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Tommy Hilfiger pays tribute to NY as city's fashion week kicks off



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US musician and singer Jon Batiste performs on the runway at Tommy Hilfiger's Fall/Winter 2024 collection during New York Fashion Week. Credits: Angela Weiss via AFP

As his red, white and blue mainstay prepares to turn 40, Tommy Hilfiger paid tribute to New York as a leading character in his journey to the design big-time as the city's fashion week got underway.

To a hip-hop and disco-heavy soundscape curated by DJ Questlove evocative of the city's recent past, Hilfiger showcased a strong campus look set off by book bags, varsity ties and nearly ubiquitous baseball caps.

Under Rafael Guastavino's tiled vaulted ceilings in New York's Grand Central station oyster bar, 72-year-old Hilfiger dazzled Manhattan's glitterati with a stream of blazers and chunky knitwear over crisp cotton button-up shirts with wide 90s collars.

"We're coming out of the baggy era," said one fashion observer after seeing the offerings of fitted skirts and flared trousers that were less flared than those of past Autumn-Winter collections.

Such was the appeal of Hilfiger's return to contention in the Big Apple after missing last year's fashion week, one gatecrasher in a beige overcoat was bundled out by security.

Organizers promised "A New York Moment," which pulled into the station when Jon Batiste of Stay Human came out sporting a preppy sports jacket with leather arms, going on to sing his hit "FREEDOM" to a cheering crowd.

He was followed by Hilfiger himself who was greeted rapturously and wore a jacket emblazoned with the words "Empire State" -- New York's nickname -- and the names of the eponymous city's five boroughs.

Outside, and in honor of the railway setting, station staff in train conductor's hats kept the crowds at bay as homebound commuters bustled past the full-to-capacity show.

Bubble wrap and balaclavas

Across town in Brooklyn, bubble wrap, balaclavas and puffy jackets took center stage at the Helmut Lang show that kicked off New York Fashion Week a few hours before Tommy.

"I feel like living in New York, a lot can happen in a day. So I feel like I want to provide a tool for you to be ready for whatever it takes," said Vietnamese-American designer Peter Do following the show.

An in-demand designer who also heads his own line, Do was tasked with reinventing Helmut Lang's chic and minimalist aesthetic, which shaped fashion in the 1990s and 2000s, before the Austrian designer quit.

Now the brand belongs to Japanese giant Fast Retailing, which also owns Uniqlo.

Under the dome of a former bank in the trendy Williamsburg neighborhood, Do revisited the inventions of his artistic ancestors, including colored bubble wrap made from silk worn as pants and jackets.

Oversized wool coats, quilted jackets, turtlenecks, hoods and balaclavas reinforced the collection's "protection and projection" themes.

Some were inspired by space suits, while the color palette echoed the bright, almost fluorescent orange of the past.

"I just want to see the street represented," Do said.

With a dozen shows a day until mid-week, the Big Apple heralds the start of the Autumn-Winter 2024 ready-to-wear fashion weeks, ahead of London, then Milan and Paris.

Testament to Lang's influence, the schedule was changed in the late '90s when he decided to leave Paris for New York, so that the US megacity would come first.

Willy Chavarria, still basking in the glow of his American Menswear Designer of the Year Award for 2023, rounded off the inaugural day of shows with an ambitious nighttime show in industrial chic surroundings, also in Williamsburg.

The show entitled "Safe From Harm", was preceded by a convention-busting short silent film brimming with tension, complete with close-ups of characters with rough, tattooed bodies protecting one another.

Italian singer Mahmood and model and transgender rights activist Kai-Isaiah Jamal were among the cast.

Show-goers were then transfixed by the garments that borrowed as much from American fashion as from California-born Chavarria's Mexican heritage who has long championed meaningful diversity in fashion.

A strikingly diverse audience was treated to wide-brimmed hats, a shirt with a large collar budding with a gigantic rose, long coats over square-shouldered jackets, and baggy pants with voluminous, dancing pleats.

With the film, "I wanted to see how the clothes move with us through our lives," said Chavarria, who declares himself a political fashionista.

"And I also didn't want to make something that was a distraction from reality, distraction from the wars that we're seeing."

A number of heavyweights and renowned American ready-to-wear designers are expected this season, including Michael Kors, Thom Browne and Tory Burch. Carolina Herrera and Gabriela Hearst are also on the calendar.

Paris-based designer Ludovic de Saint Sernin, a proponent of intimate, androgynous designs, will also make a rare detour to New York with a show on Sunday evening.(AFP)

New York Fashion Week
Tommy Hilfiger