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NYFW: Mary J. Blige Sits Front Row for LaQuan Smith’s ’60s Glamour, Stephanie Hsu and Lucy Hale Exude Easy Elegance at Carolina Herrera

Do fashion fans crave easy elegance or high-wattage glamour? Every woman can indulge in either as she (rightly) wishes, if the Spring/Summer 2024 collections that just bowed during New York Fashion Week are any indication.

Designers either overtly or subtly stated that chic women need not feel constrained by any one must-have trend for the season; instead, she should embrace her inner goddess, whether she’s into the classic details of a crisp, beautifully cut white blouse or prefers an A-line white miniskirt that’s slit to reveal a leg longer than a typical traffic backup on the 405 freeway. And A-list fashion fans ranging from Blake Lively and Halle Berry to Mary J. Blige, Laverne Cox, Lucy Hale and Stephanie Hsu seem to heartily agree with this approach.

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Blake Lively, Van Hunt, Halle Berry, Nicole Ari Parker, and Tiffany Haddish attend the Michael Kors Collection Spring/Summer 2024 Runway Show at Domino Park on September 11, 2023 in Brooklyn, New York.
Blake Lively, Van Hunt, Halle Berry, Nicole Ari Parker and Tiffany Haddish at the Michael Kors presentation during New York Fashion Week.

If there was one overarching trend of the week, it was indeed designers’ collective mandate for women to explore an unabashed freedom of personal style, largely seen via the juxtaposition of overt glamour versus quiet ease (the “quiet luxury” trend hasn’t quite worn out its welcome yet, but it is being replaced by a subtle-meets-upscale vibe that’s luxurious without blaring that adjective). Ultimately that idea made the latest collection reveals all the more thrilling, because amid the cacophony of photographers clamoring to capture stars on front rows and street-style influencers vying for attention on the sidewalks (even if they sometimes didn’t possess an invite for the show inside), looking past all that noise to concentrate on the clothes felt pretty terrific.

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Across Monday and Tuesday, a handful of shows exemplified that sensibility perfectly. Lively and Berry were among the star-studded front row at Michael Kors’ vacation-centric Spring 2024 presentation, where models walked barefoot and the collection’s largely neutral color palette blended draped jersey dresses with tailored pieces like a double-breasted jacket that was slightly cropped and oversized.

A model walks the runway for LaQuan Smith during New York Fashion Week
Models walking the runway during the LaQuan Smith presentation as part of New York Fashion Week.

With Mary J. Blige, Babyface, Vivica A. Fox and Laverne Cox on his front row, LaQuan Smith opted for high-wattage glamour with a tinge of sci-fi inspiration. “I pulled references from Freddie Mercury and Barbarella to create little hints of sci-fi without being so literal,” he explained to The Hollywood Reporter backstage after the show. “I was thinking of the woman I love, the woman I’m inspired by, who’s always the center of attention and always comes to me for something that’s going to be spot-on, super hot and unapologetic.”

Smith is undeniably enjoying his own moment in the spotlight, dressing a growing roster of A-list women that ranges from Beyoncé for her Renaissance world tour to Vice President Kamala Harris, who wore a gold sequined blouse by the designer to a Renaissance concert in early August. Smith’s increasing popularity is also translating to a collection that feels sharp and wholly confident, from the bodysuits worn with the aforementioned miniskirt to the sleek column gowns with deep, open backs and the luscious trench looks, either briefly cut in bright metallics or calf-length in an ultra-luxe black leather embossed in an alligator texture (Blige was definitely eyeing the latter).

That several pieces felt red carpet-ready was intentional, Smith added. “The importance of red carpet to the brand is essential,” he said. “I grew up watching J.Lo and Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child and Mary J. Blige and Grace Jones rocking the red carpet, and that’s something I identified with the most. A LaQuan Smith moment is a Hollywood moment, and red carpet is essential to the LaQuan Smith woman whether she’s a celebrity or not. Maybe she’s going to a gala or a benefit or dinner, but it’s still about celebration.”

On Tuesday that notion was further reinforced, starting with Pamella Roland’s showcase of flowing gowns inspired by a recent trip to Morocco. “After visiting this beautiful country, I knew we had to create a collection which infused all of this culture of rich colors, natural fixtures and intricate patterns,” Roland said in her show notes, while adding that the country’s devastating Sept. 8 earthquake not only made the reference more poignant and meaningful but also that the house would be making a donation to assist with relief and rebuilding efforts, while encouraging her audience to do the same.

Models walk the runway at the Pamella Roland fashion show during New York Fashion Week - September 2023: The Shows at Gallery at Spring Studios on September 12, 2023 in New York City.
A look at the finale of Pamella Roland’s Morocco-themed collection during New York Fashion Week.

Like Smith, Carolina Herrera creative director Wes Gordon said he was inspired by the women in his circle, while also noting the influence of a favorite muse: the late Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, who was known as much for her effortless style as she was for being the wife of John F. Kennedy, Jr. “I wanted to make a collection of clothes my girlfriends would want to wear — not just for special occasions but for every day,” Gordon told THR on Tuesday afternoon. “Last season we took the Herrera woman to Rio, and it was inspired by Brazil and color and energy and music. This season I was just really excited to celebrate New York and the idea of a pencil skirt, suede slingbacks and a great cotton shirt.”

That latter item is a beloved Herrera signature, seen not only in the looks that opened and closed Gordon’s presentation, but also in iterations like beautifully flowing cotton shirtdresses with voluminous sleeves and asymmetrical detailing. “Every season I try to do a new iteration of our white cotton shirt,” Gordon explained, noting that both the first and 61st looks in the show were mirror images, the first in white cotton with a black pencil skirt and the last in black cotton with an embroidered pencil skirt in a shimmering silver embellished with paillettes.

Carolina Herrera Spring 2024 fashion presentation
Three looks from the Carolina Herrera presentation during New York Fashion Week.

Elegant toile prints, meanwhile, were crafted in cotton voile. “I’m a little psycho about our prints; I work really hard to get them exactly right,” Gordon said. “What I loved about the toile is it’s a cotton voile, so it’s really light, and black and white and black and yellow were the only two color combinations I did with it. It was about taking something really romantic and applying it to clean shapes, and that’s the balance for us.”

Finally, with the Emmys postponed until January due to the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes, how is Gordon feeling about reduced red-carpet moments versus the frenzy of creating custom looks in past years? “It’s never about the pressure, because it’s always such a fun thing,” he said. “I’m sad not to be working on pieces [for the Emmys] right now, but hopefully these clothes will find different paths to having their moments.”

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