It was the weekend of New York Fashion Week, and it was raining on Tommy Hilfiger’s runway parade.

The designer had come back to his home base with his signature see now/buy now preppy cosplay after a few years away and with a special “Tommy Factory” extravaganza modeled on Andy Warhol’s Factory. (The two men met in the 1980s, and, Mr. Hilfiger said in a preview, he had been inspired by Warhol ever since.) The point is too big up the idea of the in-person experience.

He had covered an outdoor catwalk in what looked like silver tinfoil à la Warhol; invited a soup of famous folk — Kate Moss, Jon Batiste, Shawn Mendes, John Legend — to sit front row; even had Travis Barker to drum the finale. But he didn’t have a tent, and it was bucketing down.

Not even the buzziest stars could stop the result from looking like a damp squib: an empty shell of clichéd American references (the varsity jacket! the rugby shirt! the tennis sweater!) in a world that doesn’t have much truck with them anymore, covered in razzmatazz that got washed away by the weather.

Underneath, there just wasn’t much substance. And substance is what New York fashion really needs.

As with so much right now, there is a divide opening up between what was and what might be.

Many of the names that once defined the city’s style are gone — or at least off the official runway: Calvin, Donna, Ralph, Marc. The elders who are left are leaning into a nostalgia play. The generations of designers who came after and were heralded as the Next Big Thing seem stuck in a very minor key.

Yet at the same time, new names are muscling in from the edges, often without classical training but with the self-belief and explosive energy that has historically propelled fashion forward.

Those designers are redefining power dressing not as a uniform for climbing the corporate ladder (what is that now, anyway, in the time of the disappearing office?) but as a uniform of identity for a mosaic of subcultures. The result is mostly chaotic potential, but it could realign the stylescape. Consider the strategies.

“I feel like I’m in a time machine,” said a guest lounging on one of the white banquettes at the Tom Ford show, ogling Madonna in black satin. The show was being held downtown on Vesey Street, but the vibe was like nothing so much as Milan, circa 1998, and Mr. Ford’s Gucci heyday. Back then he was excavating the 1970s for hedonistic fashion fun and the ’80s for high glitz, embracing the follow spot, subverting the brightness of the double G, and boogying on the lip of the bad taste volcano.

It was like a lost-days-of-disco nightmare of pastel Lurex, Studio 54 cowgirls, Elvis-in-Vegas embroidered velvet hot pants, lace G-strings and shine, updated with a dash of athletic wear and set to the beat of Robert Palmer thrumming “Addicted to Love.” Sparkle taken to its ultimate extreme, that place where it becomes something altogether darker and kind of desperate. Glamour at this pitch can be exhausting.

Still, it was a reminder, after a week in which terms like and “Y2K” have been trending, that Mr. Ford defined both for a time. Like Michael Kors, whose polished collection of urban Tropicana — slick blazers and sarong skirts trimmed in acres of silk fringe; hibiscus print silks, and jersey columns suspended from gold neck pieces — his work has a self-assurance honed at the turn of the millennium.

The problem is, as the last song of Mr. Ford’s show went, “Time waits for no one.” Blingy as it may be, all this nostalgia is starting to seem like nothing so much as a postscript.

At Proenza Schouler, Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough still look as if they are designed for the Chelsea art crowd when the art crowd has moved on. They added giant flamenco ruffles to the sleeves of their tunics and minidresses, upsized the flares of their skinny pants; rendered shirtdresses in sheer lace with fluted cuffs; and layered on the polka dots. Joseph Altuzarra has settled into a rhythm of anoraks, striped shirting, and highly detailed, increasingly complex shibori, which makes for a cool, if predictable, contrast.


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