Charlotte Free rollerskates down the runway for Moschino.

"It's a sick fucking world we live in," said a friend of mine while scrolling through the news the other day. She's right. War, terrorism, disease, natural disasters, racism, school shootings, and worse are increasingly permeating headlines. And in the past year—what with ISIS, Ebola, Gaza, Malaysia Airlines flight 370, and the conflict in Ukraine (just to name a few recent crises)—I've started to entertain the idea that the guy in the tinfoil helmet standing on Fifth Avenue preaching the end of the world might actually be on to something.

With that in mind, it's somewhat surprising that the Spring '15 collections aren't all comprised of apocalyptic armor and despair (though Rei Kawakubo's blood red Comme des Garçons outing made a pretty strong statement). Rather, designers are focusing on rave culture, drug-induced euphoria, escapism, and in some instances, plain old joy, as evidenced by the runways of Jeremy Scott, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Dries Van Noten, and Anna Sui, to name just a few.

Designers are focusing on rave culture, drug-induced euphoria, escapism, and in some instances, plain old joy.

Is this a direct response to current events? Dr. Valerie Steele, a fashion historian and the curator of the Museum at FIT thinks not. "Usually it doesn't go directly from, say, war or economic meltdown, or ecological catastrophe, to the artwork. It's only a handful of artists—and an even smaller number of designers—who directly respond to that kind of thing," Steele told me. "What almost always happens is that major events are refracted through 'the world of craft,' whether it's fashion, film, or art."

Jeremy Scott and Miley Cyrus

To a point, Steele is right: Not every designer is as politically outspoken or plugged-in as, say, Miuccia Prada or Vivienne Westwood, whose collections are often blatantly infused with their own ideologies. But that's not to say the global state of affairs has no effect on fashion designers. "Everywhere you turn, you're hearing about all these awful, awful things," offered Jeremy Scott, who during New York fashion week presented a music-festival-inspired lineup for his own label. In Milan, he showed a sexed-up Barbie collection for Moschino. "You can't even turn on the TV without seeing something terrible. So I've always tried to make my shows an escape."

Sure, Charlotte Free gliding down the catwalk in a pink bra top, athletic short shorts, and roller skates may seem frivolous, or even tone deaf, a week after President Obama called for air strikes on Iraq and Syria. Same goes for the fancy editors and celebrities who flew to Milan to sit front-row while tragedies were unfolding. But life doesn't stop because horrible things happen. "I often think about the Depression era, and how important going to the movies was," said Scott, likening his playful runway romps to the escapist cinema of the time. Yes, a movie ticket in the 1930s was more affordable than Moschino's aspirational garments, but one has to remember that the Internet is a big place, and millions of fans are experiencing the Spring shows on their computer screens.

"I become more saccharine sweet when things get more deadly real."

Jeremy Scott

"I don't try to dissect [what's going on in the world], but I'm aware of it," Scott continued. "There are critics who try to slag me off by saying, 'Oh, this has nothing to do with the real world.' But it's like, Don't you understand? I am more in tune with what's going on. I'm offering a reprieve from it," added the designer, who was, in so many words, accused by Vanessa Friedman of being out of touch after his Fall '14 Moschino debut. "I become more saccharine sweet when things get more deadly real."

Anna Sui Spring 2015

"It's very difficult these days," said Anna Sui, whose latest range also had a free love, '60s twist. "Waking up to the news that we're at war again, Ebola…it's scary. And we need escapism. I am constantly thinking of escapism. To me, fashion is always a mirror of what's going on, be it a reaction or reflection," the designer explained. To Steele's point, though, Sui said her Spring collection's flower child vibes were largely influenced by a new wave of psychedelic bands. "Temples, Tame Impala, Jagwar Ma, and Melody's Echo Chamber are all doing psychedelic music. That's usually when I feel it's the right time to do it [on the runway]—if it's happening and there's a youth culture embracing it."

Naturally, this isn't the first (nor will it be the last) time the catwalks have echoed broader cultural movements and moods. Just look at the anarchistic punk fashions of the '70s, or the miniskirts and dresses that accompanied the female sexual revolution of the '60s. More recently (and on a less serious note), we have the couture sneaker revolution, which, according to Steele, "is a blip in world history, but in fact, sneakers are a growing trend because life is becoming more casual, and there's a high value placed on sports. There are plenty of men who have never worn a leather pair of shoes," she added. "Definitely, it's a big part of the current sense of world culture and society."

"It's been a flat season, which is probably indirectly connected to the lousy economy."

Valerie Steele

In many cases, fashion can serve as an anthropological documentation of contemporary life. "Clothes are a part of history, and as the world changes, clothing changes, too. Look at women's rights: At that time, women started to wear trousers and began showing off more of their bodies," said Steele. So what will historians learn from the psychedelic, happy-go-lucky Spring '15 runways? "I think they will make a direct connection between the harshness of the times and the escapism on the runway. Because, isn't that what art does a lot, too?" mused Sui.

Steele, on the other hand, believes this '60s-meets-raver trend may be rooted in a shortage of ideas. "I think a lot of the psychedelia is, in a sad way, a lack of imagination. It's been a flat season, which is probably indirectly connected to the lousy economy. People are trying to come up with something that seems 'newish' but that's not so new as to be scary," she asserted. "I also think designers are stressed by having so many collections and pre-collections and post-collections. The minute anything comes out, it's on the Internet, everyone's seen it, and by the time it gets to the store, it's so old hat. Designers are running on a hamster wheel; they're really freaking out."

"I just finished my pre-collection for next Fall," offered Scott, when asked if he found the production schedule stifling. "So, I do understand that the deadlines are not ideal. But, if I speak for myself, I'm having the time of my life. I love what I'm doing, and I love that it's making a cultural dent." As for his latest wares, Scott couldn't be more pleased with the "dents" they've been making. "I've been thrilled to hear that people felt like [Moschino] was joyful and uplifting. That's what it should be, and that's my role in this industry. That's what shows are for. One of the reasons I fell in love with designing was because I was in love with how clothes can alter your mood. Even a new shade of lipstick can make you feel brand-new."

Dries Van Noten Spring 2015

Sui concurred. "You can see it on the models' faces. As soon as they put [my] clothes on, it was like a fantasy for them. [The collection took] them to another place, another time—maybe a more peaceful, hopeful time," she said. "Even when you walk into my store, you can see it's a different world. I love creating that kind of feeling and environment."

Fashion's Spring journey through a giddy, purple haze is a welcomed one—regardless of what spurred it. Because, as Tim Blanks put it after Dries Van Noten's intoxicating finale: "The news headlines reek of horror. It's fashion's job to remind us that beauty is a human need. Maybe even, as a great poet once wrote, a fundamental truth. "