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Why Fashion Purists Love Narciso Rodriguez

Sarah Jessica Parker sat front row at Rodriguez’s NYFW show, Zac Posen delivered simple brilliance for Brooks Brothers, and there was a new Tiffany Trump sighting.

02.16.17 12:30 AM ET

Narciso Rodriguez by Lizzie Crocker

At most big-name fashion shows, there’s a clear social hierarchy among guests. The front row serves as a visual tip-sheet of who’s who and why they’re there: celebrity fans, retired models, top fashion editors, bloggers with brand recognition, and luxury retailers all get prime seating.

Needless to say, “standing” tickets are the lowest rungs on the hierarchical ladder, reserved for interns and interlopers.

You can tell a lot about a brand from its front row. Star wattage doesn’t always line up with industry respect, for instance. But a guest list stacked with celebs and fashion insiders, as it was at Raf Simons’s Calvin Klein debut, is a good indicator of both commercial success and industry renown.

narciso-rodriguez

Getty Images

Then there are big-name shows where the social order is more ambiguous. Take the mixed crowd at Phillipp Plein, where A-list stars (Madonna, Kylie Jenner) rubbed shoulders with the D-list ones (Paris Hilton), and a slew of seemingly wealthy, nameless peacockers joined them to be photographed by street style photographers—to see-and-be-seen and (hopefully) end up in Guest of a Guest party pictures the next day.

It was a mixed bag at Narciso Rodriguez on Tuesday night, too. Outside the show, a young man who claimed he was with the media outlet Russia Today wielded a mop-like microphone and asked guests what they were wearing. (Since when does Russia Today do fashion coverage?)

In recent seasons, the atmosphere at Rodriguez’s shows has been intimate and serene. It’s the only show this reporter has attended where people talk to each other in hushed tones both before and after the runway presentation.

Sarah Jessica Parker was chirping quietly to her seatmate in that girly, ageless voice of hers in the front row on Tuesday. She wore one of his washer-embroidered dresses from last season over a sheer black long sleeve tee and black stockings. Raf Simons, beloved Belgian designer whose debut show at Calvin Klein was the show to see this week, squeezed in next to her. They looked like old friends: No need for pleasantries.

When two of the most long-adored people in Planet Fashion turn up to a show, you know it’s an important one—not the buzziest, necessarily, but one that is respected in the biz. Indeed, Rodriguez has been designing some of the most effortlessly chic womenswear for so long that his name is sometimes overshadowed by new hot tickets.

But fashion purists love Rodriguez. His clothes are pared down but exquisitely cut and styled. When other designers resort to gimmicks to stand out, Rodriguez remains a masterful minimalist.

That much was clear from his fall/winter collection, which opened with a black wool top with thin, horizontal cutouts on the chest and black wool trousers cropped above the ankle. The chest cutout was a recurring motif in the collection. (SJP pulled out her phone for a black, knee-length dress with cleavage-exposing cutouts.)

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Metallic satin dresses that almost looked like liquid echoed pieces from last season. Streamlined jackets and trousers in burnt orange provided flashes of color. Tops with wing-like split sleeves that trailed behind models like streamers were at once simple and stunning.

The crowd was charmed and cheered Rodriguez when he came out at the end. There was no mad dash for the door, as there often is. Vogue staffers took their time walking out. Ken Downing, the fashion director at Neiman Marcus, whispered something to someone about needing sleep. It was day five of fashion week, after all, but everyone seemed blissed out as they left. Rodriguez’s shows have that effect on people.

Brooks Brothers by Tim Teeman

The evening before, Zac Posen had hosted his own-label NYFW show in a downtown loft, with photos of his most famous muses blown-up, and some of the muses in attendance. There was champagne in mini-bottles, plates of macaroons, and mucho buzz.

The next morning, Posen told The Daily Beast that the glamorous revels didn’t transition into a hedonistic all-nighter. “I went home and cooked a pasta dinner for my hubby (Christopher Niquet).” Surviving New York Fashion Week with sanity intact, he said, required “authenticity and normalcy.”

Brooks Brothers

Brooks Brothers

There was no pounding rock music, and in this loft—with beautiful views of downtown and Midtown Manhattan, bathed in sunlight—Posen showed his Brooks Brothers womenswear collection. He chatted to guests wearing a beautiful, fitted double-breasted Brooks Brothers men’s suit.

On a raised stage, a group of models stood and looked out at us spectators. This can feel a little stilted, as they are humans not mannequins, and so everybody affects to look at the detail of the clothes rather than the faces.

There were fitted camel-colored jackets, with grey pedal-pusher pants. A white winter coat came flecked with colors. Shoes were flat, or very moderately heeled. Socks were sported by some. It was, presumably like the Brooks Brothers woman’s customer, conservative with a kick, practical, with little elevations of luxe, like a black coat with threads of silver—if Jackie O had liked metallic the coat would have been made for her.

There were “moon and flower” dresses in green and navy, and dresses with colorful silk paneling. The tuxedo was given a sheer silhouette by Posen in a series of simple trouser suits. Puffer ski coats, a classic black cocktail dress, a cashmere knit inspired by Donegal tweed, and a gorgeous mint-colored jacket, and black skirt completed the collection.

Posen told The Daily Beast the collection was meant to be timeless, bringing the fabrics of menswear—Harris tweed, for example—helping to bridge day and eveningwear for women. “This is anti-fast fashion. These are investment pieces,” he said.

It wasn’t difficult juggling his own and Brooks Brothers collections. “I go into laser focus in each situation I do, and give it my all,” said Posen.

The Brooks Brothers fittings take two days and number 150 styles. “I have an amazing team. It takes a village,” Posen said, smiling. “You have to delegate, you have to be collaborative. Nothing is a solo story with fashion.” The Brooks Brothers collection, in particular, is built on the feedback of its devoted customers.

Posen is extremely busy: He is shooting Project Runway, writing a cookbook, which will be published in the fall, and there is also a documentary film being made about him. He has a bridal collection. “I garden and cook, that’s my calm,” Posen said. “I try to have that balance.”

As for this year’s political NYFW, Posen—who himself said he wanted his collection to deliver a “message of elegance and hope”—said: “I don’t like politics being used as a sales marketing tool. It seems like it diminishes the point. The world is very different this year. In fashion, there’s more emphasis on quality and personal authenticity, and I really appreciate how lucky we are to work in art and commerce. It’s a field we’re able to be creative in.”

Vivienne Tam by Lizzie Crocker

Four years ago, then-President Barack Obama appeared on Vivienne Tam’s runway, his face pictured in pop art-esque prints on jackets and dresses. At the time, the Chinese-American designer told Vogue that she’d “really been interested in current events lately, and wanted the clothes to say something more than just fashion.”

Tam’s political reference was something of an anomaly that year at New York Fashion Week, with Vogue noting in its review that “fashion and politics don’t generally mix.”

vivienne tam

vivienne tam

It’s baffling to think about now, at a time when fashion has never been more political. Notable designers who have avoided overt politicking in their collections—Narciso Rodriguez, Zac Posen, and Carolina Herrera, among others—have quietly signaled their politics by participating in the CFDA’s partnership with Planned Parenthood. Plenty of designers have offered escapism on the runway, but politics are always looming, whether it’s Beyoncé’s stylist wearing an anti-Trump statement or the innocuous presence of the president’s daughter, Tiffany Trump, at fashion week.

“Ugh, she’s coming with the Secret Service?” a gatekeeper outside Vivienne Tam’s show asked another staffer, who shushed her. The last thing these staffers want is for people to know Tiffany’s coming ahead of time. It’s enough of a headache as is to keep gawkers and fans (yes, Tiffany has fans!) away from the president’s daughter when she makes an unexpected arrival.

Indeed, one young female fan sitting across from Tiffany mimed at her from across the runway then scrambled into her lap to pose for a selfie. The Secret Service hovered close by but didn’t make a fuss: Tiffany must have given them the OK. A few fans and staged photo ops are fine. Questions from the media are not.

Then the show started, forty minutes after it was meant to, with Tam presenting a collection inspired by Hong Kong nightlife. Colorful metallic bomber jackets and neon prints nodded to Hong Kong’s bright lights and ubiquitous neon signs. Tam paired them with wool tweed coats and plaid dresses and pants—a nice contrast that prevented the collection from looking too much like an ’80s disco party. Metallics aside, the silhouettes were more ‘90s than ‘80s.

Several looks featured arm warmers, which have emerged as an unexpected trend this season.

But no political references. No shout-outs to powerful women or Planned Parenthood pins. Just a modern, high fashion collection for the clubbing crowd.