New York’s New Breed

I know I’m supposed to be posting about all those shiny brands that showed in New York but the ones that really lingered were the newer ones. There was a unifying spirit and in some cases, aesthetic amongst them that in my mind felt like a movement. I wrote this piece about New York’s New Breed that emerged this season for AnOther Magazine online:

New York is earning the right to call itself new again. Whether it’s the shift in fashion week venues from uptown to downtown, a renewed appetite for fresh energy or a growing apathy towards the Big Apple’s penchant for polished designers, a wind of change has blown and now a particular spate of designers have appeared, their voices resonating with a community disaffected with mainstream fashion. These designers are showing in low key, off-schedule shows dotted around the city, presenting an emotional connection rather than parading a perfect product: the antithesis to the hordes of commercially-minded brands in New York’s fashion establishment. Although this emerging group may have differing aesthetics to one another, they have one solid, common ground: the ability to reflect a tangible reality in their work, created through intuition rather than technical precision. It’s relatable and engaging and here, we explore this idiosycratic new breed of New York designers and why they’re challenging conventions in this make-or-break city.

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1137840Eckhaus Latta backstage photography by Rebekah Campbell for Dazed Digital

Dissent, Disenchantment, Disenfranchisement
When, a few years ago, Shayne Oliver broke into the industry with Hood By Air, his cut-up and raw-edged attire felt like an act of protest, worn by models who viciously vogued and stomped down the runway. Since Oliver’s ascent towards the fashion establishment, a young trail of labels has sprung in his wake and his previously underground contemporaries have also come to the fore. Akeem Smith, the longtime stylist of Hood By Air (who also styled the VFiles and Yeezy shows this season) explains that Oliver “set the tone that a young person, working with their peers post-recession, can do their own thing.” HBA shows created a forum, anchored by specific casting and performances, where we are confronted with issues of inequality in race and sexuality – both in fashion and the world at large. It’s a dialogue that has been building up through the power of social media and online commentary, and it’s up to the new and the brave to take on this mantle.

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1136817Moses Gauntlett Cheng at VFiles backstage photography by Evan Schreiber

This week, shows by newcomers Vejas, Vaquera, Shan Huq and Moses Gauntlett Cheng could certainly be interpreted as outlets for the disenfranchised, but they are projecting much gentler rallying calls to their audience. According to Smith, discontent with the dominance of celebrity culture and the lack of diverse representation across the entire media landscape are but two reasons why we have seen so many young designers spring up. “We don’t see ourselves, or what we aspire to, on TV. All the shows that showed pieces of subcultures are gone. I think these young designers just want to see the characters they present on their runways visible in the mainstream media; not just to put their cute top or dress on some celebrity.”

The young New York-based trio Moses Gauntlett Cheng – comprising of David Moses, Esther Gauntlett and Sandy Cheng – showed their S/S16 collection as part of the group VFiles show. Inspired by an Italian view of New Yorkers, they describe their work as “a response to our city, our families, our stresses and desires.”  One of those stresses is obviously financial – especially in one of the world’s most expensive cities.  “The only thing that daunts me is money – that’s my biggest stress,” says Vejas Kruszewski, a self-taught designer, who showed his second collection in New York this week but still lives in Toronto to ease production and living costs. By knowing what financial hardship is, Kruszewski can design clothes to truly reflect this reality. “People feel protected in my clothes. It’s just so hard to exist here, so it’s about making do with what I have.”

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1137121Shan Huq photography by Thomas McCarty for Dazed Digital

Shan Huq, who is also self-taught, spoke out for the middle American teenagers locked into mundane suburbia. Everyday shirts and tees were embroidered with musings like, “When I was a server at Applebee’s, my boss and I had a thing.” Over the soundtrack, a loud and brash advert from the chain restaurant Olive Garden could be heard. Huq seemed to be passing comment on American consumerism and the pecking order of a society which isn’t always a meritocracy.

But the collections of these new designers don’t necessarily have to be expressions of dissatisfaction; they’re also about portraying an uplifting, utopian ideal. So often fashion is presented within an extravagant, fantastical cocoon far removed from everyday experiences – but these designers are questioning the non-material part of our lives. How can clothes enrich our existence, as opposed to simply adorning it? Kruszewski’s S/S16 collection had his comforting clothes set in an Edenic retreat, where motherhood and fertility were celebrated. A baby crawled around the presentation, skirting streetcast models in toggled ruched dresses, MA1 bomber skirts aand utilitarian white tank tops. Whether it’s reaction, or dissension, or both, what these designers have in common is the genuine desire to reflect their surroundings and give their work a social context that an audience can connect with.

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1137259Chromat backstage photography by Paolo Musa for Dazed Digital

More Than Clothes
There’s a loose common aesthetic that one can feel across all of these designers – but its one that is hard to define because of the haphazard, homespun nature of the clothes themselves. Bi-coastal label Eckhaus Latta – perhaps the most established of this post-HBA wave – specialises in using deadstock textiles to create something oddly seductive. Key words for its S/S16 show were “spill” and “lust” – it wanted to make things look a little like they’re “crumbling around the edges,” revel in making the unwanted look desirable. “Our language is centred around not necessarily being polished,” says Mike Eckhaus. “We like things that feel worn. We like things that feel distressed.” These are clothes that aren’t about showing off the most innovative fabrics, the most ornate embellishment or the most technically complex cutting. An overly polished garment is, after all, the result of an expensive formal design education that few can afford these days. The run-down textures, down-and-out silhouettes and utilitarian feeling offer something more special and unique. “People would be buying into a nice piece of clothing,” says Kruszewski of his potential customers. ”But also something alternative to… everything else.”

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1137367Vejas backstage photography by Evan Schreiber

An Intimate Community
Going from one young designer’s show to the next, familiar faces appear repeatedly as you begin to notice the same friends of the designers turning up to all of these shows. There were also designers supporting other designers – some even walking in their shows, like David Moses (of Moses Gauntlet Cheng) appearing on the runways of Vaquera and Eckhaus Latta. These tight circles are created by both physical and digital bonds. “We are all a part of some online community, built through mutual ‘likes’ and friends, and maybe even a bit of sexual attraction,” explains Smith. Ruth Gruca, showroom director of young designer incubator VFiles, cites New York’s nightlife (club nights like Ghet20 Goth1c) as places where people meet and intertwine with people from other fields, bringing music, art, film and even food into the mix: “Everybody is entangled in different aspects of culture.  Everybody parties together.  To meet likeminded people, whether they’re in your field or not, really helps.”

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1138043Telfar backstage photography by Evan Schreiber

This cross pollination of worlds was best seen at Eckhaus Latta’s show where, once again, Dev Hynes created the lo-fi distorted soundtrack and artists like India Salvor Menuez, Juliana Huxtable and Claire Christerson walking the show and painter Annabeth Marks involved in the creation of looks.  They brought life to the clothes because they lead creatively enriched lives. This multi-displinary approach means designers can also be open minded about their modes of presentation as seen in projects such as Telfar Clemens’ collaboration with tech entrepreneur CultureSport and their anime epic that will be debuting later in the year; or Chromat’s tie-in with Intel to create a fascinating stress-sensing bra that automatically cools you down depending on your body temperature.  Likeminded, comradely and collaborative, these designers know that they’re better in numbers than by themselves, as befits a world increasingly dominated by a sharing economy. But it’s still not quite the utopia that some of these collections might suggest; they still have to exist within an industry that is tough for even the best designers to navigate. “It’s sink or swim here,” says Gruca.  “It’s harder, but really beautiful things come of that. I’m excited for what will happen next.”

 

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1138238Vaquera backstage photography by Dillon Sachs

Singularly Thom Browne

>Thom Browne is for me a bit like the marmite of NYFW.  Or whatever yeast-y spread equivalent that would be.  Oh wait, Americans don’t put yeast-based spreads on their toast.  Which just about affirms my point about Browne’s singularity.  You either love it or you hate it.

There’s an established patter to his shows now that people are either enthralled by or cynically roll their eyes over their theatricality.  There’s a theme.  There’s an elaborate set.  There are pre-ambling dressed ushers dotted all around to flavour the mise-en-scene (this time, it was one pair of suited and booted legs sticking out from underneath a house a la Wizard of Oz).  Then Browne works and reworks his theme, ramming it down your throat until you’re almost suffocated by its presence.

That’s not a slight on Browne by the way.  Give me suffocation any day over sleep-inducing haze.  I’m grateful for Browne’s solidly singular stance, existing in its own microcosmic realm, crafted to death and worked until there’s no work to be done.  People might ask: “Well, what’s the point of it all?”  The point is in its very existence.   To push it, when others don’t push.  To appliqué, patch and embroider all those Japonaiserie motifs of pagodas, cherry trees and Edo-era women into submission – all those hours of work presented to us in a snail’s pace, thanks to the geta-brogue platform hybrid shoes.  To present his uniform at its most elaborate state, which of course will then filter down into the natty shrunken jackets, skirts and shirts that sit on neat rails at his stockists (although in recent years, Thom Browne’s show pieces have been making their way into the real world).

Whether its batty funereal Victoriana or Kill Bill-lensed Nipponica, the extremity is such that it’s hard to ignore.  Even if you err on the hate camp.  Everyone at least will have left wondering.  The grand dame sensei, in her jilted bride veil and sinister eye-patch closed the show and went to the head of the classroom.  Were these beautifully bound-up students about to be punished?  What insane act will take place within this wooden husk of a classroom?  Only Browne knows the ending.  Both lovers and haters were left hanging.

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Givenchy Love Letter

You know how it goes down during fashion week. I start penning for other people like my life depends on it so here is an expanded version of the piece I wrote for Dazed Digital on the poignant Givenchy show that took place last night:

“It was a celebration of my ten years at Givenchy but more to the point, it was a celebration of life.  How we all arrived together an made Givenchy happen.  How friendships carried us through. On this day, it had to be about love and doing something on the street.  It had to be something real, something for everybody and not just seventy people.”  That was an ambitious missive for Riccardo Tisci to pull off for this one off Givenchy show staged in New York’s Hudson Park on a pier.  Sharing and love are big words to throw around for a fashion house but perhaps by not shying away from the memorial of 9/11 and constructing the show around this difficult day, this would be a moment that would get more eyeballs properly glued to what was happening just by virtue of how universal the themes were.

It also felt significant for Givenchy to open the fashion month, with a show that was deployed with what has been seen as a game-changing tactic.  Earlier in the week, Vanessa Friedman had written a piece in the New York Times about the restructuring and reshaping of New York Fashion Week to facilitate the broadcasting of fashion shows to the world. Pierre Rougier, owner of PR Consulting was quoted to say: “This heralds the officialisation of fashion as entertainment.”   And entertainment is what this Givenchy show was, even on this sombre occasion.  It will go down as a watershed moment when fashion at the highest level (and it doesn’t get higher than a historic French maison) truly reached out to a more widespread audience, as people watched the show on screens erected all over the city from Soho to Times Square and of course the lucky 800, who had signed up for a ticketed spot on the pier to experience the show collectively with the eyes of the industry and friends of the house.

Fuelling public demand will be an agenda that even the loftiest of brands will find hard to resist and it made you wonder whether eventually one day every fashion show will be ticketed with public allocations.  Could it even potentially be a bonus revenue stream for houses – maybe a thousand quid for a frow seat?  Fashion week being up for sale is nothing new but this Givenchy show demonstrated that being physically present at a fashion show is certainly the final frontier, up for public consumption.  Last night, we saw a gesture of generous goodwill towards the public that clearly worked.  The eager onlookers gasped, cheered and clapped at every strategically timed celebrity arrival (with Kimye of course eliciting the loudest cheers) and their enthusiasm is infectious – something that feels rare in amongst the seasoned (and somewhat jaded) fashion crowd.

Still, notching up likes and hashtags and pushing clothes didn’t feel like the true end game here. We weren’t there to witness celebrity fuelled performances or brash razz-ma-tazz with easy-on-the-eye Insta moments.  The two columns of light beaming up from Ground Zero reminded us of that.  Backstage after the show, Marina Abramovic, Tisci’s artistic collaborator on the show, who was responsible for creating the performance piece that preceded the show admitted it hadn’t been their original intention to show on the anniversary of 9/11.  “We were given the date and so we had to deal with it and of course it was a difficult day to deal with. So then we really created all the ideas for the day.”  With guests arriving more than an hour before the show began, there was plenty of time to take in the pertinent and moving performances high up on plinths.  A man climbing slowly up the stairs, which represented “new hope and a new beginning.  Another holding two young trees, which Abramovic likened to the twin towers, sprouting up from the ground once again.   “The most beautiful one for me was the woman underneath the water,” said Abramovic. “Water is very important. You have to clean yourself, you have to forgive and put the pain behind you.”

You couldn’t help but recall another instance where commerciality collided with the universality of love.  Coca Cola’s groundbreaking 1971 “Hilltop” ad, widely regarded as the most well loved ad of all time, featured a harmony-seeking multicultural crowd, much like the uniting of five religions in the soundtrack of the Givenchy show that scaled from a Hebrew prayer to a rendition of Ave Maria.  The pairing of perceived spirituality and a fashion brand could have so easily left an uneasy taste in your mouth but by centering the show around such fundamental pillars of life as love, peace and hope for the future, it was impossible not to be touched by the sentiment.  Lest we thought we were drinking the Givenchy kool aid, Tisci himself was clearly drunk on love. “This was a very honest collection. It was a collection full of love especially as the main inspiration was the bride and groom. I’m in a very romantic moment of my life right now and I’m very blessed.”

With the exception of a smattering of haute couture looks, heavy with the most ornate of leather patchwork, shell like beading and gradiated feather work, the collection was a-flutter with slip dresses and the lightest of lace in black and white.  The womenswear looks had a vulnerability to them with their lingerie nuances, counterparted by the menswear and the tuxedo tailoring.  What we saw might have been straightforward reworkings of a bride and groom’s attire but the love being promoted went beyond a man to woman heterosexual bond but also expressed the love between man and man, woman and woman, friend and friend, family and family.

That expression of love carried on late into the evening. Later that night, at the afterparty staged in a refashioned car park, over 2,000 invited guests (again fuelled by public participation) flocked towards illuminated lights spelling out “I believe in the power of love.”  Sobriety gave way to full on revelry with Leigh-Bowery esque drag queens and fi-erce dancers writhing around on cars, inviting a deluge of selfies and Snap Chat vids.  You couldn’t quite tell what you were walking into with almost zero Givenchy branding present.  You could barely detect the LVMH presence and that went down like a treat with the crowd.  Tisci set out to share the love and that’s exactly what we got.

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Buckle Up

“If you get the right bag, an It bag, a hit bag, your label moves into a different league.”  So said the fictional British designer from that guilty-pleasure read from years back, Fashion Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones (free e-book to skim read if you want to kill a few hours).  Since publication nearly ten years ago, bags have certainly shifted away from requiring a waiting list sanctioned “IT” status but certainly having a hit bag within your brand’s arsenal is still an enviable thing and in some cases, does move a label into a different league.

When Christopher Kane launched a fully fleshed out range of safety buckle bags two seasons ago, it neatly coincided with the different league that Kane had entered as a brand backed by Kering.  It’s no coincident that the first you see when you walk into Kane’s new-ish store on Mount Street is a wall of his buckled beauties sitting neatly on perspex shelves.  They also grabbed your eye on the catwalk at his precisely sensual A/W 15-6 show, where over half the models came trooping down clutching a buckled bag of sorts.  And so this season sees the Kane’s signature buckle – a feature trickled down from his explosive Central Saint Martins MA graduate collection from nearly a decade ago. – fastened over ruffled totes, metallic mirrored leather box bags and rucksacks (MatchesFashion have a few of the metallic spangly ones).

I happily took the printed croc cross-body bag, made electric with spherical corners, inspired by DNA structures and paired it up with that very first point of inspiration – a bandaged and lace dress from that breakthrough Christopher Kane collection, which was a recent find on eBay.  Ok, it isn’t a dress to pig out on dumplings in but I’m filing this one under the “archive” category.  I thought about the sort of tropes too that Kane’s work has produced over the years.  The buckle is one visual signifier of his work but so are textures like velvet, metallic tinsel and various treatments of leathers and patents and generally taking you aback with the unexpected.  Buckle up.  The next phase of Kane’s trajectory will surely be one hell of a ride.

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IMG_9853Christopher Kane bandage dress and Comme des Garcons striped top

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IMG_9976Louis Vuitton jacket, Rochas shirt and Topshop Unique dress

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IMG_9950Christopher Kane sheer shirt and vintage Courrèges velvet dungarees and O Thongthai bracelets

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IMG_0012Xander Zhou tinsel jacket and Ammerman Schlösberg coat