Jack Sunnucks rounds up five young designers revitalising a dormant fashion scene in the big apple
Reflecting issues in the industry as a whole, news from New York in recent seasons has tended to focus on commerce rather than artistry. Whether it be the shoppable runway, brands consolidating men’s and women’s collections, or Proenza Schouler moving to Paris’ couture schedule in favour of more commercially suitable timings, there’s been a lot of collective hand-wringing. This season however, designers were firmly back in the spotlight – specifically, New York’s young design scene. They go out to the same places, they wear each other’s clothes, they use the same vocabulary, they’re inclusive, and not just for show – they actually live the melting pot that other, bigger brands are trying to emulate. At a time when America (and the world) is in crisis, it makes sense that New York’s fledgling designers would be leading the way – they’re the ones who are most threatened. Here are our pick of the best of them from A/W17.
Their shows may differ wildly, but the central idea behind Vaquera remains the same. The four-person collective comprised of Patric, Bryn, Claire and David, is obsessed with American ideals and how they’re sold to us; whether it be Abercrombie’s rugged Americana or Hot Topic’s moody teen bedroom. This season, their collection asked what was aspirational, from chef’s whites made into a bride’s gown, to a mechanic’s overralls with a conical bra. A T-shirt printed with a lobster came with a matching tie, and a suit was printed with Audrey Hepburn. While this may sound outlandish, the overall impression was that they’d made a lot of clothes that one might want to wear. And speaking of Audrey, the most talked-about piece was a backless dress (so backless that the back was a thong) shaped like a bag from Tiffany’s. It seemed to say something about peeking behind the curtain of the American Dream – never more so than when a dress made out of American flags came out, its 30-foot train dragging along the ground.
Collectives are all the rage – and rightly so, when you think about the dull designer musical chairs at all the big houses. Section 8’s anonymous Chinatown show was completely genius, and by that I mean that the models came out wearing abstracted workday separates and with fish in their mouths. Fish, as in koi carp. Allegedly this was something to do with being a fish out of water, but the clothes trumped any implicit message. Grey, practical dresses looked like a conservative 80s wardrobe fallen on hard times. Skirts undulated round the body in brown and navy blue like ribbon. Overcoats and shirts gave the impression of Melanie Griffith’s Working Girl as she climbed the career ladder in a dystopian society (oh, wait). The label is the lovechild of stylist Akeem Smith and designer Ryohei Kawanishi, among others – it’ll be exciting to see where they go next with their forward-thinking exercise.
If you haven’t got the memo by now, working by yourself is seriously un-chic. Area’s Piotrek Panszczyk, who’s Polish, and Beckett Fogg (from Kentucky – Kentuckian?) have been around since 2014, but seemed to lift off beautifully this season with their first runway show. “As a woman, what are you obsessed with?” they asked in the show notes, a quote from historian Laura McLaws Helms. Area’s answer seemed to be that women are obsessed with quite a lot of different things, all at once, thank you very much. The show reflected this so well; bias-cut maroon separates soon morphed into every form possible, from distressed denim, to a sequined minidress, to a furry red bra, and then a T-shirt which memorably read “J’aime DRAMA”. Don’t we all, dear. It was glam and ever so slightly like the models were walking into a nightclub circa 2001 to the sounds of Truth Hurts’ So Addictive. Obsessed. And the label’s named after the New York nightclub Area, which was so extravagant it bankrupted itself. J’aime drama indeed.
“NO BAN NO WALL!!!” So read the underwear at Raul Solis’ first on schedule presentation at NYFW. Solis was at Proenza Schouler before establishing his own line, a high-energy mix between technical expertise and night clubbing knowhow. This season Solis looked to S&M for inspiration, which was apparent from the harnesses, cut-outs and zips which seemingly mimicked nipple rings, styled with fetching latex hoods. His most eye-catching pieces, however, spoke more to eveningwear and disco than the sexual underground. A belted shirtdress in silver was incredibly sophisticated, and a patchwork gown was suited for Studio 54. The overall impression was one of freedom; Solis has spoken of his Mexican heritage and his need to represent himself.
Eric Schlösberg is now stocked at Selfridges, which is fantastic news: London designers should take heed from their transatlantic counterparts. This season, Schlösberg took inspiration from Alice in Wonderland – but if Alice had never climbed out of the rabbithole, instead spending the rest of eternity as a sex slave. Sounds glorious, as long as you don’t have to do it with the March Hare. What did this mean in fashion terms? Pink velvet made an appearance as coats and sweaters, layered over matching Pepto Bismol tulle layered skirts and tights. A magnificent Edwardian coat had satin flares peeking out underneath it, replete with top hat, and red flamenco sleeves came attached to a knotted velvet waistcoat. If the overall effect is somewhat Hot Topic (a watchword of the week), it’s intended – this generation of designers came of age in the heyday of the mall goth. If Schlösberg wants to take those memories and make them into golden flares, then good for him.