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When disorientation is the new normal

At Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta and Proenza Schouler, it's all about designing for party people and famous socialites

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Carolina Herrera'S fluted sleeve, baby doll flounce and floral fil coupé gowns.

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Oscar de la Renta's poufs in yards of dropped-waist high-low silk faille.

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Proenza Schouler playing with a narrow, rectangular line of double-breasted jackets atop straight knee- length skirts, knit and leather dresses, and torquing them to the side.

New York

THE. morning after the Oscars, as rain (which probably would have been snow a few years ago) strafed, bleary-eyed guests filed dutifully into The Shed at Hudson Yards for the Carolina Herrera show.

Yes, the same Shed that had been so grandly cancelled as a fashion venue only a season before, thanks to the fact that one of its then board members, Stephen Ross, a billionaire real estate tycoon, had held a big fundraiser for President Donald Trump at his Hamptons home.

Ross stepped down in December, and now everything's back to normal. That was so . . . six weeks or so ago! So much has happened, who can remember? Down is up and right is left and you'll get whiplash every hour or so if you don't hold your neck just right.

Disorientation is the new normal at New York Fashion Week show. Where's the fashion that makes sense of that state? Or at least acknowledges it is happening.

Not, as is turned out, at Herrera, where the designer Wes Gordon has been touting words like "optimism" and "fun" since he took over from the founder two years ago. This time 'round he added "one grand gesture" (that's what he called the collection) - a fluted sleeve! A baby doll flounce! - in saturated Crayola-box shades: sky blue, emerald, cherry, aquamarine. One-shouldered tunics sloped off in a ruffle over skinny trousers, and floral fil coupé gowns swept the floor. They had a lush clarity but no urgency.

Once upon a time - back in the early '80s when Herrera founded her house, when there was a big chunk of New York that gathered in ballrooms and salons and needed such fancy frocks - that was enough. Not any more. That world is disappearing under a tide of disruption and dystopianism. Ignore it and risk irrelevancy. No matter how many lovely flounces you put on top.

Life of the party

Nor how many poufs - the solution of Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim at Oscar de la Renta, who had decided, somewhat inexplicably, that it was time for a "party collection". Or so they said backstage before their show. It is true that de la Renta was a famous socialite, the kind of man often referred to as the "life of the party," but this seemed like a particularly jarring choice.

Especially when the designers threw Truman Capote's Black and White Ball into the mix, as well as Caravaggio and Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice"(apparently a reference to their relationship with de la Renta). And then expressed it all in yards of dropped-waist high-low silk faille, velvet, corsets dripping chains (this is where Scarlett Johansson's Oscar dress originated) and feathers. Polka like it's 1989.

But does anyone really want to wear their own obliviousness on their gorgeously embroidered sleeve?

Better, really, to give in to the muted calm of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen at The Row, where every look seemed calculated to soothe the troubled soul: liquid layers of tactile suiting (turtlenecks and shirts and jackets and coats and swishy trousers) in grey, taupe, black and white, sometimes with the added protection of elbow-length gloves and a little knit hood.

Or better to confront it head on, as Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez did at Proenza Schouler, playing with a narrow, rectangular line of double-breasted jackets atop straight knee-length skirts, knit and leather dresses, and torquing them to the side: wrenching shoulders down; twisting buttons out of place; splicing chain mail sheaths with silk; taking a triangular bite out of the rib cage. Sometimes, a big puffed square of silk wrapped it all up like a Tilt-A-Whirl hug.

The whole thing was aggressively off-centre. But so, increasingly, are we all. NYTIMES