The Glory and Chaos of Street Style Returned to New York

Tina Leung swanned at the entrance to the Jason Wu show wearing the designer’s bronze-tone jumpsuit and a gem-encrusted Bulgari choker. Pandemic or no, she was looking forward to the fashion week show and, not incidentally, to plugging her personal brand, one she summed up in a meme-worthy phrase: “I style, I influence, I’m fabulous.”

She was one in a crowd scattered like confetti as people made their way to Mr. Wu’s spring 2022 show, held on Sept. 10. Dripping statement jewelry and plenty of attitude, most were poised to make a statement. They trotted out the fashion equivalent of their Sunday best, showing off violently colorful florals, flanged shoulders and fringe and, among the men, a striking profusion of pearls.

“I’ve definitely been determined to wear my clothes,” said Charlese Antoinette, the costume designer for “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

She snared attention in a bouffant Christopher John Rogers dress for Target, which she was wearing for the first time in public. “I need to give myself and other people inspiration,” she said, brimming with confidence. “Covid’s not going anywhere. We still need that.”

Christine Bateman, a writer, wore a frothy pink dress by Helmstedt, a Danish label, set off by a cameo necklace and blue plaited hair. Prepping for fashion week was exhilarating, she said, “part of that back-to-school feeling that I get in the fall.”

A colorful figure about town, Ms. Bateman is often sent gifts by emerging designers asking that she wear and call out their labels. She has yet to take the bait. “It’s not something that would be authentic for me,” she said.

She was one of a number of show-goers who said they spurned such offers, preferring to follow their own maverick instincts. Turning the streets into a platform for eye-catching personal style, they snatched much of the spotlight from the once more familiar cadre of influencers.

Indeed, the days of self-promoting social media stars commanding sums in the hundreds or thousands for lending a label exposure may be numbered. “The industry is still concerned with celebrity and influencers,” said Leslie Ghize, the executive vice president of Tobe TDG, an agency that tracks consumer and cultural trends. But the company projects that with within two to five years, their impact will wane.

“It feels like diversity, appreciation for differences, and tolerance for new ideas is in the industry’s bloodstream now,” Ms. Ghize said.

And among emerging brands, “influencer partnerships have become tighter and more intrinsic,” said Marian Park, a youth strategist at WGSN, a trend forecasting agency. She ascribed that shift to a rising consumer demand for transparency and authenticity.

Such observations would likely be lost on a fashion week crowd that was ebullient — with reservations. Chandler Sterling, a sales assistant at an art gallery, was among the skittish. “We have gone too quickly and without taking time to reflect on what we should have learned in this ongoing crisis,” she said.

Not that her bright yellow flocked floral dress betrayed her concern. “I am feeling exuberant but cautiously exuberant,” she said. “I think that’s the right way to go into this week.”

Len Burton, a casting agent, was also a bit wary. Standing slightly apart from the pack, he drew eyes nonetheless in a pink-and-black striped Kiko Kostadinov sweater. The proceedings this month struck him as orderly if not entirely tame.

“I’m kind of easing my way into the situation, keeping my fantasies alive,” he said. “Still, it’s nice to see a little chaos coming back to New York.”