The rise of the New York underdog

When Mykki Blanco Instagramming your show brings greater power than the clout of NYFW's big brands

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At New York Fashion Week there's a new, emerging tribe of pioneers who, for this season anyway, have stolen the energy from the city's innovative stalwarts. Or perhaps they didn't steal so much as find their own sources. This week, designers that were new to showing already had their own enthusiastic audience built in, ready to see something new, and cheering for looks on the runway, and the more established designers who were most-talked-about were creative and untouchable. Everything else, well... Let's just say that people share when they love what they see, and the sharing can be an indicator of the cultural pulse in the city. You can't fake enthusiasm on-the-ground anymore.

“sharing can be an indicator of the cultural pulse in the city. You can't fake enthusiasm on-the-ground anymore”

Perhaps it’s because these brands found their footing while documenting their progress on Instagram that they could fill rooms with people who felt connected to their success, and make the traditionalists take note. Take Chromat, for example, designed by Brooklyn-based former architect Becca McCharen. She's designed pieces for Beyoncé, so it's not as if she was working in obscurity, but her first runway show made it clear that she was not one to watch, but one to see. Like, now. Mid-show, the house lights dropped as an LED light bra glowed on the runway, and she showed a dress constructed out of 500 pieces of polished chrome. She's working with technology in unprecedented ways, and on the street, she was definitely the most talked about the day after she showed (side note: her cool community of supporters has grown out of Witches of Bushwick, an artistic collective that was profiled in the New York Times today). And speaking of lights, Lindsay Degen's neon-cast knitwear presentation, complete with a radiant rainbow installation and rope-light platform Crocs, was fun and kooky, but sensing such a consistent vision, present through every inch of knitted fishing wire and wool in the collection, was inspiring. Not to mention, her techniques are risky and exciting. 

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Chromat AW14

This exciting surge of wild-and-out talent may be shining through partly because Lincoln Center is, for all intents and purposes, over. There's no home base, no structure for NYFW, and so, the center becomes where the energy is. If anything, the young Milk Made family stole the show – the week – this week.

“ideas brewing in the city that feel more like London's extremely young design scene than New York's”

Telfar, designed by Nigerian Telfar Clemens, held a show in the New Museum this week, sharing a time slot with a much bigger New York brand. After the bigger brand's show, as editors flipped through Instagram, more than one expressed that they wished they'd been to Telfar's show. The location, the party-mosphere (Boy Child and ATL Twins sitting front row, Mykki Blanco 'gramming her support post-show), the refashioned Snuggies and genderless silhouette: it all felt fresh and unmissable. Part of the ideas brewing in the city that feel more like London's extremely young design scene than New York's. 

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DEGEN AW14

The point is not that these designers are underground, but that they've found supporters that allow them to experiment openly and in non-commercial ways. Lindsay Degen has designed pieces for Victoria's Secret, and Telfar's show was sponsored by Kmart. It feels like the standard pipelines through which designers in New York could rise are no longer central. Being able to showcase your following on social media and attract sponsorship, to have artists and talent that are seeking creative talent off-the-grid, and the fact that there's currently no centralised hub for fashion week is a potent combination. 

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Marc by Marc Jacobs AW14 Shot by Lea Colombo

But of course, generating energy is not exclusive to younger designers. It's more about pure excitement, an inexplicably authentic interest that translates into clothes that make the audience feel something during the show. Ask anyone in the room when Marc by Marc Jacobs was walking: we were witnessing the dawn of a new era, and it was palpable. Kooky platform space boots, ninja pants, glittery jackets, and funny Comic Con girl pigtails: this reference point is geeky teenage, not "downtown cool" and yet, it was exactly the refreshing, exciting infusion the MBMJ brand needed. Though Marc Jacobs is one of the most powerful houses in New York, the MBMJ show felt like a young, cool debut. 

“The incredible vogueing dance at the end of the show was not only surprising, it felt like a cohesive extension of Shayne's idea of glamour”

And though Hood By Air is not mainstream like Marc Jacobs, Shayne Oliver has certainly established himself as a scalable, beloved force in New York. But he didn't rest on his laurels whatsoever. The incredible vogueing dance at the end of the show was not only surprising, it felt like a cohesive extension of Shayne's idea of glamour. Shayne was known in the ballroom scene before Hood By Air was a household – ok, well, Brooklyn apartment – name, and the performance just proved that his vision and ideas are deep enough to fuel a movement in streetwear. You'd never hear Shayne say he's inspired by "a really fun, creative downtown girl on the move", the kind of phrasing we hear that just doesn't stick in a social-driven era. 

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Hood By Air AW14 Shot by Lea Colombo

There's no way to predict how these designers will scale up, but a clear creative identity combined with social support and consistent, high energy seems to be winning thus far. Designer fatigue and growing pains are a risk, but right now, these guys are telling a story, which is what you need to make someone want to take a picture, to engage and wear the clothes.

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