Contemporary Elegance. Vaquera SS21

Although digital-live Paris Fashion Week has officially started today, there are still some great collections coming from New York. One of them is Vaquera, a line-up that ironically muses on different kinds of elegance, created by Patric DiCaprio, Claire Sullivan and Bryn Taubensee. Over the summer, one of the most “outsider” brands out there got suddenly certified by the upper echelon of fashion – but not the most common one, though. After hosting their autumn-winyter show back in February, Dover Street Market added Vaquera to the roster of brands it supports through its Paris showroom slash incubator. DSM will help with production and handle all sales and distribution, “the backend stuff that takes us away from being creative,” as DiCaprio put it. The point of the arrangement is that with DSM handling the commercial side of the business, the Vaquera trio can focus on creativity. But the partnership has already impacted how they’re channeling that creativity. “Knowing they’re going to be there on that side helping us with sales was really inspiring, for me at least,” DiCaprio continued. “We were like, ‘Let’s make this skirt perfect and the fit really nice and make these fabrics really good so they look good in their showroom.’” Their new collection is a sort of codifying of the Vaquera ethos and aesthetic. Wearability has been emphasized without forsaking too much of their hold on weird. So side by side there are washed denim jeans cut to fit both guys and girls and a Little Bo Peep cosplay outfit in white canvas and croc-stamped vinyl. Mixing with twisted bankers stripe shirts and oversized suiting is a tutu explosion in an amorphous body-obscuring shape of the kind you might see on a Comme des Garçons runway. “We were inspired by what we want to wear, what our friends are wearing, who we’re with,” Sullivan elaborated. “That’s so much of what Vaquera is: context, reference, culture. What do you wear, what do I wear, how do we make it Vaquera?” In certain neighborhoods of New York this summer it wasn’t unusual to see women wearing their bed clothes on the street, one of the many impacts of months in lockdown. In the look-book, that translates from innerwear to evening-outerwear. What makes it Vaquera is that all genders sample the retro bra tops and the satin and lace teddies affixed to T-shirts. New, never-average, edgy elegance for whoever feels it.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Beautiful. Simone Rocha SS21

Simone Rocha‘s beautiful spring-summer 2021 line-up was actually this first collection that truly made me gasp this season. It’s amazing how this independent designer builds her visual language with every season, making clothes so distinct and consistent, yet never boring or monotonous. As many labels, Rocha didn’t have a fashion show, but a presentation in a London gallery for a few editors. And while other collections this season might have a problem of being ‘on their own’ – no runway, no fabulous show venue – Simone’s clothes are so good and considered that they do the talking. Still, she loves a real show. “I’m not going to lie: I’ll be the first to say I love runway shows,” Rocha told Vogue. “Now that the pace of shows has been stripped away, I wanted to find a space to represent that. It’s important to me to find a way to physically share the collection, just for the silhouette, texture, and weight of it. Clothes are made of cloth, and emotions, and they come to life on a body.” Those garments check all the boxes. “Sobering and exploding, pragmatic and foreboding,” were key words Rocha said she’d scribbled in her notebook at the start of it. She’d also pulled up Richard Prince’s erotic Bettie Kline images and paintings of Nell Gwyn, mistress of Charles II, with her celebrated jewel-bedecked bosom on display. Close up, the layers held little messages: on tulle veiling, patterns of castles; in the broderie anglaise, the label’s monograms. “Castles in faraway places,” she laughed. “I think that’s the escapism we’re all craving.” And everywhere, there were the pearls which are now her signature, as headdresses, breast outliners, and scaled up in 3D to form a bag. Some of the models held a few of these bags, and the overall feeling of it was sort of magical, out-of-this-world. This might be the wardrobe for a modern-day Venus – take that white, caped gown or all the layered outfits that simply stun with all the details. I will say it once again: beautiful!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Walk That Walk. Eckhaus Latta SS21

I loved Eckhaus Latta‘s spring-summer 2021 collection for its honesty and rawness. Walking became, thanks to COVID, pretty much everyone’s primary outdoor activity these days. As a parallel to that, the show celebrated this fact. It was staged outdoors, underneath a section of New York’s FDR Drive where a long, straight jogging path provided a runway, and with a bare minimum of fuss: hair au naturel, model-applied makeup, no soundtrack, just an abbreviated collection and the train rumbling by now and then. “We wanted it to feel, like, no spectacle,Mike Eckhaus explained after the show. “Like the models could just be going out for a walk with their friends.” The clothes matched that easygoing manner. There were stylish sweats, of course, but also baggy jeans and knit suiting and gingham tops with the airiness of wind-borne kites. The most fitted looks were knit and the most tailored were done of featherweight nylon, the material often patchworked together in tonal color blocks. These were casual items, but every garment seemed to have been hand-worked, and that gave this collection a bit of emotional undertow; in a socially distanced era, it felt as though Eckhaus and Zoe Latta were communicating touch through their clothes. That was true of the collection’s ornate crochets, but it was also true of the hand-dyed jeans and the burnout florals. Smart, authentic, durable clothes for the new reality.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Lightweight Cool. The Academy New York SS21

One of my favourite discoveries from the digital New York Fashion Week is The Academy New York. Making it through the last half year has been challenging for all brands, big and small, but Swaim Hutson might’ve had it harder than most. The Academy New York is his one man show, and autumn 2020 was the first season he’d hooked up with Stella Iishi’s The News showroom to turn what had been a personal passion project into an honest-to-goodness wholesale operation. He took to Instagram last week to celebrate the fact that, despite the pandemic, he was able to produce and ship the collection to 10 stores. Another reason to celebrate is the brilliant spring-summer 2021 line-up. Tennis, a childhood pursuit of Hutson’s, is the organizing theme behind the collection. One check pantsuit was overdyed a tennis ball yellow and there are riffs on on-court attire in the form of a short knit polo dress and elongated tennis skirts in a lightweight suiting wool. He’s also elaborated on his sweatsuit offering; now there are hoodies and crewnecks, pants and shorts. Leather biking shorts are another nod to the way things are now. But tailoring The Academy’s biggest signature. On that front the most interesting development was an oversize double-breasted jacket long enough to wear with bare legs – and a pair of his tennis bloomers. Another favourite – and a great styling tip! – was the blue shirt-dress worn with over-sized denim pants and minimal ballerinas. Cool and easy.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Hope Is Here. Tom Ford SS21

Tom Ford’s spring-summer 2021 line-up – of course presented as a look-book – is the finale of the largely digital New York Fashion Week, which had missing many big names and was a mood rollercoaster. Some labels opted for sober pragmatism (like Khaite), while others for something more joyful and sweet (Rodarte for instance). Ford’s collection falls into the latter camp. “I honestly wasn’t sure I could make a collection even if I felt inspired to do so… I felt that fashion should simply go into hibernation for a year.” Of course, that would never do. Ford is the rare designer who knows what his woman wants before she does. The collection he put on the runway back in February was loaded with athletic gray sweats and patchworked jeans – exactly the kind of glam casual things that his customer might have liked to wear through quarantine.  For spring, the designer’s gut told him to do something that’s hopeful and exuberant. “The last thing I want to see are serious clothes,” he said. “I think we need an escape. I think we want to smile. I know what’s going on in our world right now doesn’t make us want to smile. So that’s what I’ve done: hopeful clothes that make you smile.” Ford found the conduit for those vibes in a documentary about the fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez and the ’70s models Pat Cleveland and Donna Jordan whom Lopez sketched. That is the era that he loved to work around at Gucci. And when Ford looks back at his Gucci years, expect good things. This is an extrovert’s collection, with plenty of skin and very little pretense (I just hate the logo-ed bands…). There’s a compelling ease to the clothes, even though the attitude is dressed up. Shirts are unbuttoned to the navel, nodding to the cult spring 1995 Gucci show. The colorful florals seen on several slinky dresses and a pair of neat blazers for both women and men are cheering. The tie-dyed caftan and pool robes are heaven and make me think of Samantha Jones. Maybe, in the end, we will again enjoy festive garden parties?

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Sober Classics. Khaite SS21

While it seems that most of the designers in New York take the escapist route this season, Khaite‘s Cate Holstein chooses to embrace sober classics. “What does it mean to feel simultaneously paralyzed and galvanized?” reads a line in Khaite’s press release. “Growth is never easy,”  Holstein told Vogue on a Zoom call. “We’re going through one of our collective nightmares as a society. They’ve made horror movies about this. It’s mind-blowing, but it also gives me a renewed strength. Living through it has been so challenging, but on the other side, it’s so invigorating and inspiring.” Her collections had taken on a darker, moodier tone before the pandemic; she was craving a uniform of jeans, leather jackets, and combat boots. No frills, no fuss. She said she was thinking about the New York she inhabited as a college grad in the early 2000s, when the city had an “element of menace” that has since faded. “But now, there’s a bit of that industrial feeling again,” she said. It’s a survivalist one too. New Yorkers are in the streets (there’s nowhere else to go), linking arms (metaphorically, that is) and getting through this together. How do you dress for that? “I think women are going to want to look strong.” Holstein worked with director Hanna Tveite to distill that feeling of New York into a look-book and film. They also created 100 “presentation boxes” to send editors and buyers, packed with blown-up look books, fabric swatches, and an augmented reality experience that beams Khaite’s shoes into your living room. Holstein was surprised to report that shoes were among her top sellers this summer, despite the fact that most of us hardly left home. Also surprising: Women bought Khaite evening dresses, and Holstein could hardly keep her leather moto jackets in stock. The former speaks to the “fantasy shoppers” dreaming of future events; the latter illustrates a growing interest in timeless, keep-forever investment pieces. Holstein’s word for them: “cherished.” When we can’t predict tomorrow’s headlines, there’s a comfort in buying something you can see yourself wearing and loving 10 or 20 years from now.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Modern Goddess. Bevza SS21

The one good thing about this season’s cropped New York Fashion Week is that the small brands that show here for years, but stay always under the radar due to overcrowded schedule, get the spotlight they deserve. Svitlana Bevza’s designs may be minimal, but there’s deep meaning and history behind their simplicity. In her previous Bevza collections, she’s often referenced her Ukrainian heritage, specifically the country’s powerful women. This season, she created a narrative around her study of Trypillia, an ancient pagan civilization that cherished women. Harvest symbols also played a role in pieces like a delicately braided knit top and a silk dress with pleating at the bodice mimicking a “tree of life.” Paying homage to the Trypillia women, Bevza designed sharply tailored, corseted dresses, and a tunic with visible stitching outlining the female figure. Those pieces were soft and sensual but still strong, especially a hand-knit ivory coat. The earthily hued, subtly textured garments were accessorized by ceramic jewelry modeled on the statues of the Trypillia people. In the absence of a show, the designer created a film that further emphasized her aesthetic and passion for sharing her Ukrainian history. This collection is an example of how fashion can tell a story and educate us on the world.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Resurrected. Imitation of Christ SS21

I discovered Imitation of Christ a year ago, and when I’ve shared some archive images from Tara Subkoff‘s early 2000s shows on my Instagram stories, many replied to me that they’ve never heard of the brand and that it’s just so, so amazing. I was in awe, too. Each of the label’s collections was presented as a sort of ironic performance: a funeral show; a red carpet line-up opened by Chloe Sevigny; a collection solely dedicated to denim, with Scarlett Johansson as a Marilyn-Monroe-look-alike model. Then, the brand seemed to go into a hiatus, then it came back for a moment and disappeared again. And then, to my surprise, somebody posted on Instagram that Imitation of Christ is back this summer with a guerilla couture performance in Los Angeles. And now, here we are with Subkoff’s spring-summer 2021 collection – in a moment that one might never suggest for a brand that’s planning its “big” come-back. But Imitation of Christ isn’t a regular brand, so the circumstances just couldn’t be more exciting. Twenty years after the brand’s first show on the escalators in a subway station, this season’s performances (there were two, one in Los Angeles, one in New York, not identical, but each consisting of a capella singers accompanied) are equally inventive. And, while all of this is going on, The RealReal, from which Subkoff sourced some of her pieces, will offer the spring collection for sale in see-now, buy-now fashion, with part of the proceeds going to Greta Thunberg’s nonprofit Fridays for Future. Upcycling or “resurrecting” existing pieces is the central tenet of Imitation of Christ, and it means that every piece is unique. Collection themes do emerge, however, and are crystallized by the way they are presented. Skateboarding is the organizing principle this time around, and Subkoff describes the clothes as “glamorous activewear” – say, a vintage slip attached to the front of a sports jersey. Some of it could have been hand-sewn by the bored, home-imprisoned Lisbon sisters from Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, by the way. Subkoff became acquainted with skateboarding girls when she was feeling a bit blue. Struggling to find inspiration, the designer started visiting local skateboard parks, which she found to be “heavy on the dude feeling” until she noticed the young female skaters trying to master tricks, falling down, and starting over again. In their determination Subkoff says she found a “good metaphor for what it feels like, to me, to be female in this world in some capacity. Like you just have to keep doing it, until you do it better than the men. And then you have respect in some way.” Looking forward to more of Imitation of Christ, as it’s one of the most enigmatic and intriguing labels in New York.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Simple Magic Is Still Magic. Rodarte SS21

After last season’s Dracula-bitten, romantic extravaganza, Rodarte’s spring-summer 2021 collection – presented in a look-book – is understandably much less dramatic. It’s actually about coming back to the brand’s roots, according to Kate and Laura Mulleavy. The dual crises of a global health pandemic and raging wildfires in California – the sisters’ homeland – forced the designers back into that state: at home, together, with only their creativity to occupy them. While their collection was borne from the same cloistered Californian sisterhood of their earliest outings, the final products are visually different. It’s signature Rodarte, but in more practical-magic version. It’s not so much that the tulle explosions or the cake topper confections have dulled; in the face of such tough times, the sisters are emphasizing the importance of making fashion for this struggling world. “Everything we do is about fantasy and dreams, but we are located in a moment, and we are a part of what is happening now,” Kate told Vogue. A fanciful gown, both designers agree, has little place in today’s world, so instead they channeled their efforts into clothing they would want to wear now “without distilling the ideas.” Expect florals, veils, and just slightly off sweetness. Pajama sets, slips, and robes appear in dainty and orderly floral prints inspired by their local gardens. The floral story continues in the ’40s dresses they played with last season, now relaxed in shape with prints that radiate from the navel or appear in handkerchief-like grids. Silk sweatshirts (I’m on fence with logo ones, though), trackpants, and midi-skirts continue the motif, trimmed in lace or ruffles. All this is topped off with silk floral wreaths that frame models’ faces, giving them the impression of fairies, nymphs, or other magical woodland creatures. With this collection, the Mulleavys have proven their ability to make inherently useful garments that don’t compromise on the Rodarte identity.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.