Up The Punks

At the end a conservative NYFW, Colleen Nika heralds the precious few bondaging up theirs with confrontational fashion

Collen Nika_Rolling Stone

With New York Minute, Rolling Stone contributing editor Colleen Nika freelances for Dazed, reporting on New York Fashion Week.

'These have been shows for department stores', remarks Gill Linton, founder of Byronesque.com. 'There’s nothing wrong in that, after all the purpose of a show is to sell to buyers. But at some point everyone starts selling and marketing the same thing.'. As New York Fashion Week winds down, the Autumn 2013 trend reports are already pouring in - skin is in! houndstooth everything! - before Marc Jacobs even shows and London kicks off. It's that rush to commentate and consume, only to quickly move on and forget, that Linton rails against, explaining: 'With the exception of a few, fashion and fashion week is now completely driven by scale at the expense of creativity'.  And with Byronesque, she's ready to do something about it. A proudly anti-trend, anti-zeitgeist site that serves as an online mecca for high-end avant vintage and editorial, it offers an uncompromising slow-fashion credo that spearheads a growing dissent with the manic pace of the industry. Byronesque not only champions quality over quantity, it demands it with admirable force - a quest Linton has taken to the very doors of runway shows this season with her punk-inspired #OUTOFHAND campaign. 

'#OUTOFHAND is for the fashion troublemakers,' Linton says. Essentially, it's a delicate disruption: while other attendees preen for street style photographers outside a show, a select few creatives were chosen by Linton (full disclosure: myself included) to sublimate those moments of vanity into a political opportunity, donning Byronesque's already-infamous leather studded jacket sloganed 'OUT OF HAND' on the back. Admittedly, it's a thrill to see the looks of intrigue, then confusion, then the inevitable camera 'click' - to know it's not who you're wearing or how 'zany' it is, but WHAT it's saying that's being noted. People have noticed, Bill Cunningham included. It's confrontational and exciting - and something fashion definitely isn't used to in 2013. 

Which is part of the problem, creatively - as in most aspects of culture, passivity has set into the fashion mindset while consumption has skyrocketed. Cathy Horyn struck a chord when she calmly declared New York Fashion Week D.O.A.:  'It’s shocking to see the lack of energy and imagination. You would think — or anyway, hope — that a young New York designer would want to express in fashion what a young rapper does in music and style. I don’t mean imitate that person but at least offer something that feels just as raw and connected.' Exactly. And yet for all the shows that presented desirable clothes (Linton lists Victoria Beckham as a surprising highlight here, and I agree - she exclusively focuses on execution and craftsmanship and it works for her), exceedingly few collections presented a challenging worldview or carried a unique ideology on its sleeve. Horyn sees little hope: 'Maybe we are seeing the beginning of a generational shift in this country away from fashion as a creative medium.' Maybe department store buyers won't see that as a loss, but a lot of us do, believing in fashion - in its synthesis of design and presentation -  as a valuable and emotive medium of expression. As Art.

Thank God for Thom Browne, then. Even with his recent Michelle Obama endorsement, he remains one of New York's trademark outsider provocateurs. Accustomed to showing his womenswear shows as open-admission punk operettas at the New York Public Library, he moved his show to a clandestine gallery in Chelsea this season, performing his Fall 2013 collection as an exquisite funeral march set to the sounds of Bjork. The clothes were the epitome of the deconstructed Edwardian pomp he's single-handedly defined, and the presentation of those clothes was something on the level of McQueen theatre - models gliding at an obscenely slow pace, their eyes locked obsessively on their target: deceased men tied to beds in the middle of a frozen first. The girls brushed their departed lovers with red roses and silently slid onwards. Something changed in the air in the room. You don't get this kind of thing at Alexander Wang.

There are younger talents disrupting the usual ebb and flow of fashion week proceedings, too. Priestess NYC designer Cody Ross held a guerilla presentation at a Meatpacking District hotel - right in the middle of a sushi lounge's prime dinner hour. The catwalk was between the tables, forcing bankers and their escorts to pay attention to the noirish streetwear designs in their midst. Priestess NYC is resolute in its irreverence, and this confusing array befit the brand's cult-of-youth appeal.  It feels like fashion for non-fashion people - people who 'do' instead of spectate - and that can only be a healthy perspective to emphasize this particular week.

ØDD operates on a similar level, and has gained a foothold in the mainstream press this season, including a New York Times mention. Headed by wunderkind Judson Harmon, ØDD is a clothing label, a store, and a burgeoning counter-culture empire. But it doesn't feel forced or cynical. 'With a name like ØDD, I had no choice but to shake things up,' Harmon explains. 'All of us at ØDD are art enthusiasts and I am particularly interested in how technological advancements affect and inspire art and fashion.' Those technological elements shone strongly on Monday at the brand's debut presentation, where video installation artist Jason Akira Somma created surveillance screen displays that creepily distorted attendees' countenances and reflected them back at them. Very Chris Cunningham, very clever. Music is also crucial to ØDD's overall vision, and you can expect to see that play out in future artist relationships. 'Collaboration to me is art, and my goal is to present something that each and every person can interpret in his/her own way,' Judson furthers.  ØDD comes off as fringe (to fashion) but inclusive (to everyone else). 'Many of our enthusiasts are not necessarily fans of fashion as a whole,' he confirms. 'We have a wide range of clients including tech nerds, art collectors, business men and women to the die-hard fashionistas/fashionistos.  Our customers are fascinated by the process and the story behind each piece and are eager to think outside the box.'

Thinking outside-the-box - that phrase so overused but underutilized - is really what it amounts to. Maybe we won't be calling New York City the new London or Berlin or even Copenhagen any time soon (and the major players would never dream of it), but at the eye of the storm of mediocrity is a small but passionate - and growing -  cluster of artists, curators and activists determined to keep questioning everything, to keep things unsafe for all. And for those about to disrupt, we salute you.

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