Aside from Mrs. Prada, it’s been a minute since we’ve had a woman designer or creative director cultivate a collective sense of dress. This season, everyone is on pins and needles waiting for the return of Phoebe Philo, who is set to launch what many are anticipating will be the second coming of Christ–sorry, I mean old Céline. Then there’s Jenna Lyons, who, during her tenure as Creative Director of J.Crew in the 2000s, gave women across America, including First Lady Michelle Obama, a new palette of sportswear and officewear. Her vision was comprised of an un-precious, un-intimidating formula: oversized bauble necklaces plus oversized shirting plus sequined pencil skirt equals chic.
Lyons is still an arbiter of taste but is also currently in her Bravolebrity era, and with the mysterious Philo launch still in soon-to-drop mode, there’s lots of space open for a new woman to tell us how to curate our wardrobes for everyday life. The beauty of both Lyons and Philo was that, despite being at opposite ends of the price point and customer spectrums, their styling and their designs made it okay to be a little bit relaxed. Our button-downs could be partly untucked and our wide-leg silk trousers could touch the ground while we went to work in Stan Smiths and carried a $3,000 bag. It was dressy, without giving too much of a shit.
Tory Burch may just be what we need. Last night, the designer held one of the most anticipated shows of the season inside the cavernous new Gilder Center at the American Museum of Natural History. While the setting was certainly spectacular, it was the crowd that felt more interesting. Looking around the space, you saw every kind of woman in attendance. There were influencers like Alix Earle decked in last season’s tissue transparent tops and bustier dresses who no doubt had just spent the last several hours making GRWM content. There were the editors and buyers, many of whom were dressed in tees or slightly wrinkled shirts, exhausted from a day of running around under stormy skies, and accessorized with a new Tory bag or a pair of slick Tory flats. Then there were the celebrities, who ranged from news anchors to movie stars, looking, of course, well-coiffed. In the stadium seats were excited students in casual attire from the local Parson’s School of Design.
The vibe was all the things: cool, commercial, playful, powerful, unpretentious. For a big, corporate brand like Tory Burch, it’s incredibly impressive to attract all of that, in all of those people. Companies like hers are typically afraid to go anywhere outside the confines of the "our woman is [insert singular adjective here]" model. Burch’s brand has long been associated with simple, preppy Americana style, but she’s figured out a marketing and design vision that encompasses the vast complexities of women and their un-uniformed, micro-trended styles in 2023.
When the collection came down the runway last night, it cemented the fact that Burch is evolving in the exact right direction, one that is giving us that feminine style north star we’ve been without for some time. The clothes, worn by a range of body types, were meant to evoke a sense of freedom and effortlessness. Nothing was exactly easy, but it didn’t feel cumbersome either, especially the stretchy, off-shoulder dresses that played with the idea of making crinoline swing and swirl at the hems.
She chose smart, wearable fabrics for ultra-stylish garments, like nylon taffeta and jersey and stretch crepe. Her boxy-but-not-too-boxy suiting was nice, too, especially for women of a certain age who likely won’t buy into a draped goddess mini dress (that one's for the influencer crew). Details have also become an important component of Burch’s new age: last season she gave us broken logos on sharp carryalls and this season, a clutch molded ergonomically to fit snuggly against your hip as you carry it.
Between the coasts, Burch may still widely be associated with her emblem ballet flats, but as she proved again this season, she’s so much more than that. Her brand is changing women’s minds about Tory Burch the label, but also about how to tackle old-school ideas of sportswear and power dressing, and do so at an accessible price point. There are plenty of designers this week who did do traditional power dressing well, like Sergio Hudson’s cool, crisp suiting or Altuzarra’s film noir-inspired tented coats.
But Burch is intriguing because she’s moving the needle, as are a few other brands that have showed during the last couple of days. Paul Helbers’s FFORME is a shining example of a new kind of effortless chic, with his minimalist, flowing oversized tunic tanks and slouchy trousers. Rachel Scott of Diotima is on the same wavelength too, offering up handcrafted crochet tops and skirts, some embellished with soft crystals, that work oh so well with a plain Jane tapered pant or pleated A-line skirt.
Power dressing as we once knew it died somewhere between Girl Boss culture and the pandemic. Now, there’s real promise in the idea that “dressing to impress” can be about wearability, not intimidation. You know it’s working because it can fit into the lives of so many different people: the influencers, the editors, the students, the celebrities, all of whom just want clothes that they can feel good in as they go about their days. In reality, that’s the kind of dress that’s truly powerful.
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