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The month of February – besides its heavy rains and winds and the inevitable challenges they present in getting ready – signals the advent of a new season to look forward to. As the biannual Fashion Week circuit begins again (shows just wrapped up in New York) designers promise to deliver exciting solutions to said challenges, in-store or online six months from now. Or so it used to be.

Today, resisting the production of six to eight collections a year, burned-out designers – if they don’t abandon their posts in the process – are showing collections when, where and how often they like, poking gaping holes into the retail calendar.

For those backed by luxury houses with luxury budgets, shake-ups to the Fashion Week schedule have included the adoption of the ‘see now, buy now’ retail model as employed by Tommy Hilfiger and Burberry, in a bid to satisfy millennial consumers and nip fast-fashion knockoffs in the bud. For other designers with little monetary leg room, the repercussions of a new schedule have been more nuanced.

“I like to think that there is still an argument to be made that fashion is there for fantasy and escapism”

Casting controversies have placed greater emphasis on body diversity (the line up at Christian Siriano led by example); men’s and women’s shows are being combined in line with an increased (and overdue) embracement of non-binary and gender-fluid clothing (gender-blind knits and coats featured heavily at Calvin Klein), while politics and protest is the thread du jour that binds the collections.

But it’s hard to see potential for disruption from disjuncture. Is there still room to appreciate a collection, without critique of ignorance or neutrality, if it isn’t underlined by a greater cause? Can we still appreciate Alexander Wang’s collection for what it is – equal parts athleisure and lace – if it is only representative of a personal homecoming (the designer showed at Four Times Square, Conde Nast’s former US headquarters, where he interned at American Vogue)?

#VBAW18 #NYFW

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Or must we level criticisms at Victoria Beckham and The Row for presenting beautiful clothing that was heavy on buttery leathers and 100% cashmere but thin on a larger political agenda? In light of the economic pilot that drives the industry’s plane, the unsubtle offerings that stalked the runway this week (a bag with block letters that spelled ‘PUSSY POWER’ at Tom Ford or the unimaginative, connotative pink and purple colour scheme that featured at Prabal Gurung) beg the question if fashion, with its primary aim to drive sales, is indeed the rightful place to ponder one’s politics. And conversely, if it is still worth discussing at length, if it isn’t a cog in a larger, more meaningful wheel. Yet, I like to think that there is still an argument to be made that fashion is there for fantasy and escapism and thus ripe for review.

In a similar vein to the New York Times article that read, “Tom Ford Loses His Cool”, it’s hard to ignore that Ford’s Fall/Winter ’18 collection was a risky experiment in kitsch’s mileage that probably won’t reap its reward. Metallic leggings alternated with leopard prints in primary colours that looked unflattering even on their models. Yet if you can see past the glossy veneer of the wood from the trees, tailored blazers with inoffensive shoulder pads and all-black jumpsuits with very deep v-cuts reassured that Ford has not lost his Midas touch.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Sander Lak’s fifth collection for Sies Marjan evaded prints to celebrate colour in all of its textural possibilities. Ombré dresses and asymmetrical cuts dissected the female form in new and interesting ways. Men were uniformed in pyjama-like shirts and pants in crushed silks, dressed up with patent leather jackets and then dressed down again with white sneakers and sweaters tied at the waist. Each dress boasted a different shape and material, making for a standout collection.

Backstage at #WANGINC

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Equal seconds are awarded to Alexander Wang and Raf Simons for Calvin Klein, especially now that Proenza Schouler (who will show in Paris) are out of the equation. Both designers stuck to what they know and then some: Wang injecting his infamous chainmail and athletic aesthetic with the Matrix, while Raf extended last season’s shirting motif (Kaia Gerber wore an identical outfit, this time in pastel) but then venturing into sheer, floor-length dresses, covered with signature Raf sweaters thrown in for good measure. And popcorn littered the floors. Because as much as the political climate is (or isn’t) food for thought at Fashion Week, everyone’s always hungry at Fashion Week.

In first place is Marc Jacobs, the final spectacle of New York Fashion Week. Enormous shoulder-padded coats drowned models’ bodies in ways that only Jacobs can get away with, cinched with tiny black belts for a sharp juxtaposition. The shapes were reminiscent of Rei Kawakubo; the colours loud and unapologetic (making up in confidence what they lacked in utility). But Jacobs’ shows are for the Fashion Week purists – they aren’t looking to detect messages that go deeper than design.

Yet as we turn to London next, with Christopher Bailey’s final collection for Burberry already unveiling a new rainbow check via Instagram (the show will support three LGBTQI+ charities), it is worth thinking about the role Fashion Week plays in the world today: if it is there just as a palette cleanser to signify a new season, or if it can indeed satisfy an appetite that isn’t merely sartorial