What Happened at New York’s First Pandemic Fashion Show?


Jason Wu symbolized he was feeling Zen, swiveling in an office chair in his studio near Penn Bus station.

It was Saturday afternoon, the day before his runway show, and he was surrounded by his design band and stylists, fitting models in outfits from his spring 2021 collecting. The clothes were bright and breezy; the waists were elastic, the bras were cashmere, the hats were big, and the sandals were tiresome.

He thumbed through his phone, looking for a video of one of the models walking down a Arcadian tree-lined road that he’d been sent the day before. He approved the arrangement via text, and today she was here, he explained with some awe.

The models came and expired, floating from their fittings to their Deborah Lippmann manicures in an adjacent cell, which Mr. Wu called “the spa.” Jazz played from a speaker somewhere. There was motionless a lot to do, but nothing felt too intense.

“I think this might be my favorite display ever,” Mr. Wu said.

It may have also been his strangest. This period, Mr. Wu was one of the very few designers staging a traditional runway show during New York Fashion Week. The pandemic has private road most designers online, offering videos and look books (chew out up as “digital activations”) in lieu of shows. But not Mr. Wu, who debuted at NYFW 14 years ago, when he was no more than 23.

Mr. Wu had also decided to show his contemporary line on the runway for the first all together, rather than his more glamorous Jason Wu Collection, with its evening looks and Manolo Blahnik lists. Mr. Wu’s gowns rose to prominence when Michelle Obama wore them to both of her save’s inaugural balls. He still routinely dresses celebrities for red carpet results — not that there have been many of those this year.

Dialect mayhap this was the source of Mr. Wu’s Zen; for once he was showing caftans instead of formal burden. Or maybe it was that, as he put it, “this isn’t my first rodeo.” Either way, his tranquillity on Saturday belied the ear-splitting stakes of Sunday.

The future of fashion weeks is unclear. Traditional runways presentations are petri dishes stuffed with spectators, no one knows how long pandemic provisoes will hinder international travel or dictate the parameters of events, and straightforward though thousands of people depend on the work provided by fashion betrays, many designers are sick of doing so many of them.

To host a escort now, when practically no one else in New York will, is to declare that the runway allay matters — that even in a pandemic, it is worthwhile. And to make that pronunciamento convincing, it’s simply got to be good.

Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Forthwiths

Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Mr. Wu decided to go forward with a runway show in July. It was partly his hometown uppitiness; he felt that New York Fashion Week, which has slowed down in modern years, still needed to be represented on the international calendar, “through the capable times and not so good times.”

“The pandemic is still very much a authenticity,” he said. “But I think, as companies and creators, we kind of have to just hunker down and make off a decision. Like, are we going to keep creating, or not?”

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He had also been tipped with an interesting sponsorship opportunity. Lowe’s Home Improvement was teaming up with NYFW and leave provide the materials for his set.

There was also the fact that a show in a pandemic would sure attract more attention than a show in a normal season, when Mr. Wu had to battle with names like Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Oscar de la Renta (all of whom were gamboling NYFW this season). In February, Mr. Wu’s show had been scheduled in the medial of the Academy Awards, one of fashion’s most high-profile events.

“I guess the apply pressure on is on,” he said during a phone call in late August, laughing a negligible but not a lot.

The show would be executed by Focus, the internal production company of IMG, the holder and operator of NYFW: the Shows, which was standing firmly behind doing carnal events this season.

“We truly believe in the physical format,” affirmed Leslie Russo, the executive vice president of IMG’s fashion events guild. “Whether that physical format evolves remains to be seen. I make up people love a runway show. I think people love stand in in the front row.”


Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

The topic of the show would be Tulum, Mexico, one of Mr. Wu’s favorite vacation spots and the putting of his 2016 wedding. This was convenient, considering the show would difficulty to take place outdoors. After months of discussions with IMG, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo allowed New York Construct Week to go forward with live audiences only if events were outdoors and gathering was capped at 50 people. Indoor events were prohibited from obtaining spectators.

This summer, Dominic Kaffka, the Focus head of movie, presented Mr. Wu with a plan to transform the rooftop terrace of Spring Studios in TriBeCa — a proverbial site for indoor shows — into a kind of socially distant jungle lakeshore.

“I think you can definitely interpret it as escapism,” Mr. Kaffka said right after Mr. Wu make overed off on the design plan, about three weeks before the show. “You go to the careen, you’re in Tulum, you have a drink, no worries. That’s what I think we’re tough to recreate, for at least one evening.”

Guests at the show would include 30 or so of Mr. Wu’s supporters, along with industry figures and a few fashion editors. “It’s going to be uncommonly, very exclusive and very private,” Mr. Kaffka promised. But the show would also be flooded online, and the challenge would be giving the masses a feeling of escapism, too.

The diverse obvious and pressing task, however, was pulling off any kind of event subservient to the strict safety requirements. Everyone working on the show — set builders, interns, sculpts — would not only need to be screened with thermometer guns, but also put forth negative Covid-19 test results before being allowed in the structure.


Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Placid, there was something refreshing about working under such airtight rules and strange circumstances, Mr. Kaffka said. Runway shows clothed a formula: They’re less than 10 minutes long, in van of 300 people, and location is everything

“Every six months, the same guild gets on the same planes and watches the same shows,” he said. “It was exceptionally stimulating this season to be forced to do something else.”

Three days before Mr. Wu’s show, it rained all day in New York City. Mr. Kaffka’s band watched closely as Sunday’s forecast showed precipitation, too. Rain itself wasn’t a big mete out, he said; guests could be given clear umbrellas, and some humidity devise only make the jungle feel more realistic. But if the rain deflected into a thunderstorm, they would have to look into a arranging change. Moving the show inside was not an option.

“We love to create a blameless moment, and it can only be perfect if there’s a certain risk that matters can go wrong,” he said. “That’s the beauty of it.”

But the fashion gods smized upon Cut Manhattan. The forecast cleared, and late on Friday night, construction originated. The rooftop terrace’s restaurant was stripped away to make room for a few tons of playground sand and hundreds of tropical places. (The number ranged from 850 to 1,000, depending on who and when you enquire ofed.)


Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Hours

Plastic sand bags and brown paper-wrapped palm trees were flapdoodled into two freight elevators, then lifted to the seventh-floor roof, where not too masked construction workers waited to unload them. This unescorted took about eight hours. Then the work began of arranging the transplants and props (like coconuts) into a landscape with some enclaves fashioned out for hidden camera operators.

Twenty-four hours before showtime, Mr. Wu prospered to check on the progress. As the elevators opened up, a camera crew closed in, stalk him as he walked down a lush aisle that eventually opened up into a sandy dull. Wooden chairs would be placed here for the audience, framing the curved runway and aligned six feet apart in every direction.

On Sunday afternoon, the models prospered. Casting the show had been tricky. Earlier this year, myriad New York models who had European work visas relocated for the summer. “New York is the least estimable place to be right now for a model in terms of available jobs,” said Rachel Chandler, the evicting director.

After sitting for hair and makeup — the hair stylists impaired masks, but the makeup artists wore face shields — the models moved to their big shared dressing room, where their outfits hung on singular racks sandwiched between thick plexiglass panels. During recounting, they wore masks, though they needed to be reminded to spread out.


Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

The six-feet-apart rule was a compound policy. No one working backstage at a fashion show can really do their job without go into close contact with another person. All they could do was try to leave alone it.

When the 36 guests arrived, they filled out a health questionnaire on their phones sooner than having their temperatures taken. They were escorted to the haul elevators, where stickers on the floor told them where to survive c jilt, and then to the runway.

Despite their socially distant seating, the patrons congregated, greeting each other somewhat awkwardly — it’s never straightaway clear who’s up for a forearm bump and who’s not — and talking about how strange it was to be at a runway drama again. Strange, but nice. Most agreed it was nice.

The show originated on time. The first model was the actress Indya Moore, wearing a wish and loose sleeveless orange dress with eyelet details about her calves. (Ms. Moore’s mother was in the audience.) Nine minutes later, it was throughout. The small audience cheered.

As Mr. Wu took his bow, he noticed something: When he trod down the runway, he could make eye contact with people — registering friends and loved ones. This wasn’t normal. He was used to looking out at a mad sea of phones.

“I neutral felt connected,” he said the next day. “I can’t say that about every reveal.”

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