Fashion Week wrapped up Wednesday night, and with it, a group of young American independent designers made their presence known.
New York Fashion Week officially kicked off in full swing last Friday with Fendi’s celebration of all things pre-pandemic at the Hammerstein Ballroom: exhuming ouuuus and aahs from attendees’ appreciation of glamor and all things luxurious.
At the same time, blocks away, rising independent designers challenged notions of luxury.
In collaboration with Nike’s two-day ‘Beyond the Court’ experience at The Shed at Hudson Yards, Nigerian-born and New School designer Tia Adeola cast a shadow of America’s statue. Adeola’s play consisted of a theatrical attempt at a modern Harlem Renaissance.
“I was a drama in high school and mirrored [Mugler’s] love of film noir,” Adeola said in her show notes. Manford Theirry Mugler, a French fashion designer who passed away last January, was an expert in theater and Adeola remains a devoted student of his craft.
From Adeola’s messy opening look, it’s clear, however, that this collection was no homage. Where Mugler exposed bare chest, Adeola layered with crystals. Where Mugler exposed bare behinds, Adeola alluded to the absolute. Where Mugler relegated male models as chiseled underwear boys, Adeola romanticized them with clean, uncluttered fashion. Adeola presented menswear for the first time in her collection, following a full womenswear show in February.
At the age of 24, Adeola introduced confident feminized luxury to her loyal customers.
Literally trash littered the ground Sunday a few blocks from Eugene Lang’s building. Mexican-American designer Victor Barragán returned to Fashion Week after a three-year hiatus, with funding from the NYFW Small Business Grant from Empire State Development. Barragán, in the most surprising show, presented a mix of business-casual uniforms, short mini-dresses plastered with money and camouflage pants. However, this was not the main point. It was the audacity of having a standing-room-only audience, looking at graffiti-strewn walls of cartoons while focusing on a procession of all-white models (some were Latina and trans, certainly) walk through the trash with duct-taped shoes, botoxed lips, and a New York Mets tribute that reads “Meth.”
Gone are Barragán’s signature Latin models wearing loose leather pants (for now). They have been replaced by the shadow of Barragán’s America, a diabolical drug den inhabited by corporate traffickers. Isn’t that sex?
It begs the question, why did a masked child walk into the final revenge of the collection, replacing Barragán’s final arc? Maybe it’s a one-off experimental presentation. The real test will come in the previous months, to find out which stock traders corporate luxury.
MFA of Parsons
Two days later, at the party at Spring Studios, Parsons’ MFA designers gave a glimpse of New York. Tangerine monograms adorned nude shearling from Zhiqing Zhang’s rebellious collection, while a blue pleated dress emerged from Chung Meng Ling. Sarah Hawes sent an attempt at gay visibility down the runway with two tattooed male models holding hands in dark blue rayon coats and trousers while holding a blank billboard – which created a performative display of activism, or worse , an idea conceived moments before hitting the runway. Hawes also made her designs accessible to potential buyers by casting Parsons professor Hazel Clark in a white two-piece. The first and only, of the aforementioned brands, to feature a middle-aged female model.
Marlene Hasses accurately describes body size in a piece of denim, while a brown balloon dress by Lui Lui reaffirms gender stereotypes.
Parsons’ last designer symbolized one of fashion’s long-standing taboos: financial inequality. Japanese designer Asato Kitamura presented art pieces, not fashion dresses, with models holding lifeless corpse dolls. One creation, a white headpiece and gold vinyl dress, was worn by a black female model who looked put together. In an odd twist, even if it wasn’t Kitamura’s original thought process, his creation accurately expresses the New York outside of Spring Studios.
Outside of Spring Studios and the world of fashion, New York reaps inequality that prevents many New Yorkers from having financial stability. Within fashion, inequality remains evident among attendees and those admitted to Fashion Week only to wait behind the black velvet ropes. It’s illustrated by which designers get a show date on the official New York Fashion Week calendar.
“There have to be some other avenues, whether it’s funding options or how people have addressed the needs,” Connor McKnight, a Parsons alum and young freelance designer, said in a recent article for Everyday women’s clothing. McKnight was forced to cancel his runway presentation due to a lack of funds.
It’s almost a fitting summary of New York Fashion Week. Taboo subjects were brought to the runway under a possible subjugation of the 1990s house soundtrack and forgotten about pre-pandemic luxury.