For years, I have been a whiner.
Come May (or April, even), when the emails about cruise — or resort or holiday or spring or pre-spring or whatever you want to call the collections that enter stores in November and stay until March — begin to arrive, I have an almost Pavlovian reaction: See email, start kvetching. This season drives me batty.
It’s very important. The clothes stay on store shelves at full price longer than any other collection, and, for many people, make up more of the wardrobe than the runway lines. Resort collections are huge (at Carolina Herrera, Wes Gordon made 14 different white cotton shirts and shirtdresses alone) and are responsible for more of a brand’s annual revenues than pretty much any other season.
But this season is also totally disorganized, lasts at least two months, overlaps with men’s wear and couture, and doesn’t even have a name designers can agree on, for goodness sake.
I mean: On the one hand there are Gucci, Chanel, Dior and Vuitton, holding the equivalent of destination weddings in far-flung locales with all sort of bells and whistles. Clients and press flown in specially for the occasion, mega runway experiences, glamorous dinners.
And then there is Michael Kors.
When I arrived in the cavernous downtown Manhattan warehouse where he was holding his presentation earlier this month, I found an empty bench with a row of seats and the designer bouncing on his toes. “Am I really early?” I asked in confusion. “No, it’s just you and Matthew!” Mr. Kors chortled happily.
And then my colleague Matthew Schneier and I sat there in the echoing expanse as Mr. Kors plopped himself on the bench next to us and assorted models came out in 39 looks from the collection, including a very cool painterly T-shirt and trousers/stripes-and-sprouts combo, and some “Casino Royale” brocades paired with python and crystal-studded platform Birkenstocks. Mr. Kors riffed. It was like micro-dosing a fashion show.
“It’s not a twin set — it’s a tri-set!” Mr. Kors said about a matching floral minidress, jacket and boots. Of a gold lamé tiered frock, he said, “It’s the Jitney dress gone glamorous.”
I have always struggled to fit all this into a logical pattern, because I felt it was my job as a responsible fashion adult to (1) act as a filter between the brands and you; and (2) act as a truth teller for the industry, letting it know when what it is doing makes pretty much no sense to its customers. And if I couldn’t parse the cruise collections into some sort of structure, what did that mean for everyone else?
It seemed to me the answer was chaos. But I have come to realize that it is also a surprising amount of good clothes. And that those two things may not be unrelated.
Precisely because there simply isn’t the same formal structure or corporate imperative that has turned the regular show system into a high-pressure money and Instagram machine, designers are more relaxed about the whole thing. They play a little. They try stuff out and shrug off the statement. Sometimes it works really well. Sometimes … whoops! That’s O.K. Blink and you can miss it.
“There’s less anxiety,” Mr. Gordon said as he talked me around his Carolina Herrera collection, which was his first as sole designer of the label. (Mrs. Herrera became global ambassador last February.) When I was there, so was Bergdorf Goodman, placing its order, so I got to spy on its rail. In case you were wondering: lots of tequila sunrise ball gowns and summer frocks, some with little wooden animals instead of bugle beads.
“I can risk a little bad taste every once in a while,” Mr. Gordon said, showing off a rainbow-striped mink cape with a matching rainbow-striped chiffon evening look, reminiscent of the cape Lena Waithe wore to the Met Gala (and not in bad taste). “Chic doesn’t have to mean uptight. These are happy clothes.” He looked chuffed amid the toucan tones.
Narciso Rodriguez said much the same after his mini-show (two rows of benches on either side of a narrow room in his office building) of sleek tops, trousers and skirts razor tailored into asymmetry. “I’m relaxing into things I’ve done in the past, but making them better and more relevant,” he said as the models milled about like greyhound puppies with nowhere particular to go.
You can’t really grumble about that. Nor about hanging out with Diane von Furstenberg as she lounges on a velvet pouf and pushes back her cloud of hair and talks about how you can roll a dragonfly print stretch net dress up and “stick it in your handbag — crunch! Like that.” And then raises an eyebrow at her creative director, Nathan Jenden, because in his enthusiasm to rush off and find a jade green fox fur jacket (“very old YSL”) he dropped a chunky knit on the ground.
“I think you should pick that up, Nathan,” Ms. von Furstenberg said.
There’s a kind of insouciance to the season that is catching. It’s hard to keep being hung up on irrationality when everyone else seems to be having fun. Especially because even in the random spattering of collections I have seen so far, there were lots of very good clothes.
At Valentino, for example, where Pierpaolo Piccioli seems to be getting better every season, and this time around went in two different directions, dipping into 1970s typeface for mini Macs and scarf dresses, and then switching it up for haute bohemia, with elaborately embroidered garden frocks.
Or Oscar de la Renta, where my favorite style among Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim’s pastel jerseys and billowing parachute silks was a long lace shirt with train atop a pair of slim black cigarette pants — though Meghan Markle’s favorite was, apparently, a Wedgwood print wrap dress, which she wore recently to the wedding of Prince Harry’s cousin Celia McCorquodale.
Or Altuzarra, where Joseph Altuzarra segued from big picnic checks to Amalfi Coast landscapes (which he drew himself — he showed me the sample sketch) to Roman urns and dip-dyed florals, all with a hint that everything was about to come undone, the lace and silk and knit beginning to peel away.
Or Coach 1941, where Stuart Vevers traded a yacht for a trip to the Viper Room, complete with patchwork velvets, upholstery fabric anoraks and an entirely decadent pale pink double-face zip-up hoodie that would make any distinction between office attire and athleisure entirely moot.
There was some talk, back a few months ago, about Alexander Wang trying to team up with the Council of Fashion Designers of America and organize an actual “pre-collection week” (he has decided the pre-collections will be his main show), but it didn’t happen, for whatever reason. Here’s hoping it doesn’t.
Because what I learned when I finally stopped complaining about the cruise is this: We don’t need another formal fashion week that demands the industry travel around the world, view every show through an iPhone and take a break from reality until the season is over (the much-hyped and now shrinking men’s weeks in London and New York testify to that). What we already have is enough.
We need more opportunities to hang out and gab with designers to find out what’s in their heads. We need more well-designed garments that, in their confidence, make different kinds of women feel secure and well appointed for whatever their place is in the world. If those garments are all over the place, well, so are we. It’s not so strange after all, love.