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I Went To New York Fashion Week During the Pandemic — Here’s What Happened

At this month’s New York Fashion Week, most shows have gone completely virtual — but not all of them. To find out what a real-life fashion show looks like now, in the midst of a global pandemic that continues to ravage all parts of society, FN assistant digital editor Claudia Miller attended Rebecca Minkoff’s spring ’21 presentation, her second in-person event since the pandemic began, a see-now, buy-now showing held Tuesday at NYFW’s Spring Studios headquarters. 

As I walked towards Spring Studios on Tuesday for one of the very few in-person events this NYFW, I was greeted by the eerily calming sight of a slew of photographers waiting outside. All hoping to snap the arrival of even the smallest of micro-influencers attending the show, the death of common street style nowadays became apparent as they even tried to identify me. The paparazzi themselves wore a mix of face masks —some sans protection altogether — and none were shy about approaching anyone near the building.

Once inside, check-in demanded a temperature check and proof of a completed COVID preliminary survey. As guests were only allowed into the space in 20-minute intervals, I was given a wristband that secured my time slot to enter.

Though I knew to expect unfamiliarity, an unanticipated level of discomfort set in after the security ushered me and a dozen other guests down a narrow hallway to await our trip in the elevator up to the 5th-floor terrace. The wait was no more than 10 minutes, but I could already feel the sweat beads forming, standing just a little too close to my fellow attendees in this corridor with no airflow or ventilation.

Luckily, the elevators were spaced out with marked spots to stand but the uneasiness returned when we were met with yet another crowded waiting space outside of the presentation room. The idea of social distancing appeared to be a selectively applied rule, with some guests sticking to their respective bubbles while other visitors crowded together in conversation.

When it was finally time to enter the presentation (on a surprisingly enclosed terrace), Minkoff herself greeted every guest in the doorway with a masked smile and a wave — and maybe even a hug, too — before directing her audience in for the show. The format of the spring ’21 presentation came in a U-shaped structure as we circled around the setup, each person slowing to take videos and photos of the new collection.

Models pose in new pieces for Rebecca Minkoff’s spring ’21 collection.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Rebecca Minkoff

At first, the system seemed orderly, but it wasn’t long before people began straying from the path, walking back through the room for more snaps of their favorite looks or pausing just a little too long in one spot, causing a traffic jam for everyone behind them. This milieu is not unusual for fashion week presentations, but during a global pandemic, the process felt more unnerving than ever.

Despite the apprehension caused by my surroundings, I was able to take in the collection:  The inspiration behind the capsule became apparent with the balanced juxtaposition of classic spring florals and edgy rockstar flair. Highlighted once more with decor that redefined a concrete jungle, the collection featured a mix of prints and patterns topped with contrasting studs, fringe and moto-chic accents — all with matching face masks as well, a new signature move set forth by the designer. Footwear focal points included the continued fanfare over “ugly” sandals and square-toe silhouettes for spring, joined in part by bohemian booties and a lack of any tall heels.

rebecca minkoff, spring 21, fashion week, new york, nyfw, show, collection, shoes
Models pose in new pieces for Rebecca Minkoff’s spring ’21 collection.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Rebecca Minkoff
rebecca minkoff, spring 21, fashion week, new york, nyfw, show, collection, shoes
Models pose in new pieces for Rebecca Minkoff’s spring ’21 collection.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Rebecca Minkoff
rebecca minkoff, spring 21, fashion week, new york, nyfw, show, collection, shoes
Models pose in new pieces for Rebecca Minkoff’s spring ’21 collection.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Rebecca Minkoff
A closer view of new footwear styles for spring '21 from Rebecca Minkoff.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Rebecca Minkoff

I made two or three laps around the room before my last stop: a quick interview with the designer herself. Minkoff kept her mask on throughout the conversation and remained distant but close enough for her to be heard over the background music blasting across the speakers overhead. She modeled the see-now, buy-now collection herself, wearing a floral boilersuit teamed with a coordinating face mask and a fringe-coated white leather jacket. Her footwear of choice came in the form of the capsule’s newest booties: a suede silhouette accented to a wrapped tassel finish and a block heel base.

When asked about the return of high heels to the world of fashion, Minkoff explained that at first “they’re not going to be part of anyone’s every day” before emphasizing their slow reappearance on the scene. “Definitely put your heels in your bag, wear them when dressed up and then put them back,” said the American designer.

Once my camera stopped rolling and I said my goodbyes, I stepped out of the terrace to once again find a line of waiting guests standing just a little too close for comfort. I quickly found a freight elevator to ride down with a few guests, emptying out onto the building’s loading dock with a gift bag full of candy and sample perfume.

While the outing was a reminder of the past excitement that is fashion month, the nerves and fretfulness left me feeling more uneasy than I would have expected. The experience as a whole also gave me a questioning look towards the future beyond the pandemic, at the reintegration of social settings and reencountering strangers in crowded rooms. Will it be a welcomed sensation at the return of the familiar conviviality or will I forever be looking over my shoulder in wariness of what once was?

Click through the gallery to find more looks from Rebecca Minkoff’s spring ’21 presentation.

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