That ’90s Show: Throwback Runway for Spring 2014

New York Fashion Week began with news that Joseph Altuzarra sold a minority stake to Kering—making him the latest young designer to be tapped by a big-name conglomerate. ­Remember the acquisition craze of the ’90s when Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Narciso Rodriguez, and Tom Ford were snapped up by European houses? It feels like that now.

Yet who could have guessed as the days unfolded that the ’90s would fully boomerang back, as runway after runway served up its own ode to the decade? Perhaps it was inevitable. Just as the last generation looks to the ’70s—we’re looking at you, Kors and Ford—this one considers the ’90s its proverbial madeleine.

For spring 2014, the nostalgia trip included both ’90s minimalism à la Helmut Lang 1.0 and sporty street ­culture. The former piggybacks on the pared-back vibe that Céline’s Phoebe Philo kick-started. From Narciso Rodriguez to Jason Wu, the look is clean—right down to the jewelry-free models.

This doesn’t necessarily mean shoppers will pull back on buying. Doneger Group fashion director Roseanne Morrison predicts the ­jewelry focus will be on substantive, strong pieces. “It’s about sleek, clean metals that really complement all these modern silhouettes,” she says. Think of the wide metal bracelets at Mara Hoffman and Badgley Mischka, or contoured necklaces at Altuzarra and Chadwick Bell. Adds Erica Russo, fashion accessories director at Bloomingdale’s, of this metals trend: “With all the white and black we are seeing, metals are a way to make a statement,” she says.

Sports Center

As for that second big ’90s moment, fueled by the era’s street culture, it ties to spring’s overarching sporty theme. We saw loads of references, for ­example, to tennis (Tess Giberson, Rag & Bone) and surf (Tommy Hilfiger). Even romantic Vera Wang and girly-girl Rebecca Taylor served up athletic chic. “Watches are going to be big,” says Jewelers of America director of public relations Amanda Gizzi, “especially sport watches.” 

“Everything is kind of loose and slouchy,” says ­Morrison. “You’re seeing basketball shorts, baseball hats, varsity jackets.… There’s a Bieber moment, don’t you think?” Yes, she’s talking about the teen pop idol—he of the backwards cap and low-low-slung pants—who made a front-row appearance at Y-3. “The whole sporty ’90s thing is really what he’s been promoting for a while.” 

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Flowers at Oscar de la Renta? Quelle surprise!

The takeaway for the jewelry industry is a more casual approach, at times tinged with a soupçon of hip-hop–like padlock designs at Rodarte and DKNY’s logo ­letter charms, which dovetail nicely with another ’90s trope, overt logomania (prominent at Alexander Wang). Meanwhile, the athletic perforation trend, coupled with spring’s sheer motif, easily translates to openwork pieces and translucent gems.

Arrangements, Both Floral and Graphic

Then there’s the big floral movement. The jewelry cue here is obvious: Think nature. Oscar de la Renta had blooms in ladylike spades, Proenza Schouler created hybrid flower-skull necklaces, and Prabal Gurung put models in oversized rose cocktail rings.

The season’s graphic edge, meanwhile, comes courtesy of stripes, which went beyond the usual sailor sort to include bedroom ticking stripes (Altuzzara, Theory’s Olivier Theyskens) to dizzying optical patterns à la Carolina Herrera and Peter Som. Gizzi points out the return of the Y necklace with its straight line and sharp angles—best seen at Herrera, who dotted hers with cool agate slices—as the jewelry counterpart. (Side note: Agate action and marbelized swirls are turning into a trend as well.)

Beyond the Pale

Jewelers can get playful with spring’s palette, which ran the gamut from pale taffy hues to punchy brights like fuchsia, orange, and ocean blue. Just check out the rope bracelets at Hilfiger; the kicky color-­blocking felt fresh and fun. “In terms of gemstones, this will be a big opportunity for jewelers,” adds Morrison, noting that cabochon styles will be on the rise. Stones of note: turquoise and coral. “They’re a bit more informal and pair so well together,” says Gizzi. Also on her hit list for spring: enamel—a great way to tap into the runway’s peppy colors while keeping prices down.

But the big color story is actually not a color story at all. In keeping with the ’90s minimalism streak, white reigned on the runways. Which, in the end, is good news for jewelers. “The trend leaves room for pops of color,” Gizzi explains. “Jewelry can be that agent of color and really stand out.”