After a year of virtual runway shows, is New York Fashion Week still the same?

Published September 27, 2021, 2:17 PM

by John Legaspi

New York-based fashion photographer Martin Romero tells what’s new and what remained constant in the Big Apple’s fashion festivities

Getting busy in the kitchen, propagating plants, and thinking of ways to keep cabin fever at bay were among the things that kept many Filipinos busy, occupied, and calm during the initial months of the pandemic, apart from countless hours of binge-watching titles on Netflix. Apparently, the same goes for Filipinos in different parts of the world. In New York, fashion photographer Martin Romero whipped up a bunch of fermented dishes and grew his plant collection from five pieces to almost 30, making his space in Queens look like an indoor forest. And much like Filipinos here in the Philippines, he, too, can’t help but feel how suddenly the world’s doors closed.

Days prior to being cooped up indoors in Queens, Martin has been flying every. His 2019 holidays were celebrated here in Asia, spending time with his family in the Philippines then welcoming 2020 in Hong Kong. He also followed fashion’s shadow wherever it went. For the first time, he was in Paris for the couture shows with Filipino style icon Heart Evangelista. After that, he went back home for the early 2020 showcases of New York Fashion Week (NYFW). And after jet setting, being at-home to him feels a little unusual.

“It was very weird just being at home,” he says. “I’m actually a home buddy, but I love being in the city in Manhattan.”

That’s why the comeback of NYFW to being an in-person event this September is something Martin has been looking forward to. With his camera set with sharp lenses, he captured the style moments happening in the urban jungle, from the runway to the streets, even the stars heading to the prestigious Met Gala. to give us an insider view of the latest NYFW, the fashion photographer from Tarlac chat with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle and shares what’s new and what remained constant in the Big Apple’s fashion festivities this season, after the height of COVID-19 in the US.

Noah Beck and Blake Gray before Prabal Gurung (Photo by Martin Romero)

Let’s get down straight to it. How was NYFW 2021 compared to the ones in our pre-pandemic time?

This time around, I only had a few gigs. Usually, what happens during NYFW, a bunch of Filipino creatives and influencers fly in and the brands that bring them in hire me. I was fortunate enough to have work even without them flying here. I worked for a few companies, who asked me to document, shoot fashion shows. For the majority of my time, I just used it to shoot street style to network and connect with the different creatives, editors, designers, models, etc.

From what I saw, I feel like there were more outdoor runway shows. That was the first thing that came to my mind. But at the same time, I feel like the progression from indoor to outdoor was very seamless because New York has a lot of open spaces that are very beautiful. It’s been done before. But this time, more brands, houses, and designers really embraced the outdoor location.

One thing I also noticed was that there are fewer street-style photographers this year. Maybe because some of the photographers from Europe and Asia didn’t fly in. Another thing was that, whenever you would watch the shows, organizers or the PR people would ask you for your vaccination cards. You have to be vaccinated to watch the shows. Right now, when you’re outside, you can opt not to wear your mask.

Indira Scott during Prabal Gurung (Photo by Martin Romero)

From what you’ve seen, what are the best runway shows?

Collina Strada. People love it just because it didn’t feel like it was a typical show. Models were encouraged to not do the usual runway walk. If you want to dance, you can dance. If you want to skip, you can skip around. The clothes that they presented there were reflective of what people in New York are wearing now. I saw a lot of street-style looks, I feel like that was the main theme of the collection. It was funky and had lots of colors.

Monse. When you look at its pieces, they’re elevated and edgy. They had the show in a skate park in Pier 62 so that was fun. It wasn’t your typical runway with just a straight ramp. This one has levels, curves. It looked very dynamic. In the middle, people were skating.

Prabal Gurung. The entrance to the show became backstage. I saw the fashion models coming in. What’s great about Prabal was that two or three seasons ago he proposed a question “Who gets to be American” in his collection. There’s always social commentary in his works, He is very discerning and he is very contentious about the story he puts out. From the music to the models, everything was well woven together.

Kendall Jenner in Givenchy by Matthew Williams on the way to the Met Gala (Photo by Martin Romero)

Rihanna in Balenciaga and ASAP Rocky in ERL on the way to the Met Gala (Photo by Martin Romero)

What was it like to see the stars going to the Met Gala again after a year of not having one?

I grew up in Tarlac. These celebrities, I would only see on the TV, in magazines, and in films. So every time I see someone well-known, I try not to panic. I try to be chill even though deep inside I can’t believe this is happening. Especially when you live in New York, you can just be like having coffee and the one beside you could be a big celebrity.

Bill Cunningham once said, “The best fashion show is definitely on the street.” Do you believe that?

Yes. After seeing shows and shooting backstage, from me, the action is on the streets. You can see how everyone dresses up. How they put their spin on clothing. Like right now you wear the fanny pack across your chest. Before it became really popular, I remember seeing models and influencers wear it the way we are seeing it now three or four years ago. I think it’s because it’s well-documented by street-style photographers that everyone started following it, copying it. The trends or the way we wore things today are influenced by street style photos we see during fashion week. The streets are where the real runways are.

Bretman Rock (Photo by Martin Romero)

Kristen Bateman, Jordan Millington, and PJ Magerko after Thom Browne (Photo by Martin Romero)

Throughout the pandemic, for you, what do you think remained constant in New York?

It’s the New York spirit. This is one thing I want to break with what people think about New York, that when you see New Yorkers in movies or TV shows, we’re made to look like we don’t care. But I honestly feel like, based on my experience, New Yorkers are kind and caring people. Of course, we are always rushing, but if there’s something happening on the streets, may it be as little as someone asking for directions or help, people won’t be like “We won’t help you.” New Yorkers will always help each other. That’s what I feel, especially with the pandemic, I felt the brotherhood, the love. It may sound like a feel-good thing, but that’s honestly what I feel. New Yorkers are very kind and caring people. That is a constant.