NYFW: Grannies, showgirls, '90s fashion icons and mermaids; otherwise known as a gaggle of inspiring muses
As shows plowed through the weekend, most in attendance weren’t concerned with the other big event aka Superbowl LVI happening, which was later than normal this year, thus coinciding with New York Fashion Week. Jocks weren't the inspiration anyhow.
Brandon Maxwell, Beckett Fogg and Piotrek Panszczyk of Area, Sergio Hudson and Joseph Altuzarra all paid tribute to the female muses that inspired them in one way or another. The weather may have returned to a more seasonal wintry mix but NYFW was just beginning to heat up.
As guests entered the Brandon Maxwell show Saturday and shuffled to their seats, they navigated a blackened room brought to life by the occasional spotlight. Anyone caught under such a beam was literally on the spot, cause for reflection. This played well as the show opened up with a film, narrating Brandon Maxwell’s life as per his Wikipedia entry and showing flashbacks to his childhood and family life. A recorded conversation between the designer and his grandmother, Mammaw, drove home the sentimental expression.
The show opened to a melancholic rendition of John Denver’s 'Take Me Home Country Roads', a song that connected the clothes to the designer's past. The clothes exuded a certain comfy quilted feeling driven home by massive cozy scarves.
Post-show, Maxwell came out of the massive black curtain wall to greet well-wishers and journalists, perhaps so models could change in peace and explained the huge knit shawls.
“I learned when I was a kid to make skirts and ball gowns out of blankets at my grandmother’s house,” the designer explained. “I would tie them around my sisters, and that is how I started playing with silhouettes and teaching myself as a child.”
He may have been referencing his childhood, but he looked at photos of his grandmother and her friends’ younger days in the 1950s to draw inspiration for the ball skirts that dominated the collection. They came pleated, tiered in tulle, or realized an oversized chunky knit ball skirt fused to a sheer bustier. Mother-of-the-bride jackets and a fitted bodice topped with a dramatic sculpted bodice were given a hip spin paired with shredded denim jeans. A comfy vibe was evidenced throughout within the context of polished glamour.
The Texan native decided to forgo a traditional final walk, instead lining the models up against the back wall bringing his design team out to make sure they shared in the glory of the audience's applause. Maxwell’s family was in attendance, and his father took the bow with him, adding to the moving show.
“The world, at least my world, led up to this being a more emotional show,” he said. The circumstance yielded a powerful and touching effort.
Last September, Simone Biles wore an elaborate 88-pound beaded crystal convertible dress and coordinating catsuit from Athleta to the Met Gala, designed by Beckett Fogg and Piotrek Panszczyk. of Area. It seemed a death-defying challenge for the diminutive Olympian to pull off, but she did. The avant-garde independent brand, known for its use of crystals, in a similar way is pulling off some feats of its own as the brand grows up and into itself, with a new multi-purpose space on lower Bowery that houses the atelier above it.
According to Panszczyk, it can be used as a showroom, retail space, and even a small runway show owing to its long narrow shape. It takes cues from Andy Warhol’s factory—silver-colored walls and coordinated custom couch spelling out Area—but adds a series of screens adapted to today’s lifestyle.
It was the perfect setting to host one-on-one appointments to view the collection released digitally on Sunday. Panszczyk explained seeing the combination of RTW and couture clothes up close was necessary to appreciate them fully.
“It was important to open this showroom and not just do a runway show because I want people to look at them and experience them to appreciate the craftsmanship we work hard to achieve,” the co-designer said of the pieces.
Beyoncé and Dua Lipa are fans of Area. Those entertainers will find more to love in this group, which showgirls across the globe and time-inspired; think Josephine Baker to Las Vegas showgirls to Rio de Janeiro Carnival gals and the 1920s.
The duo explored a showgirl’s favorite tool, the feather, which was created in metal.
“Doing feathers was obvious, but how to make them gilded,” the designer suggested. Working with a German female sculptor in Rome, they fashioned the bras, corset, facepieces, and harnesses out of brass feathers that were also articulated and not static.
Preciosa crystals were abundant on everything, from a bustier to a headpiece that created crystal hair strands. They especially stood out on a double butterfly top which loosely referenced Paul Poiret that Panszczyk said was “a couture piece perfected over time until they are market-ready to sell.”
It was hard to name one piece de resistance, but it may have been the black embroidered cape dress with molded shoulders which involved 18 different embroidery specialists and over 4,150 work hours to complete. “I’m just a small part of this process. It’s all together with these amazing artisans, all of these hands. In the end, it’s created by handwork,” he conceded.
The molded effect is created using paniers, aka baskets on several gowns, including the embroidered stunner, and Biles' number harkened back to Thierry Mugler. Panszczyk wasn’t afraid to acknowledge that. “The majority of my work is an ode to Mugler. He was all of it together; an amazing showman and exquisite couturier who made women go nuts for his clothes. They even altered their bodies to look like a Mugler girl,” he said.
Creating the strategic humps drew upon a traditional way of making the baskets from boning then covering for a smooth finish with French wool. “It was a skill set we didn’t even know we had,” he explained.
Maybe, but between the two of them, there is plenty of skill to go around.
Minutes before Sergio Hudson’s models took the runway, the South Carolina native designer was backstage rolling styling directives off his tongue, coolly and calmly. “We don’t need that,” he said to a dresser regarding a belt on a coat. “Where is her hat,” he queried to another.
This precision sharp vision of his collection exemplifies the brand itself, which delivers styles made for today with the right touch of yesterday in a rainbow of colors. It’s also garnered legions of fans for the designer who has starred on the 2014 Bravo reality show 'Styled to Rock' and dressed former First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris on inauguration day.
His Spring 2022 outing had something for powerful female politicians and trend-conscious style-setters alike. He started with a color palette inspired by the Ndebele tribe in Africa and a print he developed.
“Normally, I’m a one-print per collection type designer. I was looking to reupholster something and found this piece of leather,” he explained, adding, “I don’t know what kind of animal it was, but I reconfigured it and made a new print.”
He found the pastel colors of the South African tribe fun. “It made me think about 'Clueless' or 'A Different World' and what these great fashion girls would wear on safari? It’s a fun and cheeky collection,” he said.
That could also describe the show that was jam-packed with his fans who reacted with cheers and encouragement when seeing veteran models like Beverly Johnson and Veronica Webb or another model who slipped get back up.
The silhouettes were totally nineties and just suitable for today. The prints looked especially good as knits such as a pencil skirt and cropped cardigan. Sleeveless tailoring on dresses, cropped leather denim-style jackets with matching shorts, flirty chiffon dresses, asymmetrical satin trenches, bias-cut camisole gowns with trains, and off-the-shoulder white shirt dressing (a nod to Byron Lars?) all felt fresh. The shoes also channeled those fictitious LA fashion characters of the nineties and early aughts. This season Hudson collaborated with Malone Souliers on two styles, the Lilli and the Jojo, in an array of pastel and neutral colors to complete the look.
In keeping with the decade's mood, he used a raised runway and sent girls in groups à la Armani. The safari outfits, scoop neck thin knit dresses, and wide brim hat numbers were entertaining to watch. The music was equally fun and upbeat, adding to the incredible energy this show brought forth.
“For me, it was this triumph of imagination in a time when we haven’t been able to travel or escape as much. I’ve escaped in books and stories, and this was an homage to that,” Joseph Altuzarra said backstage following his Fall/Winter 2022 runway show, which took place at the historic and ornate Woolworth Building, which also houses his lower Manhattan headquarters.
It was a triumph in reality too. The theme was heavily hinted upon as guests arriving found copies of Moby Dick at their seats that had been earmarked with bits from a mood board.
“It was a journey. I was interested in this idea of a sailor and a traveler, and they sort of slowly become this mermaid,” he continued to explain backstage, adding, “It was a simple story. We built the collection around it.”
What wasn’t simple was the clothes. They were rich and complex in all the right ways. It was heavy on volume, proportion mixing, layering, textures, intricate techniques, and embellishments, another result of exploration. Several looks riffed on fisherman sweaters, mariners and pea coats, and sailor suits but went far beyond just one linear theme. Richly dyed Batik printing and floral prints added a gypsy vibe; together, it read chic seafaring vagabond.
“Every season, we explore more and more craft, especially global craft by working with artisans from different parts of the world. Weirdly I think it’s become even more important because we haven’t been able to travel,” he offered, adding, “At the root of what I do is this sense of my identity which comes from different places. I like crafting identities from different languages. It was a romantic and personal collection.”
The lineup of great skirts and dresses often came with silver trimmed belts and straps that may have alluded to treasures found in a shipwreck along the journey, for example. Knitwear was purposely tattered and patterned to match a dyed skirt. Leathers were pleated into large circle skirts, appearing almost monastic on a black dress and chocolate brown capelet and skirt combo.
Guests were awed by the series finale that included two dresses made from hand-dyed metal paillettes that made a variegated fish scale effect and made a fantastic swooshing sound as it passed. “In the collection, I wanted to sort of give into a sense of play and exploration," he said of the swishing dresses. “The sound of the dresses evoked the ocean. We played with different swatches, moving them around to find the right sound of the ocean.”
Other drama played out in fur-trimmed hoods often pushed down around the neck or tightly knit caps. High platforms and flatform sandals balanced the proportion, as did various backpack satchels or shoulder bags worn in double.
The magpie styling and theme might have naysayers, or those with a narrow POV may draw a line to John Galliano’s 'A Folk Horror Tale' collection and film. But the themes Altuzarra explored are universal, and the resulting collection distinctly and uniquely his.
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