New York is a city where fashion and style take to the street, thanks to its condensed and walkable nature and the proliferation of public transport. Thus, designers needn’t look further than outside their studio windows for inspiration. The Fall/Winter 2024 season kick-off homed in on that sentiment.
There was a sunny outlook at Peter Do’s sophomore effort at Helmut Lang, thanks to unseasonably warm temps and a bevy of great merch that drew upon everyday city slickers and a rich archive to look to. Do dug into the brand’s codes, referencing Lang’s tendencies for the dichotomy of “chaos versus control’, in a post-show interview. The collection’s main thread was “protection vs. projection,” defined as clothes to safeguard you from the city’s elements but also to take you somewhere, a theme ostensibly derived from the seatbelt design detail of his debut collection for the brand.
When describing his consumer, Do seems keen to protect his customer’s wallet.
“The clothes are for people who appreciate quality, point of view, and fashion without having to take out a second mortgage. Prices in fashion are going up and up, and it’s sort of ridiculous, so I want clothes that have value and can be found at any price point,” he said to reporters backstage. His value vision of Lang also means completing whole looks in one garment versus the separate elements such as a special belt or attachable sleeves found in the original Helmut Lang collections.
His intent is also to bring versatility to his customers. “I want to give people many options to wear clothes that grow with you in new ways so you can have it all,” he said, pointing out the zipper details on many garments that allow wearers to “adjust the drama.”
The multi-function aspect was also witnessed in all-season moleskin or tailoring suiting styles with traditional woven fabrics and compact knit jerseys in the back. “The pieces move and expand with you; it’s a tool to be ready for whatever [New York brings],” he added.
While 90s-era minimalism reigns supreme chez Lang, Do balances that aesthetic with rich details: grosgrain ribbon draping cascading down the front and back of jeans; overdyed and distressed denim; sheer bubble-wrap silk voile fabrics with stripes on standard five-pocket styles and button front shirts or in opaque black as a cool bomber; cutaway armpits on sweaters, zippers for the versatility factor, featherweight puffer cape-stye and a hole-punch technique fabric on suiting and eveningwear that Do told FashionNetwork.com post show that came from an archival fabric inspired by construction tarp that allows for wind to pass through. (Thus, these garments fall into the projection lane).
Some of the collection had such a light and airy feel, especially with the transparent pieces and fine hosiery-knit jerseys; it was easy to forget it was a cold weather outing.
“I was thinking about next winter in New York City; the weather is so bipolar here. It’s just protection from the elements and emotions,” he explained.
Pops of orange marked the mainly black, white, and neutral color palette in a nod to the hard hat workers’ safety color. A black and red plaid on knits and chiffons Do said came from the Lang archives, not his former boss Phoebe Philo, as one journalist suggested.
Do—who notoriously greets the public in a hat and face mask that exceeds pandemic-era precautions—skipped his cap this time and hinted at letting go of his face protection. He also nodded to protection with balaclavas disguising some of the models. However, it was hard to disguise Do’s eclectic casting that featured models dating back to the original Lang, such as Kirsten Owen, Ahn Duong, Suzi de Givenchy, and male model Alex Burns.
“We see many people of all ages, races, and colors come in for the casting. Whoever embodies the look I wanted to see represented on the street,” he reasoned. Parent company Fast Retailing aims to have as many of those urbanites in Helmut Lang as possible.
Later, uptown, decidedly downtown lifestyle brand Collina Strada, designed by Hillary Taymour, took her act uptown, perhaps for the sake of statement rather than venue. (The designer declined post-show interviews to shed light on such choices). The designer put her spin on female power dressing in a club-like space in the bowels of Rockefeller Center—arguably one of the city’s cultural power centers.
Entitled ‘Stronger’, the collection, while challenging the notion of male-dominated board rooms, manifested a new ideal of feminine power via getting pumped at the gym. Thus, her lady found strength in the form of muscle, recreating a buff upper body with physique-realistic Latex shirts and padded Gigot sleeves. The models included boldface names like Gina Gershon, Quannah Chasinghorse, and the unstoppable, physically-disabled, able-minded, Aaron Rose Philip, were an assemblage of all sorts of characters: young, mature, pregnant, carrying an actual baby, confined to a power wheelchair in Philip’s case, which came in all shapes, sizes and genders and often connected to the brand one way or another. They flexed muscles and pumped fake barbells made from robust squashes.
The collection was print-heavy, ranging from a fiery inferno image and delicate flowers, and many styles were a combo of silk chiffon and velvet. They were mimicked on the ceiling and wall screens of the show space for double effect. Chunky knits had a homespun feel, and custom Uggs stressed comfort for this power woman. Overall, the collection revealed lots of skin with lingerie-inspired silhouettes and short hemlines. Not really typical C-suite power dressing unless you are rewriting the rules as Taymour is.
Closer to Taymour’s turf was the 3.1 Phillip Lim fall presentation, which is close to the designer’s proverbial New York roots. Lim took a decidedly fresh approach to his seasonal collection reveal by celebrating the auxiliary creatives who help shape fashion shows and campaigns but whose projects are rarely promoted.
Entitled ‘Intersections’, the event filled a gallery space with a multi-media expression that highlighted four vignettes of life in New York City from AAPI creatives, such as Dong-Ping Wong of Food Architects, photographer Jiro Konami, composer Sugar Vendil, graphic design studio Social Species, and original poetry by Fatima Ahmad, Jessica Kim, Vanessa Niu and Serena Yang. Brooklyn-based duo Indie Studios incorporated pieces from Lim’s collection into the various scenes, creating floating sculptures out of the collection of garments and accessories.
“Fashion creates a special ecosystem. We’ve worked with these creative directors, set directors, and photographers for years, but we don’t always work together this way. I did the clothes and gave them to the other creatives to do what they do: write about it, film it, photograph it to create a scene that engages their work publicly. It’s about community,” he explained.
Behind a curtain panel was another room that housed the collection on racks and display boards. Lim walked the press through the collection, encapsulating the New York City collection themes.
The collection is centered on evolving house codes, ripe for a refresh and revisit for today’s customer as the moment for the era of Lim’s 2005 debut is quickly becoming sought after by Gen Z shoppers. The designer noted that in a recent It bag of the aughts story, his Pashli Bag made the list of most sought-after.
Lim’s unexpected pairings, whether an odd mix of materials, asymmetrical silhouettes, and shape-shifting ideas, were a forerunner of today’s hybrid concepts such as those masterfully crafted by Sacai’s Abe Chitose (though at a much gentler price point).
To wit, while speaking with FashionNetwork.com, veteran retailer Julie Gilhart said hello to the designer as both reminisced about his window debut at Barneys, a first for a contemporary brand.
“This collection is all reminiscent; the shapes and ideas that are the spirit and contradictions of the brand. For instance, this plaid sequin work shirt reminds me of the early days,” he said, pointing to a rack, adding, “I’ve earned my stripes, and I am still standing.”
So are some of the staples that kicked off the collection lineup.
“Looks one through four are sweatsuits I have made forever but never put in a lookbook. But why not? It’s earned its stripes. These are the pieces that fund this company, so let’s not treat it like the stepchild of the brand,” he continued, pointing out the ubiquitous and now maligned plastic bag that has been transformed into a shoulder tote. “This tote bag is like a badge of honor, too; I would love to collaborate with the city tourism board on a bag,” he said before moving on to the next creative in line.
Following the buzz of Tommy Hilfiger’s splashy return to the wholesale-minded fashion week calendar for a 9 p.m. time slot is a fate no designer chooses willingly. New York show logistics with its multi-borough afront poses challenges beyond the designer’s control. Thus, in some ways, the odds were stacked against Bach Mai for his show on Friday night, which started closer to 10 p.m.
The designer’s pedigree includes design houses such as Calvin Klein, Oscar de la Renta, Prabal Gurung, and most impressive in an American brand, under the tutelage of John Galliano at Maison Margiela, a fact never not mentioned. Mai made his New York debut in February 2022 with the French couture fabric house Hurel, also a financial partner, with an exquisite collection of evening and occasion dresses hovering on the couture level yet infused with an American effervescence.
Mai returned to the runway in the fifth collection during NYFW, forgoing his freshman and sophomore efforts, which were standouts as presentations.
Backstage, Mai lamented a familiar young designer’s ailment: champagne tastes with a beer budget. Thus, the designer explained documenting the journey of creating the collection on Instagram.
“We are not Dior or a big design house, nor do we have budgets for polished content, so let’s show what we do have and the struggle of what it takes to make a collection for a young designer,” he said, noting most budding brands are facing challenges.
Forming an identity ranks high among the designers’ struggles. Mai said his inspiration for this collection called ‘La Devoyee’ was a “Bourgeois woman who becomes a space stripper,” so ‘Belle du Jour meets Barbarella,’ perhaps?
“What do you think of with a bourgeois woman? You think of scarves, so it’s mixing these elements with fetish. It’s a journey back and forth with the dresses, almost falling apart on the bias and more constructed things; It’s the duality of life which is just like the duality of women,” Mai explained backstage.
Thus, the handkerchief hemlines, flowing fabric trains, and slouch louche shirts worn half-on evoked this idea. These concepts in a red tropical floral AI-generated print stood out as among the strongest of the outing; case in point, one dress worn under a black sequin topper or a printed bandeau top with a coordinating blouse worn with black pants. A shimmering swinging silver coat shined as an example of outerwear that debuted in this collection. A festooned black skirt and fitted peplum jacket intrigued, as did the iridescence of a unique Lurex fabric ‘pushed to get that space age’ shine.
Some of the other AI-generated prints were much less successful, such as a purple pixelated style that failed to look good in any iteration. A flamingo print in a nod to Palm Beach types was dashed when seen a suit worn too tight.
Mai’s signature 80s-era poof skirt took on more immense proportions and new personalities. Ribbon details, which appeared both folded and as streamers, trailed behind a velvet number, and the poof transformed into a white iridescent sheer dress worn over a bondage-strap-inspired bodysuit in another challenging style. The S&M styling juxtaposition did little to elevate the execution of the clothes, which in some cases required this.
Mai’s admission to production capabilities might be the cue for the designer to forgo the runway and shift his focus back to the clothes, their construction, and customers, something he says he has been doing recently.
“I’ve been traveling and meeting a lot of these women and connecting with them on this fallacy rather than being overly commercial, but to re-center and focus our message on who we are and what we believe in, our femininity and let people respond to that and to give them options they can also wear; it’s a strong message, it’s an idea,” said Mai.
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