leads to the release of a frustrated huff. So the commercialization of Feminism (capital F required) generally, and White Feminism more specifically, comes as no surprise. That particular strain was occurring before November of 2016, but it has become more prominent in the aftermath of that election. If you let your mind slip for a moment, it can almost feel as if those items are making a real point about where one stands. Then one remembers that payment is required to announce said stand in that manner. This phenomenon exists at all price levels but the sour, sweet stink of the affair hangs most heavily in the air at the top. $700 for a tee is ridiculous no matter how one looks at it. $700 for a tee proclaiming your belief in gender equality is beyond the pale.

A color, well a color is both more complex and more subtle than a glib turn of phrase. One could wear this hot, searing pink merely because one likes pink. Because it looks good on you. Because you have become bored of a life fulled with neutrals. Similarly the designers' inspiration could have roots in any number of places. So while I believe that this shocking pink's appearance is partly tied to what is happening in the wider world, I don't believe that the same sour taste rises from its use. To take something coded as feminine and flip the tedious connotations on their heads, to make it brilliant, electric, eye-watering, and aggressive feels like a different kind of project.

There can be shame and fear in being looked at, especially as a woman when more often than we like those looks are directed and perverted by men. But when one controls the direction and strength of the gaze those feelings can fade away or settle quietly into the background and in their place can rise a power. Here you are unrepentant in the announcement of your femininity. Not a revolutionary act necessarily but a standing proud and firm.

That pink continued to makes appearances in London and Milan. Even now in Paris it is making the occasional showing. But as so often happens, another has come to the fore. Black, a color that is also often defined as only one or two things, was everywhere. In leather suits and flowing capes. Universally flattering and always chic. A color with its own complicated story to tell.

Images via