New York-Based Designers On How They’re Facing the Pandemic

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Vaquera Autumn/Winter 2019 FittingsPhotography by Chandler Kennedy

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the world faces a new reality. Here, ten New York-based designers tell us how they are adapting to isolation and what the future looks like for American fashion

As the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak spread around the world, and evermore strict lockdowns are implemented, it is clear that we have entered a new reality. In cities across the globe, creative communities are finding new ways of working; of adapting and evolving for an increasingly uncertain future.

The fashion industry – particularly the young designers and labels who propel it forward – have always proved resilient. Last week, we spoke to 11 British designers about how they were facing this unprecendented time of crisis. Each responded with humility – speaking first for the vulnerable people in society – and then with hope, that this might prove a moment for introspection, a time for fashion to carve itself a new and more sustainable path. 

New York has been particularly struck by the pandemic – the populous state, as of Sunday, had five per cent of all worldwide cases. New York City is now under lockdown, its once-thriving streets now eerily empty of people and traffic. But its residents are famously tough – as is a new generation of designers who are adapting their businesses to a life under lockdown. Here, we speak to ten of them, asking how life has changed, how they are staying positive, and how the future might look for New York fashion when this is all over.

Huy Luong, Dylan Cao and Jin Kay of Commission

“[The pandemic] has definitely put us in an odd mentality. Our apartment [Dylan and Jin] is our studio, so working from home has not been that different. I am just used to spending a lot of time with the team as we operate the business logistically and creatively together ... It’s still quite surreal to witness how drastically this pandemic has worsened and how much it has and will take away from everyone’s lives, so to try and justify the nature of our business, which is essentially consumption, in order to stay focused and resilient, is quite challenging. 

“We have been texting and calling each other a lot. The advantage is that we get to focus more on the logistics and navigating through the start of our production for the season, which is quite odd to say since there’s a lot of uncertainty involved at this point. We’ve talked a lot to our creative friends and everyone thinks that as unfortunate as it will be for young brands like ours, the fashion system will have shifted for the better and we have to write our own rules, with less obligation to do shows, fewer pieces in a collection or possibly a different production calendar. We are hopeful, but also very uncertain. 

“Our advice is to stay together, be empathetic towards one another and don’t be afraid to ask questions and share as much insights and experiences with each other as possible. It’s important to endure this change and come out on the other side together. We’ve been thinking of home and of Asia a lot. We try sifting through more of our photo books, and looking at references for the seasons ahead. We all are cooking more now. There’s also a lot of Netflix binging and Nintendo Switch!” 

Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta of Eckhaus Latta

“The fallout of Covid-19 has greatly slowed down our practice forcing us to reassess what Eckhaus Latta is – or more so what it will be in the future. It is frightening to think of the depth the economic impact this will have globally. Especially when it comes to designer clothes and the role of true necessities, a lot of us are struggling with this now.

“As absurd as it may sound, shopping is the best form of continued support. We are entering into really trying times, especially for independent labels, buying clothes directly from brands via their e-comm platforms is the most supportive thing anyone can do right now.

“Our best advice is to try to be optimistic and hopeful as whatever the other side of this looks like will be a fascinating and new landscape. Houseparty is the best thing ever as well as the resurgence of Google Hangouts. We are also really excited to watch Unorthodox on Netflix by Alexa Karolinski, who we collaborated with on all of our fashion films.”

Carly Mark and Ayla Argentina of Puppets and Puppets

“We are all in different locations, doing our best to work remotely towards a collection. It’s a confusing time, there’s no way to determine how fashion will operate in the near future. Will the next round of shows be allowed? Will they go completely virtual? Is making a collection relevant considering the current terrain? Right now, all we have is our day-by-day. We are continuing our practice, because it’s what we do, and we’re doing so as best as we can while taking care of ourselves and the people around us.

“A lot of things will have to go digital. A lot of young brands unfortunately won’t make it. This break also might give people the chance to sit down and really work on what they’re making, with space to breathe, and without as much urgency. Fashion will have to be sustainable in the next few months. Operations will have to be small production. But people can still support – buy if you can! We currently make custom pieces and always appreciate the support.

“Work on what you can given the circumstances, but take your time, and breathe through it. Meditate. Limit phone hours, work out a little bit everyday, cook your own food, read before bed.”

Patric DiCaprio, Claire Sullivan and Bryn Taubensee of Vaquera

“Since we’re a design team, we’re used to being together and in conversation daily. Nearly all of us had to leave the city so it’s an adjustment to learn communication from a distance. We feel really supported by each other and are doing our best to keep things moving as much as possible ... Usually, we would be starting on our next collection around this time, which we sew ourselves in our studio. So it’s sort of about finding inspiration where we are and thinking about that development in a new way. 

“As of right now, we’re trying not to focus too much on what the negative outcome will be. We’re certainly aware that there will be big losses for businesses like ours, and there already have been a few but our main focus is staying afloat as much as we can and being there for each other and our community. How can people support? Shop! We know it’s a weird time to be buying clothes, but if people can afford to support small businesses, now more than ever is the time to show that support. We’re not able to ship orders right now, but we have plenty of stock in the studio waiting to be bought up. It will be such a pleasure to get back in there and start shipping out the orders.

“We received a message from one of our customers exclaiming how much she loved the dress she ordered and that she was going to wear it around her living room since she can’t wear it outside. Since then, we’ve been asking friends, fans, and customers alike to send us images of them in their favourite Vaquera – or Vaquera-inspired – pieces. We’ve been getting so many amazing replies, people saying that dressing up is giving them something to look forward to, etc. The other day one of us opened a FaceTime call from a friend and she was just sitting there in her full fuschia ruffled Vaquera look – that small moment was enough to make the day feel a bit lighter and happier. Knowing that Vaquera can bring a little bit of joy to people in uncertain times is what’s keeping us positive.

“It’s so hard to say what will happen when the climate of the future is still so uncertain. We hope that if anything, this could be the start of a ‘reset’ for the fashion industry and that everyone can begin to rethink what is necessary, focus on mindful and meaningful clothing, and less on excess and fast fashion.”