This season in New York cemented the places of the new guard of designers and brands in the city. Survival is notoriously difficult – and success even rarer, but a number of these young creators have found their footing and stride. There was a wealth of inspiration and ideas that belied how contemporary and sellable the clothes were, hinting at some real potential from these names.
At Monse, the designers Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim are dually taking on new and old-school New York fashion. While their work at Oscar de la Renta, where the pair are hired as creative directors, is geared towards livening up the ladies-who-lunch crowd, their own label is more fixedly born from being young and current. Their signature tends to build on classic pieces twisted and cut sideways into asymmetry, and this season the pair looked towards marinière sailor style. That meant breton stripes, rope motifs, and a very nice series of frayed tweeds with a watery ikat-style houndstooth pattern.
Men's looks from Monse Spring/Summer 2019
What was interesting, though, was that a third of this Monse collection was showed on men. The pair credited this to accepting the fact that a lot of their male customers simply buy Monse womenswear anyway – surely a promising sign of widening social mores toward gender binaries. It makes complete sense, considering the rather gender-regardless appeal of Monse’s oversized and easy style.
Sander Lak of Sies Marjan, meanwhile, broke a little out of his mode of colour to take on texture. This was a more tonally subdued Sies Marjan collection, with the designer opening with whites, and closing with soft yellows and reds. More interesting was the early section of crinkled golds, used to great effect as a slouchy pyjama look and then shaped into a dress that gave the colour’s glamour a low-key touch. I also enjoyed Lak’s forays into more challenging silhouettes – though they did tend towards the work of Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela. Which is not to be held against the designer, considering the rampant influence of these two retired fashion designers.
But it was when he cut simply for summer ease that the clothes shone. Aymeline Valade’s deconstructed pinstriped coat/jacket/skirt/dress look felt a bit contrived in contrast to, say, the baggy and drapey striped sweater and trouser combination that came before it. Even better was a pleated and fluted mini which had a lovely proportion, and an asymmetrical dress with fluted hems – it hugged the body in a sporty, modern manner all the while espousing Lak’s knack for beautiful colour.
While young designers today scrounge 90s moodboards for inspiration, Anna Sui can easily pick from the decade with comfort and authority. Sui is famous for her kitschy irreverence, a style that has consistently defied trends and zeitgeist, sticking instead with her casual magpie aesthetic. It’s paying off now. A lot of the Eastern texture and culture she draws from should not be underestimated: it clearly informs a lot of how younger Asian-American designers approach their dual cultures. Think of the Opening Ceremony pair, whose Kenzo has an international appeal while playing by the rulebooks of its Japanese founder.
Anna Sui Spring/Summer 2019
Sui played up rich texture, print, colour and ornamentation – exactly the kind of more-is-more that is at work today. She erected a Grand Bazaar, staging her show so it looked like the models were part of the magpie coterie of women who bend over stalls looking for treasure. The mish mash – of everything, really – was a success because it felt authentic and genuine. Unaffected. Sui is a veteran of New York fashion now but the exuberance and clarity of her proposition keeps the clothes looking good and younger than ever now that a maximalist moment has come around again.
Speaking of more, who could be more polarizing in New York Fashion Week than Vaquera? Vaquera is young, and sometimes painfully so. It’s taken on a postmodern panic of being unable to do anything truly new and given it a spin: ‘fashion fan fiction’. So what they’re doing now is revisiting and recontextualising past ideas in a reactionary manner. The most obvious reference this season was Comme des Garçons, which came out in ridiculous outfits satirizing and winking at the cliché of the American high school experience. The response was divided after the show into two camps of: “I don’t get it” and “Of course I get it”. Which is to say that no one is really sure what there was to get. Either way, it was an intoxicating show of young subversion and creativity. You have to ignore the believability of the showpieces for a young contemporary brand, but it’s this sort of rowdy fanfare that draws in an audience – and gets a New York Times reporter to actually walk your runway show.
At Self Portrait, the designer Han Chong is quite comfortable in his place now as a purveyor of cool lacy dresses. He has managed to reintroduce lace into a modern style lexicon and cut them to sporty and modern silhouettes that find themselves, invariably, on trend-setting cool girls. Cool, cool, cool. It’s going to last you so long, as Alexander Wang might attest. So it was promising that Han Chong explored cocktail hour, with longer dresses and a more sophisticated finish overall. It opened the label up to more possibilities, and it was an assured expansion of the Self Portrait vocabulary.
On the opposite end of the mood of ease and comfort was Piotrek Panszczyk and Beckett Fogg’s Area. The designers have apparently settled on calling their clothes ‘occasionwear’ and it’s clear to see that these are indeed clothes worn for the purpose of being seen and photographed in. There is a simmering sexuality to Area’s designs, which I attribute to the smart way the designers manipulate their fabrics and apply embroidery for maximum effect. It worked best with a lot of their tiniest dresses, and especially well on the Teva sandals glammed up with black, plastic crystals. The pair have a street smart approach to culling from a host of influences – and the result here was a chimeric blend of things that spoke to a truly go-go-go New Yorker customer.