Juggling day jobs with their underground fashion line, Esther Gauntlett and Jenny Cheng take over a boat for a collection that references the elusive work-life balance
The work-life balance is a spectral, elusive concept that haunts every waking moment of the fashion industry this time of year – and the theme of Gauntlett Cheng’s SS17 collection, dubbed “Are You Going to Cowboy Up or Just Lay Down and Die?” really resonated. Everyone’s a little worse for wear, powering through with little or no sleep – and the duo’s collection was a reflection of those living this fast-paced life. It’s an experience that Esther Gauntlett and Jenny Cheng are familiar with: both work full-time jobs by day, on personal projects by night and try to squeeze in a vibrant social life in between. “The clothes are always about what we’re doing – and now I guess we’re just the girls working, juggling, and everything's slipping off a little bit,” Esther Gauntlett explains.
The SS17 looks speak volumes – dishevelled, layered, composure broken, it’s a vision of the all-too-familiar walk of shame in the early morning, trying to cover up last night’s party with work-appropriate clothes. “She’s gone straight to work in last night's hair… putting a coat on over an outfit she wore to the club,” Gauntlett says of the braided hair and diamante earrings subdued with tailored jackets and silk blouses. “It’s a night look where you pretend that you’re fantastic and that you don’t have to have a job, and there’s a work look where you pretend you don’t go out at night. It’s the wardrobes of both lives... it’s exactly us.”
Gauntlett and Cheng have always worked full-time since the inception of the brand – one in retail and the other as a knit consultant in NYC’s garment district – but with their precious after-hours and weekends they’ve managed to create a meticulous and beautifully constructed collection (the knitwear in particular is retail-ready perfection). As the seasons go on, the duo – once a trio – are starting to feel the pressure to prove themselves as a serious, self-sustaining enterprise: “This collection,” declares Jenny, “is literally like the ‘go big or go home’ collection.” In spite of everything, Gauntlett Cheng is now a girl power event and it’s evident in everything it does, right down to the airbrushed t-shirts depicting a woman skinning a snake.
“The clothes are always about what we’re doing – and now I guess we’re just the girls working, juggling, and everything’s slipping off a little bit” – Esther Gauntlett
The show took place on board a triple-decker boat called “Harbor Lights” on the East River at sunset, a clear sign that the girls are seeking a departure from the other fashion week venues and vibes. “I went on one of these work parties this summer and after I got off it, I thought this is the perfect space for a show.” explains Jenny. "It’s like a low budget Chanel Cruise, a booze cruise,” Esther adds. “A corporate party boat that they do office parties on.” It brought to mind a Medium blog post that went viral about a month ago – Enjoli written by Kristi Coulter, a recently-sober writer who laid bare her thoughts on “the infuriating truth about why women drink” alongside the ridiculous concept of what a 70s perfume ad called “the 24-hour woman.” Coulter asserted that the Enjoli woman ought to be blamed for a lot of what is wrong with society’s expectations of working women – “For spreading the notion women should have a career, keep house, and fuck their husbands, when the only sane thing to do is pick two and outsource the third. For making it seem glamorous. For suggesting it was going to be fun. And for the tagline she dragged around: “The 8-Hour Perfume for the 24-Hour Woman.” Just in case you thought you could get one fucking hour off the clock.”
A wise little fortune cookie I opened recently offered the following advice: “Rearrange some meaning.” It’s an important piece of wisdom for anyone busy navigating this ever-changing, sleepless industry this season: assign true meaning and time to the things that fire up passion that motivates you forward. For so many emerging New York brands like Gauntlett Cheng, those projects are the same unsponsored, do-it-yourself, hardship-ridden but worthy endeavours to fight for.