Good riddance to good taste
It’s been a long time since a New York Fashion Week show was an hour late and hardly anyone cared.
A while has passed since that kind of anarchic creative energy — the kind that once defined the space known as “downtown,” where people climbed rickety stairs on the Lower East Side to see Miguel Adrover making a dress out of Quentin Crisp’s old mattress and shaking up the status quo – was enough to hold a bedroom.
It’s not just because Covid froze everything for two years, but because a certain politeness and good behavior had become a defining characteristic of New York fashion; an anesthetic aesthetic that favors the pretty over the risk, the taste with the explosive taste, like the clothing equivalent of green juice and Nespresso. There have been occasional extremely ambitious exceptions, such as Telfar’s mosh pit in 2019 and Kerby Jean-Raymond’s Kings Theater, but for the most part, while the trains were running on time, they didn’t go very far.
Which is why it was remarkable, late Friday night, as fashion month began, that a crowd of people on towering platforms and bulky sweats and cuckoo stuff were waiting (standing!) in the Shed, the Hudson Yards theater, in a room bifurcated by metal scaffolding and a catwalk, bouncing from foot to foot for more than an hour, waiting for Shayne Oliver’s show to start.
Waiting, really, for the next stage of New York fashion to begin.
After all, if anyone was going to blow it all up, it would be Mr. Oliver, whose former label, Hood by Air, was a shameless game through the fields of transgression. He exited fashion in 2017, but now he was back — not with a normal runway show but with a three-day art-music-apparel extravaganza called “Headless,” which involved the start of his namesake line and a plan to disrupt the system.
Not entirely. He crossed silver Swarovski crystals and black jackets with spiky shoulders, micro-shorts and thigh-high boots with elongated bird of prey toes, horny headwear and shredded satin dresses. There were lots of straps and lots of skin. The models (male and female) had many piercings and wore white roses. One of them carried a Telfar bag gleaming like a cuirass; another had glasses. Some arrived wrapped in what looked like paper.
At the end, Eartheater, the industrial pop musician otherwise known as Alexandra Drewchin, appeared in a long, jagged white dress as some sort of interdimensional demon bride moaning into a microphone. She was followed by two mostly naked attendants, one in a thong and a bolero adorned with old tapes.
Half the time, neither the audience nor the people in the show seemed to have any idea what was going on or where they were supposed to walk. It didn’t necessarily matter; the point was less the actual clothes than the energy they generated. At least they were on the move. At least they were going somewhere and not just in circles.
After almost two years of uncertainty, that may be enough.
It so happens that a few hours earlier Eartheater – or rather an Eartheater composition – had made another appearance, played by a violin quintet at Proenza Schouler’s show. It was a coincidence, but one that served to underline the gap between how things could be and how they were: on the one hand, there was the uncomfortable reality; on the other, a softer, smoother version, the edges sanded.
Clothing was softer too: a modernization of the corset and crinoline in mesh and silk that owed both Loewe by Jonathan Anderson and Céline by Phoebe Philo. Dresses and suits were constructed in three color-blocked parts – tops, waist, bottoms – so narrow torsos turned into draped balloon skirts, coats and jackets came with their own knit “belt” and the waist of the pants have been rolled up to create a peplum at the hip.
They were coolly elegant, but sure. Like the designs of Jason Wu, who ticked off the name “American couture” and “seemingly outdated glamour” in his show notes, then translated that into a stripped-down romance with bows and wilted plants on sporty dance dresses and Bermuda shorts. , they were smothered in good taste.
And good taste seems, at the moment, a little out of place; a remnant of a less crisis era. That’s why Brandon Maxwell’s moving ode to his grandmother (or, as his show notes put it, his Mammaw, who was one of his inspirations and who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease), in black and white, cables and crushed silk, cinched waists and midcentury silhouettes, looked like such an on-point metaphor. A goodbye not just to one person, but to all of it.
It was a teardrop, done with grace, but it didn’t solve the sequel problem. (That was, literally, the title of Ottessa Moshfegh’s short story distributed at the Proenza Schouler show – “Where Will We Go Next?” but Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, the brand’s founders and designers, didn’t really no answer either.)
For that, look to Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta of Eckhaus Latta, who are celebrating their 10th year in business.
They staged their show in the old Essex Market, an indoor maze of old shelves and refrigerated counters that once served as the heart of the Lower East Side neighborhood and is now slated for demolition to make way for a skyscraper . Inside, electrical cables were leaking in the ceilings and the tiled floors were cracked, but the atmosphere was celebratory, imbued with a sense of community past, but also present.
This has always been the core of their work, from casting friends and family of all shapes and sizes to clothing, which has a singular craftsmanship that avoids easy categorization; subversive without being aggressive and intensely tactile. Over the years they have become more polished and a bit less art school, but they have never lost their sense of soul.
See the show, where their friend and mentor (and famous ’90s indie designer) Susan Cianciolo walked, as did model Frankie Rayder, whose heyday was around the turn of the millennium, and actress Hari Nef. Nude sequins covered sheer skirts and dresses like shimmering fish scales; denim was either shredded into silk fringe or darned with crocheted mohair; and an amoeba-like chain mail was pieced together into a dress with suspenders. Layers were used to reveal chunks of flesh in unexpected places, such as the inner thigh and just below the buttocks. The colors were foil, oxblood, chocolate and toad. It ended with a guy in a little black dress, zipped up the back.
The effect was of a giant potluck that could turn into an orgy. The subject was both destruction and resurrection. Ten years ago, that made Eckhaus Latta strangers (where was the attractive?), but now that makes them visionaries.
“The future is people walking down the street laughing,” said the prose poem distributed at the fair, accompanied by a magazine full of memorabilia from Eckhaus Latta and associations of people who carry the brand. ; for whom it is embedded in their lives.
As an answer, it works.