Was New York Fashion Week a secret shill for the return-to-office campaign?

There was big, back-to-work energy at New York Fashion Week. Here’s what you missed, plus the local designers rolling up their sleeves

Put it this way, we just saw a whole lot of clothing designed to help you look put-together while the world is falling apart. And it wasn’t just on the runways. For the first outing of Fashion Month, New Yorkers dragged themselves back from summer breaks and pulled on their oversized blazers, ready to clock in.

But was it business as usual? Conversations surrounding AI’s potential impact on the workforce are only becoming more intense, as is a creeping sense in the Northern Hemisphere that a warm start to autumn feels far too hot – and foreboding – to inspire an enthusiastic return to the office.

Collina Strada's AI generated NYFW Collection

The designer that best encapsulated the back-to-work blues was Hillary Taymour at Collina Strada. “We’re all doomed,” she told Vogue. “The world’s on fire, but we’re doing a fashion show because that’s what we know how to do.”

Collina Strada’s spring 2024 ready-to-wear collection was generated by AI, after it was asked to review all of the label’s previous collections. The results were refined by Taymour and her team, who brought back a human touch, making sure the pieces were both artistically inclined and practically possible. On the runway, the models walked with forced fake smiles before letting them go just beyond the photography pit, and revealing how they really felt. (Does this remind you of any corporate corridors?)

While the show’s concept was excellent, and demonstrated the enormous potential of technology and fashion, not many employees can pull off silky boxer shorts or distressed dresses and denim. Fortunately, for the gainfully employed, a number of fashion houses created elegant and effortless collections to help smooth over existential unease in the workplace.

Stocked locally at Muse, Tibi’s focus on ‘real clothes’ – including one-button blazers and matching long shorts – was pragmatic, championing a ‘ready for anything’ approach to getting dressed for the day. At Theory, work ‘uniforms’ were explored with simple yet effective shirts, straight skirts and suits – ensuring the models (who had been working overtime all week) looked perfectly polished. Proenza Schouler was similarly straightforward, featuring exaggerated blazers and streamlined trench coats in lightweight fabrics. Working smarter, not harder, for your wardrobe, these looks were also suited to clocked-off occasions.

While New Yorkers like to laugh about the old-school style rule that ‘one can’t wear white after Labour Day’, several designers challenged this notion, including Gabriela Hearst, whose glorious white coats, long gilets and midi skirts may have been inspired by ancient Druids, but were made for modern women who worship a work-life balance instead. Likewise, at the new-to-NYFW label Fforme, softly tailored white pantsuits and slightly structured sweatshirts are sure to outfit those who enjoy swanning in and out of the office at an executive level. (The designer, Paul Helbers, has worked in menswear at The Row and Louis Vuitton.)

Despite there being some time and distance to navigate before these collections find their way to Aotearoa, their fashion peers can be found in local brands with a similar sense of work ethic. For those who want to appear professional yet approachable, adopting a pinstripe pattern in Mina’s relaxed Marie linen shirt dress (or skirt, or shirt) is a win-win. 

For sharp shirting and slick skirts, Harris Tapper has sartorially cornered the market. The oversized Morning shirt and satin Holly skirt are as directional as a quarterly review, with all the right proportions too.

For an investment blazer or coat, Reine’s Auckland atelier creates custom-tailored garments to rival London’s Savile Row. The Amelia double-breasted blazer has lapels that could lead a team alone. The Ellis coat is a transeasonal trench you can wear during any season of your career. And the cocooning Camille shrug will help you acclimate to a new corner office’s air-con.

Touching base, the shoe trends at New York Fashion Week varied from knee-high boots to kitten heels and brogues. For the Southern hemisphere’s spring, Nicole Rebstock’s Balta 35mm encapsulates the best of these trends with just enough embossed leather and the added ca-ching of gold chain hardware. This is a shoe pairing that is proficient in problem-solving with strong attention to detail, as the CV-speak goes.

Culturally, we are seeing a renewed interest in corporate life, as many businesses urge employers to return to the office amid covid-related complexities. This September, workplace thrillers Fair Play (in cinemas) and The Other Black Girl (streaming on Disney+) will light up screens, with leads Phoebe Dynevor and Sinclair Danie making a case for classically clipped tan coats, silk grey shirts and mustard turtlenecks respectively.

As for the recently-wrapped London Fashion Week, which was largely a weekend affair, time in lieu is surely owed to the teams at Roksanda, Emilia Wickstead, Richard Quin and Erdem for pulling off the soft power look. For sharper takes on workwear trends, we’re leaning into JW Anderson, 16 Arlington, David Korma and Tove. 

Now, Paris. And yes, we will report back.

Images: supplied by labels