One of the hottest Paris Fashion Week runway debuts belonged to Marie Adam-Leenaerdt. Although considered a newcomer by the industry, she in fact was a ready-to-wear designer at Demna’s Balenciaga for a couple of seasons. The Belgian designer presented her collection in what she called a “soulless” conference room. This arguably male domain was a foil for her sophisticated women’s designs, which might have read as bougie if there weren’t something so “off” about them – like jackets with small shoulders that slanted toward the chest, strange geometric silhouettes, and the collection’s hero pieces – oats with standing lapels. Adam-Leenaerdt style is all about hints of playful derision. But there’s nothing gimmick-y about it: her garments are trendless, and appeal with the strength of the cut, the precision of the construction, and the luxury of the materials. There’s been a lot of discussion about the female gaze as it applies to “sexy” dressing; Adam-Leenaerdt seemed to be turning hers to ideas around femininity and propriety. This is a very covered-up collection that reconstructs a woman’s curves into geometries of enveloping drapes, with proportions either blown-up or shrunken. A dress that seems to have a box inside of it is tied with a couture bow, other dresses seem to have three arms. There’s a deliberate domestic aspect to Adam-Leenaerdt’s work. Women have often been relegated to the home, but she wants to transform and celebrate ordinary aspects of life – “to reveal the beauty in the ‘has-been’ elements of the daily world, to divert them, to have fun with them.” To that end Adam-Leenaerdt reimagined a folded table napkin as a white dress, and she fashioned dresses out of tablecloths. Her aim, it seems, is to make us engage with what is immediately around us, by taking something known, a code or a silhouette, and giving it a subtle strangeness that makes you stop and adjust your vision.
Maryam Nassir Zadeh skipped New York Fashion Week this season, and instead shot her autumn-winter 2023 look-book at her parents’ house in Los Angeles. Lately, the designer enjoys revisiting places and things she loves and seeing them afresh. “We got inspired by the idea of building a core collection, which we had never done before,” the designer explained. There were not-so-basic, quintessentially MNZ pieces aplenty here, from her signature backward pants to leather bombers for all genders, greatcoats to kilts, rendered in materials like pinstripe and corduroy. These are items that the designer still finds relevant after all these years and wants her customers to be able to come back to again and again. While going through the clothing archive she stores at her childhood home, Zadeh came across her RISD portfolio and pieces from her earliest collections. The garments and textiles she made back then didn’t just look relevant to her today; they reinforced her desire to get even closer to her work. “I really want to create textiles and make clothing that has a richness of texture and life to it,” she said. Some of the pieces, like a sash dripping with beads, are whimsical one-offs made using vintage materials; others, like an embellished stretch-lace bodysuit, will go into production. It’d look great with a pair of asymmetric laced leggings that have the special off-ness that defines the brand. In a reflective mood, Zadeh set her own pace this season. Post-lockdown, she mused, we have “a new relationship with the times, and it really has to do with things being fast. I don’t think I have to do what everyone’s doing and be so fast; sometimes doing less is just so much more. That’s where I’m at.” Going forward Zadeh will present her collections publicly by choice. The nostalgic turn her work has taken is connected to her belief that what you need you can find within yourself. As she put it: “Some things are just part of you, and some things are where you start, and then even if you go far, you still arrive back to where you began.” Zadeh’s collection might be fragranced by déjà vu, but it has the potential to take you places you haven’t yet been to.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!