NYFW: 3.1 Phillip Lim, Area, Jason Wu, Ulla Johnson, and Studio 189
Kudos to the New York designers who have eschewed the commercialized, cookie-cutter show spaces of Spring Studios, in lieu of a more personalized location, even though getting to them is a logistics nightmare and often means missing another show. Hurricane Lee's residual morning rain effects didn't help, but Sunday outings were worth the schlep.
One of the most anticipated shows was Phillip Lim's return to the runway after a four-year hiatus. Shown at a vast space in Chinatown, overlooking the Manhattan Bridge, Lim delighted the audience with his languid, feminine, and often hybrid takes on the modern women's wardrobe.
The designer has always been a source of a feminine, yet cool wardrobe, and Spring 2024 reinforced this, proving that interesting clothes can also adhere to classic design principles; something that the younger, quirkier designers of New York should note. Backstage, the designer told FashionNetwork.com the collection was about giving props to New York.
"It felt like the time to celebrate New York again. I hate to use that, as New York has never gone away. New York is New York. We are a part of New York; we were born and raised here, and we learned lessons here," the designer told FashionNetwork.com, presumably referring to his business and the brand's CEO, Wen Zhou.
The show opener, according to show notes, "pays homage to fresh-faced optimism: vulnerability, hope, and limitless first layers in both dress and mindset," via a series of fluid, layered sheer looks paired with gemstone embellished pieces; a heart stopper for jewelry lovers. The graceful styles were offered in cream, and New Yorkers' preferred black. Lim also paid homage to immigrants who settled the area with a take on Chinese slippers worn throughout and New York's now-verboten plastic bags with sizeable vinyl-covered canvas tote shopping bags that read New York.
The collection featured punchy scarf-print styles, khaki utility hybrid styles, a return to Capri pants in a knitwear form, graceful floral gowns and bubble-style toppers that looked equal parts shirt and jacket in leather and nylon, whose volume was created by pull-strings, a signature of the designers.
New York leans into diversity on the runway, though age is not one of the isms usually addressed. Not so for Phillip Lim, whose lineup included a bevy of 50-plus-year-old models.
Post-show, the designer explained his casting choice.
"Our audience has always been multi-generational. Coming back, it would be remiss not to show that. What you saw on the runway was sisterhood, a celebration of the female form across all ages using the power of clothes to empower each other. Backstage, it was so beautiful, I cannot explain that kind of power," he said.
For their show for Area, Piotrek Panszczyk and Beckett Fogg, in one sense, looked to another generation who saw fur as the ultimate luxury and imagined how a new generation would interpret it.
The show had plenty of excess and intrigue, but it was a bit more commercial than in previous seasons, which is good when those two concerns meet squarely in the middle. Backstage, Panszczyk broke down the collection.
"Anything can be anything, depending on the interpretation. We reanalyzed some key highly glamorous ideas such as fur and thought about what we love, which is the volume of the structure: how does it make you feel? We twisted this essence and idea and twisted it and opened it up into something you can wear for a new customer," the designer explained.
To that end, Panszczyk and Fogg began the show with warp-printed denim in blue and tan that, in the latter especially, resembled fox fur and later morphed into sweeping opera-style coats made from lightweight printed jacquards (a fabric that was six months in the making to achieve its painterly strokes that he said "were more fluid and less structured than in seasons past; more Madame Vionnet than Area.")
Other touches of glamour, such as fox heads popular on stoles, became a beaded group with the motif appearing on trains of a gown or the bodice of a top. An aggressive skeleton hand and its ensuing capability for slashes and gem-embellished 'bone' made the outfit 'Area-cool.' It also seemed to be a subversive PETA message, though it had its roots in the garb of cave dwellers.
"It was in a way about that but also ambiguous. I grew up in Poland. Furs were a necessity because it was cold but also something symbolic as when you get to a certain place in life, you can afford this luxury. If you look at working-class people in the 70s and 80s when PETA formed, when they got to where they could finally afford it, it was a faux pas," he suggested, adding, "The cycle of fashion kind of bites you in the ass. When you think you made it, you didn't."
Jason Wu's Spring/Summer collection 'Solstice; was one of his strongest and most beautiful collections of late that displayed another side of Wu's talent. The designer explored distressing, typically not in his oeuvre, for a languid collection with a sense of the seaside. (Perhaps that also had something to do with the dune-inspired plants that adorned the round runway circling an outdoor fountain downtown at 28 Liberty Street).
The show opened with a cream group that combined what looked to be high-quality distressed denim with gentle embroidered sheer separates. The look was next transferred into knits in black, which segued into a toile de jouy series that captivated, especially blown up on a white silk coat with a print. Sweeping, mainly asymmetrical, hemlines throughout added an air of romance. While mini-skirt styles gave some looks a punchy vibe, especially with a sheer tulle-encrusted top or a red frayed edge sweater. The show closed with Wu's touch on gowns, which are no strangers to the red carpet. One standout proposition for modern red carpet dressing was a sheer blue wisp of a dress over pants.
Elsewhere Sunday, Ulla Johnson combined some perennial fashion themes—art and nature—into a tempting visual feast of her elevated boho aesthetic.
For this show, the designer paired up with Brooklyn artist Shara Hughes, who converted three of her works—'Tuck' (2021), 'Ignoring the Present' (2018), and 'Cherry in Lace' (2022) into prints for the designer.
Motifs such as botanicals, Shibori prints, and florals made their way onto separates and outerwear as allover print dressing, witnessed in an appealing ocean and sky-theme print in the opening group. Feminine touches throughout, like the lace-trimmed lingerie-influenced styles, targeted today's younger women who rifle thrift stores for vintage gowns, a cyclical trend back in fashion.
Johnson's designs always feel bohemian; this collection leaned towards the romantic side of that, a mood enhanced by the live band Nation of Language, who serenaded the runway, which was strewn with sand drawings and floor-to-ceiling shell curtains, both of which formed circles that the models wove in and out on the runway. It also made the case for Johnson's mixing of textures, which included everything from shell paillettes, macramé, raffia, ruching, and hand-stitched sunburst shape fabric circles, the homey chic side of the designer's work. The brand has recently expanded its retail footprint with a new store in Los Angeles; this latest collection will undoubtedly boost its already healthy sales.
Another brand, Studio 189 by Abrima Erwiah and Rosario Dawson, showed they also have a way with prints. Celebrating the kick-off of the 10th anniversary, the duo, who bills the collection as both an artisan-produced fashion lifestyle brand (on display in a photo collage as a runway backdrop) and social enterprise, teamed up with Yahoo on a 'Ready-to-Vote capsule collection' benefiting the Vote Latino and VoteRiders pro-vote organization.
That was the start of this feel-good collection, made in Africa, producing African and African-inspired content and clothing. Opening with poet V, formerly Eve Ensler, the playwright of The Vagina Monologues and founder of V-Day, aimed at ending violence against women, extolling the behind-the-scenes work of the artisans' hands that go into each garment and a lively dance troupe choreographed by Virgil Gadson and Djassi DaCosta Johnson that opened and closed the show, setting the tone for the runway.
The models, which included women, men, and kids, frolicked in colorful, mixed-pattern batik ensembles that came out often in pairs, dancing to the upbeat soundtrack that crossed over African and Latin music. The brand demonstrated that the fabric could be anything from a men's leisure shirt or traditional tunic to the sweeping circular ball skirt, which the dancers wore significantly. The infectious event cumulated with the designers addressing the audience at the front of the runway, adding to the feel-good fashion moment.
"We wanted to celebrate how much we have grown and the communities we work with. It is incredible every step of the way over the years. It's still challenging, but the commitment and excitement of what's to come. After the pandemic coming out of that mental health space pain, it's important to recognize joy and issues to deal with," said Dawson post-show.
Erwiah, when asked, brushed off the military coups that have taken place during their production in the past few years, noting, "It's life. It's the world we live in; the upside is teaching us how to work within that."
The good and not-so-good have resulted in a purposeful collection filled with colorful, easy-to-wear, good vibes merch.
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