5 Most Influential New York Fashion Labels

Clockwise from top left: Calvin Klein's Francisco Costa, Carolina Herrera, Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta
(Clockwise from top left: Billy Farrell; Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images; Francois Durand/Getty Images; Joe Schildhorn; Ed Kavishe/FashionWirePress.com)

 

Yesterday we published part 1 of our New York Fashion Week mini-series, in which we presented the emerging stars of the marathon. Here, in part 2, ARTINFO highlights our pick of the five most influential designers of the week, its venerated kings and queens. From Calvin to Carolina, the short list represents the established pillars of American fashion — plus the honorable mention of Michael Kors

 

Calvin Klein

Bronx-born Calvin Klein launched his company in 1968. Nearing the half-century mark, the label now generates a boggling $5 billion annually and has become one of the most recognized brands in the world, fashion or otherwise, known simply as CK.

Calvin Klein himself, however, no longer owns or designs for the fabled house he founded, which was sold in 2003 to the apparel holding company Phillips-Van Heusen. Brazilian designer Francisco Costa was appointed creative director of womenswear (Italo Zucchelli designs the men's side), and it has been just as much of a juggernaut ever since. Costa merges Klein's sporty Americanism with his own intellectual, minimalistic approach. For his spring '13 collection he referenced artist Carsten Nicolai, the late Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, and the robustness of automobile design. 

Carolina Herrera

 

With her perennial focus on elegant, impeccably tailored, and even ladylike clothes — regardless of the mercurial winds of fashion — Carolina Herrera is the grande dame of frothy red-carpet gowns and chic daysuits for the Park Avenue set. Born into Venezuelan aristocracy, Herrera was raised on a rarefied diet of Balenciaga, Lavin, and Dior. A jetsetting couture customer herself, and fixture on the international best-dressed list, launched her own atelier at the behest of Diana Vreeland in 1981.

Recently, Herrera’s classic designs — often rendered in bouquets of lace, tulle, and georgette — have been welcomed by a younger, savvier audience. Even pop provocateurs like Lada Gaga and Nicki Minaj have succumbed to Herrera’s charms. Her pre-fall showing —a print-happy mash-up of Japonisme, op art, Rococo florals, and oversized checks — was fertile, if slightly scatter-brained.

Marc Jacobs

A force to be reckoned with since the late '80s, Marc Jacobs was the youngest recipient ever to win the CFDA Perry Ellis Award for new talent. He's received innumerable accolades for his menswear and womenswear designs alike. His New York show is the barometer of the week, a near impossible ticket to snag. He may in fact be the most influential of U.S. designers. Did we mention he's also the creative director of the megawatt French luxury house of Louis Vuitton?

 

Spring '13 saw a directional new effort from the grown-up wunderkind. Jacobs received stellar reviews for the mod-inspired collection, as well as his Louis Vuitton showing, with its multitudes of Damier prints, its trademark. It seemed Jacobs had found a new jetstream to push his creativity to laser-like precision. If his fall '13 men's collection hints at what he has in store for women, expect a refined punk attitude, complete with fur stoles and gigantic safety pins.

Despite all his success, Jacobs has remained grounded and personable. In a recent interview with New York Fashion Week founder Fern Mallis, he proclaimed, "I don't think I've made it." It's a humble (if untrue) admission, suggesting there's a lot more to come from this, yes, legend. 

Oscar de la Renta

Another New York fixture, Dominican Oscar de la Renta is adored by everyone from Oscar winners to Fifth Avenue doyennes. The designer, who once apprenticed with Balenciaga (Cristóbal—the original), is predominantly known for glamourous evening gowns, consistently turning out frock after beautiful frock in every hue of the spectrum  and with enough embellishment and embroidery to make even those with passing red-carpet interest weak at the knees.

De la Renta's customers, who are usually his friends, preside mostly in the upper age brackets, though the designer has been pushing for (and succeeding in) attracting a younger clientele. Many a starlet can be seen in one of his floor-length stunners destined for the Academy Awards. His spring '13 collection was rife with Oscar-isms, from sleek jet-black columns belted at the middle to more Colony Club-friendly jackets adorned with floral brooches. He clearly knows how to imbue dynamism in his clothes, providing enough buying options to satisfy even the most reluctant of shoppers. He represents the realization of the American dream, in its most romantic and fairytale sense. 

Ralph Lauren

Since he launched his own mini-boutique inside Bloomingdale's in 1969, Ralph Lauren — born Ralph Lifshitz — has built a billion-dollar empire on escapist American fantasies, trafficking in the dreams of the gin-drinking leisure class, spangled Hollywood actresses, polo-playing socialites, and adventure-seeking gentlemen.

A hallowed American brand, Ralph Lauren reaps the fruits of its iconicity in most of his collections, remixing its signature tropes in endless variations. Last fall struck a harmonious Anglo-American balance between Yorkshire mores and the New England elite (Lauren’s natural habitat) with dueling plaids, equestrian-inspired shapes, and tweed haberdashery that would make Katharine Hepburn blue in the face. For spring 2013, Lauren returned to sunny Santa Fe (a hallmark of his '80s collections) with cropped boleros, fringed leather pants, serapes, and dramatic juxtapositions of matador red and the great power color of the American Southwest, turquoise. We’re not sure where fall 2013 will take us next, but one can always count on Lauren for a much-need sartorial vacation.