From Puppets & Puppets and Gogo Graham, to Rodarte and Saint Sintra, here’s your lowdown on the NY womenswear shows
And so fashion’s hamster wheel makes another aching turn towards AW23. Industry observers have framed the latest edition of New York Fashion Week as the big return of “clothes” – no more viral gimmicks, no more clickbait accessories etc – but where were they looking? Certainly not at the Collina Strada show, where models galloped onto the runway pretending to be farm animals. Not at Gogo Graham, where bizarre whorls of soiled fabric slumped off deathly mannequins. Not at Eckhaus Latta, where Greg from White Lotus walked. Not at Proenza Schouler where Chlöe Sevigny walked. And not at Puppets and Puppets, where fried eggs were tacked onto nipples, either.
Sure, there were some understated moments, but fashion will forever be in thrall to the spectacle because people want to be moved or at least entertained by whatever’s being presented. Below, we round up the best moments from New York Fashion Week, from Puppets and Puppets and Gogo Graham, to Coach and Saint Sintra.
PUPPETS AND PUPPETS
Despite all the sentimental oddities (fried eggs, retro telephones, resin rosebuds) this season, Puppets and Puppets took on a macabre accent. Inspired by the psychic horror of David Cronenberg films, lashings of blood-red sequins were splattered over shifts, beaded bustiers hung from the shoulders like gothic chandeliers, while harrowing Rococo paintings were laser-printed onto draped dresses and big swags of silk that hung from 3D arcs. There were pannier-like cocktail dresses (some in a musty paisley print, others in velvet) and snakeskin two pieces with whale tale waistbands. It felt ominous and silly and disturbed and berserk, with banana-handled handbags, faux-fur coats cinched in with parcel tape, and sheer-paned tailoring.
Toothy grins and bulging eyes fixed into an absent grimace, Gogo Graham’s hand-made mannequins lolloped from the walls of her AW23 presentation. With their flimsy bodies wrapped in amorphous whorls of fabric, the collection mined the lies Graham tells herself to self-soothe. Corsets distended into layers on layers of soiled shirts, quilted blankets were repurposed into hooded jackets, and plastic fastenings were chain-linked into rangy dresses. Everything was stained with off-putting substances or left incomplete with sheer boning and exposed underlays, evoking fear and vulnerability. As Graham confronted her own feelings of stagnation, the pieces looked as though they might crumble at the touch, rendered immobile by their limp mannequins.
From the mahogany-panelled rooms of the Park Avenue Armory to Superman roll-necks and MTV chiffon dresses, Stuart Vevers gestured to the idea of American heritage for his AW23 collection at Coach. Big Apples, Jurassic Park dinosaurs, and Mickey Mouse motifs figured on knitted dresses, while earrings were fashioned from old-school candies and plastic Barbie heels. The silhouette was either long and lean or short and cropped, with column skirts, flared jeans, and trench coats jarring against 5-inch leather shorts and shrunken leather jackets. Shearling bristled outwards from metallic, bruised leather, and teddy bear aviators, while gauzy slips were weighed down with clunky biker boots.
If people were previously unaware of the gothic revival, then Rodarte’s AW23 offering dispelled any doubts of its presence. Kate and Laura Malleavy transformed the interior of the Williamsburg Savings Bank into their very own chintz-goth fantasy with rows of glittering dining tables and a spray-painted buffet. The first half of the show presented an assortment of all-black looks: some slinky gowns with bat wings so long they doubled as floor dusters, others with Dracula necklines, sheer panels, and top hats. Think Catherine Zeta-Jones as Morticia meets Bloody Chamber and you’ll get the idea. That twisted fantasy gave way to electric blue veils and forest green slips before a full spectrum of the rainbow emerged in overblown ball gowns. Fairy-printed kaftans and violet-hued angel wings glided down the runway while a real-life set of Christmas ornaments dropped onto the ground for a cornea-shattering finale.
In a move that would have Donkey Kong frothing at the mouth, Area took the humble banana and put it front and centre for their latest offering. Soundtracked by a swarm of buzzing flies, models first took to the runway in a number of banana-based looks: a bouncing banana minidress, a banana bralette, a banana thigh-skimming blazer… you get the idea. A giant set of powder-pink citrus slices perched on top of each other could have completed the fruit bowl until that swarm of flies took over (AKA black lace bodysuits, black sleeves on tie-dye bombers, black banana motifs). “Fruit can represent abundance, fertility, vitality, and youth”, the brand said. But it can also symbolise “mortality and the cycle of life”. That came to fruition when Alex Consani closed the show in a floor-length gown made from rotten bananas.
This weekend, Heron Preston not only made his pre-pandemic return but also debuted a collection for the very first time at New York Fashion Week – which is surprising, given he studied at Parsons and designed the Department of Sanitation’s uniform in 2016. For his AW23 offering – made with his partner and co-creative director Sabrina Albarello – Preston doubled down on his trademark streetwear staples: oversize bombers, puffers, and utility vests. The styling took on a slouchy, IDGAF attitude with skirts worn over sweatpants, corsets over hoodies, and long sleeves under short sleeves, while shin-grazing fur boots gave the collection a club kid edge. Barbed heels and faux fur handbags spoke saw the brand lean further into these alt-girl tropes, but it was Preston himself – careening down the runway in a ‘HERON’ cycling jersey and black leather trousers – who best embodies the work.
Kim Shui’s AW23 presentation was a celebration of women, financial freedom, and butt cleavage. Aoki Lee Simmons – the daughter of Kimora Lee Simmons, the master behind 90s it-brand Baby Phat, who also sat front row – set the tone, strutting out in a crystal clear snakeskin-embossed PVC trench, a snakeskin micro-skirt emblazoned with an unmistakeable ‘K’, and nothing else. The category was body this season, with models of all shapes, sizes, and skin tones gliding down the runway in a kaleidoscope of colour. Oversized fluffy boots, slick vegan leather coats, lashings of white lace, and a slash of red and purple lipstick seemed to comment on the many ways there are to turn up in this world as a woman. Held in the former Capitale bank, Shui’s statement about women’s power – and how we’re reclaiming it – intoxicated the crowd who eschewed Rihanna’s Super Bowl performance to live in Shui’s fantasy for the night.
Brooklyn-based independent designer Helena Eisenhart made their NYFW debut this week, backdropped by industrial techno, chain link fencing, and a floor of distressed mirrors. Models languidly strolled through the room, wearing fashionably vacant expressions as an overzealous printer produced page after page with one message: Helena Eisenhart, New York. Tailored blazers with exposed seams gave way to micro-skirts adorned in bows, flounced floor-length dresses bounced and weaved despite the model’s leisurely pace, while oversized shirts with raw hems were paired with preppy knee-skimming shorts.
The genderless styling culminated in leather loafers and thigh-high silver boots worn with oversized coats, provocative cutouts, and oversized pierced leather bags that softly jangled in tandem with the techno. “I imagined what the “uniform” for my brand would look like in a “dystopian future” that is, in reality, our present day,” Eisenhart explains. “To take classic uniform pieces in a more deconstructed process and make them my own.” The collection, which integrates up-cycled and deadstock materials, deconstructed the rules of dressing without abandoning Eisenhart’s sleek New York style.
HEAD OF STATE
Taofeek Abijako launched Head of State out of his bedroom as a senior in high school at 17. Seven years on, The Nigerian-born, Brooklyn-based designer presented his AW23 show Memories of Home on Valentine's Day. A love letter to Nigeria and his family, Abijako’s presentation was an emotional journey in three distinct phases. The first section represented his father’s voyage from Lagos to Spain in search of a better life for his family. Models strolled down the runway with tears streaming down their faces in white garments punctuated with tulle, skirts with warped hems, cerulean blazers, cropped suits, and pelvis-skimming trousers. “The emotions captured by the show are a reflection of years of therapeutic conversations I’ve had with my father,” Abijako says. “The least I could do is to portray the raw grievances and emotions he went through just to provide a living for us. It’s also a story millions of immigrants like me relate to.”
The part of the show dedicated to his experiences growing up in the US was a stark shift. Models wearing all black – including Evan Mock – stomped down the catwalk to the sound of frenetic drumming. As the frantic pace subsided and the sound of water trickling and laughter filled the room, a model in all-white climbed into a shower placed in the centre of the room: an allegory for washing away the heaviness and the pain carried by himself and his family. Some of the clothes washed away with the model too. Soon, the mist of melancholy and anger subsided, giving way to ethereal dresses, towering hairstyles, and delicately tailored gowns inspired by the garments worn by his mother – some of which his father designed. An Afro-futuristic ode to tradition, the show was a real exhibition of colour, climaxing with a bright, emerald green gown topped with a crown-like tulle veil.
Conceived and created in just two weeks, Sintra Martins of Saint Sintra showed an AW23 collection built around notions of “kitsch, body dysmorphia, and the semiotics of corporate culture.” Monochromatic officewear was churned through a wonky blender to create new-grade, pseudo-formal attire. Oxford shirts were cropped, trouser-skirt hybrids were slashed to the thigh, while pencil skirts came with busted zippers and frayed hems. For a collection of 14 looks, there was a heady mix of fabrics and textures – starched white shirts followed silver sequined mesh; felted wool gave way to sporty tech nylon; skirts bulged when they should have skimmed; cashmere crumpled when it should have laid flat. The Saint Sintra woman is the Hot Girl at The Office Party From The Night Before: hungover, a little dishevelled, still chic.