25-Sep, 20:44

09:31, February 15 290 0

2017-02-15 09:31:10
Going Places at Coach and Tory Burch

One of the stranger things about New York Fashion Week thus far has been the way designers have dragged their guests all over the city — from one landmark building and hard-to-access venue to the next — and then, when everyone is inside, ogling their surroundings, immediately attempted to transport them somewhere else.

Tory Burch invited everyone to the Whitney Museum of American Art, for example, in all its glassed-in Renzo Piano glory, and then showed them the Philadelphia story (her own, and bits inspired by the 1940 George Cukor film) in 36 looks from coed Fair Isles and corduroy to PTA foulards with a big, swirling T.B. monogram and gold-embroidered hostess glam.

Moncler Grenoble opened the Hammerstein Ballroom, a 1906 theater with a hand-painted ceiling, and then recreated an icy gala evening in the Alps, complete with a frozen mirrored “lake” and Dr. Zhivago waltz — plus guests in a veritable rainbow of outerwear stretching from the technical (shiny puffer coats in Crayola colors) to the decorative (1960s ski babes in fur and tartan).

Brandon Maxwell brought everyone to the 71st floor of 4 World Trade Center, laid the Hudson River and the sunset over New Jersey at their feet, dimmed the lights — and the darkened room became a nightclub, strafed by divas in short leather minidresses and sweetheart-neckline jumpsuits, big emerald furs and slinky emerald gowns.

You get the idea.

What’s that about? Inclusivity? Concern that on their own, the clothes are not exciting enough? (Sometimes this is true.) A desire to underscore the truth that the promise of fashion is the promise of transformation?

Maybe all of the above. In his show statement, Mr. Maxwell — who made his name as Lady Gaga’s stylist before going out on his own — said it was “a glimpse into the soul of a boy from Texas who dreamed his whole life of someday being here” as well as an effort to “branch out into unfamiliar territories.” Though whether that meant New York or the heart of the fashion establishment, or simply the addition of jewel tones to a black-and-white palette, was unclear.

Space and set are just narrative devices: a way of dressing up the dresses. In the end, clothes should speak for themselves.

Which ones did?

Certainly Coach 1941, the official name of the women’s collection, where the creative director Stuart Vevers went off once again on a road trip across America, and found himself in a prairie-meets-badlands state of mind.

Floral tea dresses came in earthy shades of brown and beige, trimmed in lace and beaded posies; tartans were burnt umber and black; and shearlings with a feral edge bloomed with dried-out roses. Little charm bags dangled from gold chains around the neck, moon-boot Birkenstocks were buckled by rhinestones, and frame bags or mega-totes clutched in the hand. Puffer coats were supersized and printed with the same sere florals (for men and women — Coach tells the same story for both), varsity jackets sported skulls ’n’ roses, and duffels came strewn with patches.

In case you didn’t get it, the brand had lured everyone to the Far West Side of Manhattan and a pier by a bit of beach just abutting the Hudson, and seated the attendees around a little hut on the prairie that had been built inside a structure complete with tumbleweeds on dusty ground. But the story was so obvious, the setting wasn’t necessary. Whack! It hit you on the head. Whack!

It might have been better to let some of Manhattan in.

Because, while it is perfectly clear what Mr. Vevers’s Coach stands for, it is a limited idea. This time around he stretched it a bit — literally: the dresses swirled at mid-calf, instead of at the knee; there was a hint of hip-hop in the sizing and the symbolism — but save for one pair of patched jeans, prairie girls apparently don’t wear pants (those were left to the boys), or suits, or ever go to the ball. Even Laura Ingalls Wilder moved on, and she got a whole book series out of it. If his ambitions for Coach go beyond a little dress, cool bags and a great coat, Mr. Vevers needs to do the same.

Perhaps this is why Narciso Rodriguez holds his shows in what is effectively a black box. It has forced him to carve out an identity rooted in adjectives — streamlined, minimal, architectural — as opposed to place or theater. That said, his clothes are also, above all, urban.

See, for example, stovepipe pants cropped at the ankle, and narrow double-faced coats left without fastening save for a band just above the waist to hold the sides both together and slightly apart, thus transforming them from a garment you put on top into a garment that framed an outfit.

See sleeves on a T-shirt dress cut as generously as the body, and billowing behind like a cape.

And cocktail frocks in silk charmeuse that slithered over the body like liquid mercury, but were cut like a tank top at the shoulder.

These were the kinds of clothes you wear when you are going places. The itinerary, however, is up to you.