In the Mosh Pit of American Fashion – New York Times
On Friday evening, around the same time that Jeremy Scott was sending out his black and white crystal-strewn comment on the tabloid news cycle, Marcus Wainwright of Rag & Bone hosted what he called “A Last Supper” in the soaring confines of the former Williamsburg Savings bank in Brooklyn. Guests dressed in his latest collection and then dined to dripping candlelight, and an artificial-intelligence contraption attempted to make sense of it all.
This was the day after Telfar Clemens held his show at Irving Plaza, the concert site, with a mosh pit for a runway and live music on stage and snaking lines of desperate-to-get-in fans.
And it was the day before Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta lured everyone out to Bushwick to a corrugated metal storage shed to see their latest collection, entitled “Sometimes Life Does Not Provide Poetry.”
It was all a little end of days. But true!
There’s a strain of nihilism pervading New York fashion at the moment, partly because of the nihilism pervading the general conversation with its death-of-the-American-ideal talk, and partly because of the general angst about New York fashion itself.
Yet there’s an argument to be made that it doesn’t necessary matter that the center did not hold. There are interesting things happening around the pretty raw edges. The edges, in fact, may be the new center. The sportswear that once defined this city still exists. It’s there at Tory Burch, in her mix of 1970s shades (navy, green, orange), collegiate cloth coats and pleated skirts; in her floral silks and leather patchworks and fringed ponchos and paillettes. There in Derek Lam’s haute pioneer plaids and architectural canvas skirts. Brandon Maxwell is still carrying the flame for uptown glamour of the Café Carlyle kind in silk, satin and moiré, as is Jason Wu, who has eyes on the red carpet with petal gowns of jewel-toned chiffon and befeathered columns.
But the tribalism so decried in politics — the communal bonding of the like-minded who would cast out everyone else — has had the opposite effect in fashion. Subcultures are popping up all over, and clothes are part of the glue that binds them.
As Ms. Latta said, explaining the label’s decision to collaborate with (of all other brands) Ugg: “We were sort of dumbfounded by the idea. But the definition of fashion is shifting.”
You could see it in the Ugg-effect shearling slides with chunky heels and squared-toed boots; in the shaggy shearling coats (transformation Uggs); and in the sense of the hand in ribbed knit chenille trousers and skirts in a constructivist color block pattern; in silvery jacquard jackets with a Yosemite print; and in painterly dip-dyed denim.
It was all very chic Seussical, an elevation of kitchen table craft to a level where it is flirting with elegance, but on its own terms.
And you could see it at Mr. Wainwright’s dinner party, which was conceived in conjunction with Christine Jones, the director of the immersive theatrical experience “Queen of the Night,” and the choreographer Damien Jalet (“Suspiria”) and the chefs Ignacio Mattos and Tamar Adler. It involved guests like Oscar Isaac and Emma Roberts and Keri Russell and Mikhail Baryshnikov as both subjects and objects; mimes; fried cucumber; a dance number; and lots of Buffalo plaid, military jackets, slouchy trouser suits and scarves.
It wasn’t a show by any traditional definition, except in that to a certain extent we are all on show all the time, whether or not we’re fancied up in a collection no one else has seen. To dramatize that by situating it at the nexus of a broader experience that merely hints at a point about how and why we wear clothes — to reject the runway in favor of live action — was pretty clever. Want to join the club? First engage with the unofficial uniform.
It’s effectively the same point Mr. Clemens was making by holding his event in an actual club, which he then filled with “1,000 of our closest friends” (according to his presentation statement) for a “celebration of black future(s) month” in the form of music and spoken word and fashion that served to challenge the meaning of allegiance in the context of history. The show was called “Country,” and so was the collection.
“Who I am to welcome you to a place you’ve always been?” asked Jeremy O. Harris, the playwright and co-host of the evening at the beginning of his monologue, as the room was lit by the glow of 1,000 smartphones, and various models and F.O.T.s (friends of Telfar) made their entrance through a hole ripped in the middle of a giant American flag.
They paused for a moment at the edge of the stage in their Telfar clothes — chain-link turtlenecks shredded into fringe at the wrist, cropped one-shoulder tube tops, jackets sliced up the arms and pants sliced at the thigh, for men or women, no matter — before propelling themselves into the waiting arms of the crowd.
And then Mr. Harris propelled himself off and the singer Oyinda, who posed in silhouette in a cowboy hat and high-waist flared jeans and a big Telfar Western belt, entered, and then she glided down and the Baltimore rapper Butch Dawson appeared, who later fell in full trust mode, still writhing and venting as he was carried away.
Meanwhile, the models kept coming and falling, melting downward like zombies or turning backward, arms out to the sides like Jesus on the cross, buoyed by the support of true believers. Metaphor received, the concert continued and the party took off.
Later it was the questions that lingered, more than any particular silhouette or embellishment; more than any specific memory of the clothes themselves: Who decides what American fashion means? Who represents it? Out of the chaos, an answer may emerge. Right now, there are multitudes.
Vanessa Friedman is The Times’s fashion director and chief fashion critic. She was previously the fashion editor of the Financial Times. @VVFriedman
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