he best brands have always done a good job of inviting you into a world that’s been crafted with enough exactitude that you can see yourself in the choices it has made so you don’t have to do the work of making these choices for yourself. This invitation is nothing if not prescriptive, and your acceptance of it is contingent on whether you concede to invest in its vision — to wear its clothes, read its words, apply its makeup, whatever.
Some time in the early 2010’s, prescription became a bad thing. A bunch of us realized that we didn’t need to be told what to wear, we could write those rules ourselves. So we did, and those rules splintered out into micro-movements. Then those splintered too and we stopped wanting authority from the brands we align ourselves with, just enough fodder to help us develop the language of our style, and thus, a new formula was born. Choose your own adventure, it said. You’re the creative director! This is the difference between the old guard and the new guard.
Every season, Ralph Lauren is sure to serve a platter of dress codes that feed a precise identity where metallic sheath and cable knit and structured tailoring commingle effortlessly, like thoughts inside the mind of a master meditator. The collection for Fall 2019 was presented in the store on Madison Avenue, set up like a cafe that served drinks (with oat milk!) and egg-white frittatas. Some pieces were great (they always are) and some were not (they never are) but it’s irrelevant when you consider their reliability, how they never ask you to make a decision and do all the thinking for you. I used to call it constricting, but now I see it as relieving, straight up inspiring, to be in the presence of such confidence.
Some call it arrogance — I disagree — but maybe you’ll prefer the approach of Maryam Nassir Zadeh, a true designer of our time, who shares her power with the customer. She takes a sip of the culture, then digests and executes, appeasing the whims of the season as a sort of zenith of personal style. She doesn’t decide for you — just provides a framework for you to choose, mix, match or not. You try, you discard, you turn your own style on its head. It’s exhilarating! Every day is like day one, which is a privilege when you’re fresh-eyed, an opportunity to own your choices. Zebra-print go-go boots? Tie dye tights? How about an oversize bib collar or shearling-trim aviator jacket? Some? Not all. All? Okay! The opportunities are endless, the world is an oyster. But here’s the thing about endlessness and oysters: After a while, you just want to know where the finish line is so you can take a seat and shuck.
Somewhere between these extremes is a brand like Khaite (pronounced Kate, FYI,) boasting enough rigor around its identity to let you breathe a sigh of prescriptive relief. Not so much that you feel ostracized, but enough to know the burden of choice is not yours. Maybe this is a function of how jeans and some formal gown slip into every collection like they are both supposed to be there, sisters with different social lives. It’s a straightforward pass at the fabric pillars of New York dressing: denim, leather, wool and expressive enough outerwear to serve as a second home. But it doesn’t compromise tension. It’s also feminine, unexpected at times (a suede fringe suit, three station buckle belts), but never out of left field.
I’m pretty sure we’re re-entering a period of wanting to be told what to wear. We won’t go back to the way it was, but when constantly confronted by choice, there is something satisfying — downright freeing — about leaving this one on the table. About discovering a brand that is disciplined enough to espouse a point of view that you’re willing to stick with. That eliminates choice but provides options. The brands that will make it through fashion’s ringer will balance the rigor of yore and the malleability of now. At worst, they might tip too far to either side of the scale, but at best, you’ll feel like you’re in the drivers seat even though you didn’t have to make a single choice to get there.
Photos via Vogue Runway.