Against the backdrop of a global pandemic and unprecedented political, social and environmental crises, culture in the United States has been swayed by extraordinary forces in recent years.
As a result, the fashion industry – one of the country’s largest creative sectors (apparel and footwear was valued at $1.9 trillion in the US in 2019) and among its most powerful mediums of expression – has been forced to take stock.
The industry has, of course, grappled with Covid-19’s impact on its ability to make, present and sell clothing. But designers and labels are also attuning themselves to less tangible complexities.
During the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, for instance, fashion faced uncomfortable questions about its lack of diversity and elitist culture. With silence on social and political issues increasingly viewed as a form of complicity, many American fashion designers have also become outspoken campaigners. Sustainability has meanwhile forced its way up the agenda at almost every fashion business.
There’s a growing sense that the industry is teetering on the verge of a brave new era. Yet, it’s one that is still very much being defined.
This all makes the new blockbuster exhibition “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York, feel especially timely. Opening on Sept. 18, and inaugurated – as is tradition – with Monday evening’s glitzy Met Gala, the show poses a crucial question at a moment of industry-wide introspection: What is American fashion today?
According to Vogue’s editor-in-chief and one of the longest-serving arbiters of American aesthetics, Anna Wintour, it is many things simultaneously.
“American fashion is a celebration of exuberance, joy, and creativity. That hasn’t changed,” said Wintour, who has chaired the Met Gala since 1995, over email: “What it has become in 2021 is a patchwork, reflecting the world we’re all living in, as seen through many different lenses.”
A patchwork of fashion
This patchwork has been on full display during New York Fashion Week, which ended Sunday evening. Across six days of runway shows and presentations, dozens of designers offered their latest take on how Americans could and should dress today.