New York’s New Guard: At Fashion Week, Three Emerging Designers Unite

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Vaquera Spring/Summer 2020Courtesy of BFA/Vaquera

CDLM/Creatures of the Wind, Vaquera and Section 8 showed together in New York this week. Here, they tell us why

On Monday evening, amid the gold-plated interior of Manhattan’s Masonic Temple, fashion collective Vaquera staged a funeral for New York City. Of sorts.

“New York City Dies on Runway” ran a faux-newspaper headline, left on attendees’ seats. “Cause listed as heartbreak. She forgot her history. Also boredom, frustration, disappointment. Not giving a fuck. Too many fucks in this city. We loved her so much. When you love someone, you don’t notice the smell. Hopefully she comes back.” 

Earlier this year, Vaquera – helmed by New York-based design trio Patric DiCaprio, Claire Sullivan and Bryn Taubensee – reflected similar disillusionment in an interview with AnOther. New York was a city it was easy to feel outside of things, they had decided. “So we’re asking,” DiCaprio said at the time, “how can we come together and make this statement that makes other people feel not so alone?”

The show on Monday provided an answer of sorts: in lieu of a solo show, Vaquera instead were one-third of New York Fashion Week’s first-ever three-act fashion show, alongside Section 8 – the semi-anonymous collective run by former Hood by Air stylist Akeem Smith, among others – and CDLM/Creatures of the Wind, helmed by designers Christopher Peters and Shane Gabier.

All three labels exist on the experimental outskirts of New York fashion; each too are connected to Emma Wyman, Dazed’s senior fashion editor, who styles Vaquera’s shows (Smith contributes to Dazed; Peters and Gabier are her next door neighbours). Each label also favours working collectively, drawing on a larger community of artists and creatives in their work.

Section 8, for example, encompasses various contributors from various disciplines, several of which remain anonymous. “We were a group of friends within the fashion industry that were a bit frustrated with our positioning at our jobs at the time,” Smith, who was one of the label’s founders, tells AnOther via email. “We decided to make this safe space for us to try out all of our ideas. The name came about because one of our goals is to occupy real estate in people’s mind [Section 8 is New York’s low-income housing scheme]; that’s how we decided analogise it.”

Monday night’s 8-look collection – titled Problematic Princess – patchworked colourful fishnet and mesh elements, reminiscent of 00s-clubwear, with comparably demure full- or knee-length skirts, and loafer-style shoes. The latter came initially from looking at turn-of-the-century artefacts at Michigan’s Jim Crow Museum, which collects racist memorabilia for the purposes of educating a new generation on the destructiveness of such objects, and to promote social justice. The result was disorientating and delirious, as Section 8 intended.

CDLM, a spin-off from the more established Creatures of the Wind, began just over a year ago under Peters and is now worked on concurrently with Gabier (the pair began CotW together, and are partners in life and work). Though the veterans of the trio of labels – CotW has shown collections on the runway since 2012 – Gabier and Peters are not immune to the difficulties of establishing a brand in the city. 

“We changed our entire business model at the end of 2017, and took a season off showing,” Gabier explains over the phone prior to the show. “I think designers and artists in every other medium [than fashion] are allowed to pull back as and when they need to. Or more. The past year has really helped us to clarify what it is that we really want. We’re now making much better decisions at this point.”

Now, CDLM and Creatures of the Wind are shown as a singular entity: “I don't know if anyone on the outside can necessarily see a difference, which doesn’t matter to us,” Gabier says. “But from our perspective, there definitely is in terms of approach and mentality. CDLM was born from wanting more of a menswear, or streetwear, foundation.”

Their collection on Monday was ostensibly the most down-to-earth of the evening – broad-shouldered leather jackets, slouch-knitwear, supersized mock-croc handbags and the like – though a raw, DIY approach lends the duo’s work an undercurrent of subversion. “There is definitely a sense of experimentation building in New York,” Gabier says. “It reminds me of how New York used to feel in the mid to late 90s where it's just open to new ideas.”

The third and final act of the evening was Vaquera, who concluded with a collection that mourned for this New York-of-old, in typically irreverent fashion. “In Loving Memory of New York” read the opening T-shirt; later, various plays on funeral-wear, including a black ruffled moiré silk gown, complete with mourner’s veil. Despite this – buoyed by an energetic and enthusiastic audience, made up of a community of friends and supporters of all three labels – there was a celebratory air.

“We’ve learned it’s empowering to be frustrated and disheartened,” Taubensee told American Vogue prior to the show. “In this new collection, you’ll see more of the old Vaquera, where we’re just like, ‘Fuck it, let’s just do it.’”