Dystopia and Disruption at NYFW
Written by Taylore Scarabelli
Dressed head-to-toe in silver sequins and a lamé turban to match, famed beauty influencer Patrick Starr picked up a miniature, pink faux fur-adorned puppy and puckered for a photo. I ducked from the cameras aimed at an it-girl in front me and watched a kidfluencer in sunglasses take a seat in the first row. It was the middle of New York Fashion Week and I was at Spring Studios waiting for Kim Shui, a popular Instagram brand, to show.
For retailers big and small, the shows at fashion week are little more than marketing opportunities, a chance to reach out to influencers to boost organic growth on Instagram, and land real press too. This is nothing new, but with the rise of direct-to-consumer startups and the fall of stores like Barneys and Opening Ceremony, the thirst for attention at fashion week felt palpable, as did the money, or lack thereof, behind the shows. With a sparse schedule and New York’s most iconic designers seemingly becoming displaced by corporations like Nike and L.L. Bean, it seemed like fashion week was destined for irrelevancy—or some other kind of impending doom.
From the lineup outside to the incessant cheers during the show, the energy from the audience at Kim Shui was unrivalled. Brightly colored coats, butterfly-patterned skirts, and chartreuse corsets were emboldened by white oversized sunglasses and the internet models who donned them—mirroring the frenetic vibe of the crowd. One of the Clermont Twins walked the runway, and like her, the somewhat ill-fitting clothes seemed like they would look better on Instagram. But if Shui’s show demonstrated anything about clothing and social media, it was that it’s no longer fashion editors, but the influencers and consumers of brands, who dictate their success—at least for companies who make their sales online.
We can’t expect everything to be perfect from small brands with limited budgets, and yet it’s the less established designers who tend to make the most interesting clothes. During Vaquera’s “surprise” show at Dover Street Market on Saturday, models meandered through the store holding number placards in an ode to a earlier era when fashion shows were reserved for buyers and editors, and taste wasn’t dictated by the crowd. This was ironic not solely for the fact that the space was full of fans and party girls, but also because the brand itself has survived off well-deserved hype from a new generation of consumers who don’t need Vogue editors to tell them what to wear. And though the collection was smaller than usual (rumor has it that the brand secured funds for the show a week prior), sinister black leather jackets with oversized shoulders, camouflage coats and skirts, and heavy knitwear stood out amongst sultry sequinned garments and skillfully tailored corsets—showcasing the trio’s ability to evolve each season—no matter the time crunch, nor budget.
Earlier that day at Public Hotel, handbag designer Susan Alexandra took up capital in a less nuanced way with a fashion show-cum-musical centered around store closures in New York City, and the designer’s desire to open her own retail space in Soho. The sparkly campy purses and the showtunes that mirrored them were so spot-on, so authentic, that I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed about my own intentions to write about fashion week in the context of the collapsing retail market. With NYFW’s sparse schedule and the failure of even the biggest fast fashion companies to keep their doors open, It’s obvious to everyone that something is wrong with the fashion industry, but for Alexandra—the show had to go on.
Elsewhere money seemed to matter less, though there was no denying the effect that late capitalism has had on production, and the way we style our clothes. At Women’s History Museum, crudely deconstructed corsets stood out amongst newspaper print dresses, puffers, and a fiery matchbook boa fabricated by Simone Brandford-Altsher. At the end of the runway, models took turns posing doll-like in a giant translucent box, each placing a giant coin reminiscent of a 1970s peep show token through a slit in the glass case before strutting down the runway.
This DIY aesthetic re-emerged at Gogo Graham in one her most poignant shows. At the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square, models slowly drifted across the runway, faces covered in mesh bags and bodies draped in layers of cotton, mesh, and fur crudely finished into spectacular fitted gowns. Highlights included a dress adorned with magnetic security tags that clicked while model and DJ Maya Monès walked, and the final look, a brown floor length gown fit with a corset that extended out to form a butterfly-like motif, a sign of hope and beauty amongst a collection that imbued chaos.
At Eckhaus Latta, further rumblings of a futuristic dystopia were imagined with brightly colored suits and shiny pleather pants that appeared to mirror the political media circus of the week. Fictional New York is a city of superheroes and villains, and at Eckhaus Latta you could envision both. And though the collection appeared to be a departure from the duo’s past aesthetics, beneath the cynicism of heavy tailoring and punchy hues was the romance ever-present in their knit wear—a sign that not everyone is ready to give in to nihilism.
Later that night at the after party at 10 Corso Como I sat in a booth drinking champagne with a couple of girls I met during the week’s shows. We gossiped about the once-cancelled DJ and checked for updates on the New Hampshire Primary while the rest of the party danced and had their photos taken in their favorite Eckhaus Latta clothes. On the bus ride home I read a story about the impact of the Corona Virus on the fashion industry from a free issue of Women’s Wear Daily I picked up outside the show. New York Fashion Week might not be relevant much longer, but the clothes are still getting made and Bernie is still winning the primary. There’s always something to be hopeful for.
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