Over the past year, there has been a development within New York's fashion scene: once exclusively the domain of big business brands, it is now home to some of the most exciting young labels in fashion. These labels belong to designers tired of the ceaseless commercial drive of the city, and who are collaborating with their friends to offer creative alternatives to billboard campaigns. They cast their peers as an antidote to homogenised model appearances, and make clothes that they – and the people around them – actually want to wear.
One of these brands is Area NYC, a label founded by Parsons School of Design graduates Piotrek Panszczyk and Beckett Fogg, who met while they each studying for their Masters degrees at the esteemed college. In fact, ever resourceful, Panszczyk used the materials left over from Fogg's graduate collection (she finished a year earlier than he did, and spent that time working for Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein) to craft his own: an embossed leather which has since become a staple of their aesthetic. Their union since has created a contemporary reworking of the styling favoured by Carrie Bradshaw or Michele Weinberger: a distinctly millennial glamour that directly speaks to the references of both the duo and their peers, sort of subverted but mainly just celebrated. Here, we speak to them about their millennial inspirations, and how they are turning trash into treasure.
"When we first shared material at Parsons, it was the beginning of a few projects," explains Fogg, who bequeathed a few unused rolls of embossed leather upon Panszczyk when she finished her own final collection. "Parsons really encourage you to spend time with the other people at the school – the year groups are pretty small – and we'd already spoken about starting a label together. Then, when we finished studying, it just felt like the right timing; we'd both dipped our toes into the industry, but it felt like the longer we stayed working for someone else, the more that we would be likely to lose a bit of ourselves." So, the pair quickly set up shop in 2013 and started creating clothes that teamed their gauzy, 1990s view of womanhood with technical prowess; think, Romy & Michele's High School Reunion meets high-spec textile manipulation, seen through the Vaseline-daubed lens of Charlotte Wales (another one of their close-knit circle of friends).
"I think that what's really interesting to us about textile development especially is that, in a saturated market, it allows you to literally put your own stamp on a piece and make it recognisably belong to a brand," explains Panszczyk. Consequently, in the world of Area NYC, everything from shimmering pink lamé to distressed denim is put through an embossing machine, but "every fabric takes to it differently, so there's always a different result." These fabrics are then carried over, season to season – the pair are fairly savvy as to how important it is to build a recognisable image during these developing years – and even extend into pre-collections (they currently produce both Pre-Fall and Resort). "We don't want to kill our own identity too fast," he continues, laughing, "so we really try to go slowly in developing everything."
The pieces themselves, which are slinky and silky and simply fabulous in that very Sex and the City fashion, refine bad taste into something of an art form: "we really try to portray women as goddesses and power creatures," they say. Their references are an amalgamation of club glamour through the decades: 1930s flappers, 60s mods, Studio 54 and Area (the latter was a downtown New York club before they appropriated its name for the label; they found out about it when they were sourcing materials from local manufacturers who associated their aesthetic with the hedonism of times past). "To us, fashion is performative, so we tried to work out what performance meant to each of those eras," says Piotrek. "And then, we looked at what that means now." The pair both grew up during MTVs glory era, with Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears and any number of pop starlets negotiating the boundaries of trash. "I think it's quite interesting how you can have something on that is very luxurious and high end in one way, but it can also be fake and façade. That's what interests us: when is something a diamond, and when does it become a zirconia?"
"That's what interests us: when is something a diamond, and when does it become a zirconia?" Piotrek Panszczyk and Beckett Fogg
In quite a meta way, considering that these two are exuberantly reflecting on the era most distinctly marked by the emergence of reality TV – think, The Simple Life or The Real World – Area NYC has been now made subject to Condé Nast's (bizarre, but brilliant) documentary series The Fashion Fund. Nominated for the CFDA's Fashion Fund Designer of the Year award, they are now followed by camera crews as they compete in an assortment of challenges – including a fashion show, this October, to be held at Los Angeles' Chateau Marmont. Their world has thus come full circle: "it's mixed media!" they laugh. "When we design, it's always about this 'American Dream," says Panszczyk – and you wholeheartedly get the sense that that's what they're living: their very own version of it, complete with satin and Swarovski crystals.