NEW YORK — Thursday marked the end of New York Fashion Week (NYFW) spring-summer 2023. Aside from the storied afterparties, the real-life “Devil Wears Prada” moments and celebrity sightings, the weeklong series of events is heralded as fashion’s grand mainstage. NYFW signals the styles and silhouettes that will be dominating retail racks in the coming months, and designers toil their way to the top to showcase their collections to buyers, press and fashion enthusiasts.
The official schedule started on Sept. 7, with Christian Siriano’s show at Elizabeth Taylor’s former townhome and an appearance from pop icon Janet Jackson. With the help of rapper Saucy Santana and “Me & U” singer Cassie, The Blonds closed out the week with a bedazzled bang. The commercialization, exclusivity and fanfare of NYFW may be enticing to the human eye, but at times, there is much left to be desired. What is unseen is the persistent lack of plus-size models on the runway, the incessant emailing in the days prior and general fatigue, thanks to frantic commutes from one venue to another.
But the stories that designers tell with their fashion lines and the feelings their clothes evoke keep me coming back every season. As a teen, I watched models walk runways at New York Fashion Week from home on my laptop. Of the seven shows I attended this season, some labels attempted to reinvent the proverbial wheel, while others seemingly lost the plot. Yet the craftsmanship, ambiance and cohesive visions from Felicia Noel, Sergio Hudson and Jason Rembert were the highlights of my week. To me, it’s no surprise that Black designers took the cake this season.
This season, Grenadian American designer Felicia Noel unveiled her “Wish You Were Here” collection. In 25 pieces, the Brooklyn-based designer showcased a range of colors, from plum purple to chocolate brown to teal, and employed a variety of techniques from ruching to fine floral embroidery.
Whimsical, romantic and feminine, Fe Noel’s spring-summer 2023 collection played with softness, movement and breadth of human emotion. Characterized as the “duality in three parts” by the show notes, the collection sought to capture “the feelings of being both carefree and buttoned up, fearless and cautious” as it transitioned from muted to dark then light tones. An homage to a woman’s journey on continuous growth, Fe Noel’s structured blazers and pantsuits married perfectly with the feminine slip dresses and gowns. With a runway soundtrack that included Louis Armstrong and Etta James, the yearning for the aptly titled collection was evident.
The final breathtaking piece was a 16-foot train couture gown titled the “Dre$$.” Made from fake paper money, it symbolizes the $1.6 million that women lose in retirement savings due to the pay gap. “By partnering with TIAA,” Noel wrote, “the collective goal is to close the gap and #RetireInequality for good.”
Collection 10 by Sergio Hudson was vibrant, sharp and sexy. Having styled both former First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris, Hudson is the king of blazers and belts. His ability to transform seemingly tired business attire into a spectacle is remarkable. A master of jewel tones, he incorporated eye-catching colors such as terracotta, fuschia and cobalt blue into this collection, along with unique twists on classic black and white striped and polka dot prints.
Hudson’s spring-summer 2023 collection toyed with texture, incorporating velvet, suede and leather into various cuts and crevices. Collection 10 featured jumpsuits with peekaboo cut-outs, sleek dress silhouettes and sharp structure in the blazers — designed with the intent to empower women. “I wanted to do something beautiful, bold, and overtly glamorous and sexy, while still maintaining a clean and modern feel,” Hudson said in a press release. With sequins, animal print and big hair interspersed, the show was an ode to drama in the best way.
Following in her model mother’s footsteps, Aoki Lee Simmons made her NYFW debut walking in the show, alongside names like Winnie Harlow, Leomie Anderson, Maria Borges and others. With fashion legends Misa Hylton and Bethann Hardison in the audience, there is truly nothing like seeing a Black Southern designer’s vision come to life.
ALIÉTTE BY JASON REMBERT
On the final day of NYFW, when I needed that extra push to make it through, the fashion gods saved the best for last. Held in the Georgia Room of the Freehand Hotel, stylist-turned-designer Jason Rembert delivered a stunning collection, replete with impressive construction and accompanied by lively music. (We need more “Knuck If You Buck” moments on the runway, please, and thank you.)
Rembert, head of the now three-year-old label Aliétte, knows how to make heads turn. His spring-summer 2023 collection was the absolute height of glamor. The 30-piece collection transitioned from vibrant greens to rosy pinks, bold turquoise and golden yellow; the jaw-dropping embroidery coupled with magnificent feather skirts and tiered gowns were one of the many highlights of the show. Upon entry, guests received a white flower, a very literal take on the phrase, “Give someone their flowers.”
In memory of his late mother, Rembert told Vogue, “What I’ve realized over the past 15, 20 years is that so many Black women don’t know how dope they are.” Featuring corsets and floral accents along the neckline and shoulders on various pieces, the collection is feminine yet playful. It was one of few instances in which I found myself utterly speechless and mesmerized while watching a show.