What is the American aesthetic in these turbulent times?

Visions of America

What is the American aesthetic in these turbulent times? These designers have answers.

Published on November 21, 2017

When New York designers presented their fall 2017 collections earlier this year, many of them were wrestling with more than color palettes and silhouettes. They were sorting out what it means to be a fashion designer in this turbulent, divided America. For Raf Simons, the Belgian who recently took the creative reins at Calvin Klein, America is still the great experiment. It’s a place of dreams and possibilities, tinged with melancholy and even a hint of grief. He referenced sweet heirloom quilts, sharp Wall Street suits, classic denim and even the flag itself. Thom Browne reminds us that the enduring symbol of middle-class success, the man — or woman — in the gray flannel suit, is struggling to be seen, to be heard. And Willy Chavarria cast his eyes on the street-cool style of black and brown young men and women whose lives have been upended by our criminal justice system.

The American ideal is still worth celebrating, even if it has been bruised and battered. At Pyer Moss, Kerby Jean-Raymond captured the immigrant story through the life of his own father, who came to the United States from Haiti. His collection was filled with the eccentric prints and shapes of the imperfect clothes worn by proud immigrants just scraping by. He emblazoned T-shirts with his father’s original green card photograph. For Tommy Hilfiger, America remains a tale of shiny, peppy youth dressed in plaid, parkas and denim. And Coach, under British designer Stuart Vevers, is an ode to America’s windswept prairies and open roads.

What does it mean to be American in this moment? What is the American aesthetic? Designers don’t have definitive answers. But they have an endless stream of ideas.

Top from left: On Cori Bullock: Blazer, $590; track top, $160; jeans, $330; sneakers, $330; all by Tommy Hilfiger at usa.tommy.com. Earrings by Laruicci, $145 at laruicci.com. On Ariq Graham: T-shirt by Pyer Moss, $75 at ssense.com. Biker jacket, $2,375, and biker pants, $1,250, both by Pyer Moss; info: pyermoss.com. On Desiray Bowie: Lace dress, $2,800, and snorkel coat, $1,200; both by Marc Jacobs at marcjacobs.com. Boots by R13, $1,695 at barneys.com. On Melanie Blankenship: Cardigan, $425, and silk culotte, $375; both by Opening Ceremony at openingceremony.com. Booties by Stuart Weitzman, $535 at stuartweitzman.com. Jewelry by Zana Bayne, price upon request at zanabayne.com. On May-Ying Lam: Shirt jacket by Denim x Alexander Wang, $695; and catsuit by Alexander Wang, $495 at alexanderwang.com. Boots by Ben Taverniti Unravel Project, $1,497 at farfetch.com. Choker collar by Zana Bayne, $165 at shop.zanabayne.com. On Tyson Paige: Plaid shirt by Fear of God, $795 at farfetch.com. Track pants, $995, and shorts, $695; both by Fear of God. Similar styles at ssense.com. Harness by Zana Bayne; info: zanabayne.com. Sneakers by Vans, $65 at bloomingdales.com. On Reesa Renee: Denim coat, $995; indigo denim, $275; platform boots, $1,800; all by Marc Jacobs at marcjacobs.com. Harness by Zana Bayne; info: zanabayne.com Above: On Liz/Luke Shumpert: leather jacket, $2,990, and wool-silk jodhpur pants, $1,750; both by Ralph Lauren at ralphlauren.com. Longwing brogue boot ice skate heel by Thom Browne, $3,800; info: thombrowne.com. Earrings by Laruicci, $100 at laruicci.com. (Styling by Robyn Victoria Fernandes. Makeup by Shaune Hayes. Hair by Wayne Wheat.)

On Ariq Graham: Ivory shearling oversize jacket, $1,998; eggshell wool-blend cable-knit turtleneck, $298; ecru slim-fit stretch-cotton denim pants, $148; luggage leather belt, $224; Jax sunglasses, $179; and black Garrett Leather lace-up mid-calf boots (not pictured), $448; all by Michael Kors at michaelkors.com. On Marki Woldemariam: Natural cow shearling coat and plastic cover, $8,500; metal tipped high-heeled Deco sandals, $1,295; and crystal belt, $2,250; all by Calvin Klein 205W39NYC at calvinklein.us.

On Marki Woldemariam: Slate crystal-embroidered crepe-jersey draped dress, $9,995, and Belinda suede boots, $895; both by Michael Kors at michaelkors.com. Links earrings by Sara Shala, $250 at sarashala.com. On Sung Kim: Tan coat, $350; fold-over flat-front trousers in khaki bull denim, $350; and caguama sweater in hot cherry, $385; all by Willy Chavarria at willychavarria.com. Suede flat ankle boots by Tommy Hilfiger (not pictured), $149.50 at usa.tommy.com.
On Cori Bullock: Chesterfield single-breasted sport coat with argyle suiting by Thom Browne, $7,200; info: thombrowne.com. Multicolor argyle cashmere knit cardigan by Thom Browne, $1,780 at luisaviaroma.com; and classic backstrap trousers with argyle suiting appliqué in herringbone Harris tweed by Thom Browne, $4,900 at farfetch.com. Scythe fingerbrace ring by Chrishabana, $350 at chrishabana jewelry.com. On Liz/Luke Shumpert: Single-breasted overcoat, short jumpsuit bonded with Oxford shirt, and tortoise lens mask hat, all by Thom Browne, price upon request. Necktie, $190, and longwing brogue platform mule in pebble grain, $4,850, both by Thom Browne at thombrowne.com.

Reesa Renee, left, and Keyo Rucker: Outerspace print pleated dress, $695; embellished penguin shirtdress, $1,595; both by Coach 1941. Similar styles at select Coach stores and coach.com. Lock earrings by Laruicci, $100 at laruicci.com.

On Keyo Rucker: Sleeveless layered petal-hem dress by Brandon Maxwell, $2,695 at bergdorfgoodman.com. Kindred low 105 haircalf boots by Tamara Mellon, $995 at tamaramellon.com. Bracelets by Vitae Ascendere, $750 to $2,750 at vitae-ascendere.com. On Cori Bullock: Blaine Glen plaid bustier, $1,990, and Simone Glen plaid pants, $990; both by Ralph Lauren Collection at ralphlauren.com. Arielle suede over-the-knee boots by Opening Ceremony, $695 at bloomingdales.com. On Ariq Graham: Quilted toggle coat, $1,150; plaited cotton chenille jacket, price upon request; white tapered cropped jeans, $275; all by 3.1 Phillip Lim at ssense.com. Black Garrett Leather lace-up mid-calf boots by Michael Kors, $448 at michaelkors.com.

Photographer Marc Baptiste captures the fall collections for The Washington Post Magazine

Play Video

Editor's Picks

A look at D.C.’s four quadrants.

Four Washington Post photographers captured people in different areas of the city.

8 women Marines define themselves within and beyond their uniform

Sharing the triumphs and challenges that accompany being a woman in the Marines.

Credits