Refinement. Richard Malone SS21

Who would have ever known, that during confinement, when our clothes were all about lazy-wear, one could come up with such beautiful refinement? Richard Malone, the Irish designer, brought back elegance to London Fashion Week, done in his signature, sustainable way. It was those months which became the genesis for the spring-summer 2021 collection, a period when, even without a team or regular resources at his disposal, he had the luxury of time: the opportunity to rifle through deadstock materials and hand-dye them in his bathtub, or tie them with twine and run them through his washing machine to achieve the right crinkled effect. “Because my language is very much making, perhaps lockdown wasn’t so bad for me,” he noted. “I could just do whatever I wanted in my studio. It was a distraction.” DIY as it was, the luxurious feeling that Malone came up with is just so refreshing: velvets dramatically draped into floor-sweeping Grecian numbers; discarded theater curtains cut into body-con glamour or gathered around padded bustles. “They’re fabrics that lend themselves to lounging—the velour is like Juicy Couture tracksuit material,” he smiles. “It’s comfortable; it’s loungewear.” He was clearly going for a sense of comfort in the armor of sutured breastplates and the padding of cushioned hips. “It wasn’t intentional but I was trying everything on as I designed it and I suppose it was in response to the moment,” he reflects (Malone has always worked as his own fit model in the formative stages of his collections). “I hadn’t worn shoes for three months. Everything, the very idea of clothes, felt abstract.” The abundant historical allusions, too, were instinctual rather than referential. Without access to research libraries, “I was reliant on the guise of memory,” he says. “And I read a lot of books about time: Iain Reid, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Ali Smith… I was interested in the idea of how all these different time periods can somehow exist at once.” Cropped and gathered matador boleros, their shoulders warped into shrugs, evolved from the idea that “everything’s sort of fucked, so you shrug and you move on” rather than the usual archival imagery; corseted lace-up backs from the simple fact that Malone was having to somehow strap himself into the more elaborate numbers. Sometimes, the simplicity of an accident brings the most spectacular effects.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Blooming. Chopova Lowena SS21

Seeing all the favourite, relatively small, unique brands in the London Fashion Week digital schedule this season is truly heart-warming. And with less pressure of being noticed in the presentations and showrooms marathons the editors and buyers usually have, look-books seem to let that tension off. I’m following Chopova Lowena since its start about two years ago, and I must say I’m impressed how this label evolves with such confidence and thought, simultaneously staying true to its style. Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena took a gathering of their collaborators and interns outside their studio in the postindustrial docks area of Deptford to shoot their spring-summer 2021 look book. “We did it ourselves on our iPhones,” they said, on a Zoom call with Vogue as they shared the pictures. “Everyone we collaborated with is in the look book, except for a Bulgarian woman, who we found on Facebook, who made loom-beaded pieces for us.” So here are their friends, standing on concrete and cobblestones under an overpass, with a washed-up wooden riverboat in one direction, a red commuter train shooting overhead, and the vivid green shoots of untended nature springing up beneath their feet. As a glimpse of a little-seen corner of the Thames shore, the backdrop is a perfect metaphor for the designers’ youthful energy – their uplifting knack of finding beauty and romance in overlooked places, and their ingeniously pragmatic ways of re-crafting fragments of the past into ideas that young women find irresistibly wearable. Some of the Chopova Lowena girl gang pictured are Faye, a painter who contributed designs for their burgeoning line of printed jeans; Jewel, a makeup artist; Ami, who made prints based on cut-up Bulgarian postcards of dogs, roses, and Easter eggs for T-shirts; and jewelry designer Georgia, who made charms. The label is focused on building up signatures, like their accordion-pleated kilts suspended on steel climbing hooks clipped to leather belts, and developing their penchant for dresses in checks and tartans made from deadstock fabrics. All of this continues with even more exuberance and multiple-check action here. Explaining the narratives of how they source and make in Bulgaria, which is Chopova’s family home, is also important to the designers. There are lots more vintage materials from her home country in this collection. “My mum helped me clean and recondition antique wall hangings. People traditionally used to hang them in their kitchens over stoves or above their sofas or beds,” Chopova relates. Bulgarian people are willing to part with them, she says, because they don’t use them anymore. “The fabrics have a lot of baggage. They remind them of communism and folklore, which don’t have favorable connotations.” Look 1, a lovely white drop-waisted linen dress with two deep flounces, is remade from kitchen hangings embroidered with line drawings of folk tales. There’s a top made from lace doilies too. The designers now feel they want to deepen the connection with tradition and with showing the authenticity of how their things are made and by whom. “I think in the pandemic, everyone in fashion has been thinking, What is our brand’s purpose in all of this?” They learned how much their audience likes seeing stuff being made when they ran a video of artisans in Turkey marbling white denim for their new line of jeans. In tough times, their priority is to keep supporting the Bulgarian women who work on the clothes – those with the skills to produce, for instance, the deep accordion pleats that are “made with the one remaining mold in the factory, which was always used to pleat traditional costumes.” Amazing.

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.

Force of Nature. Burberry SS21

As far as I didn’t entirely get Riccardo Tisci‘s Burberry, his spring-summer 2021 virtual fashion-show-slash-performance was gripping. As far as humor goes, it doesn’t get much darker than “a love story between a mermaid and a shark.” It was Riccardo Tisci’s loaded reference for his post-lockdown collection. A metaphor for the events of the past seven months, it reflects the loneliness and thirst for freedom we all experienced in quarantine. But in his under-the-sea analogy – a theme that pervaded both garments and graphics – Tisci’s shark (a career trademark we remember from Givenchy) represented something more menacing than mere loneliness. In that sense, it was an accurate depiction of how many of us felt in lockdown: part zen and at one with nature, part terrified out of our minds. For the show, the designer took his models – and muses, like Mariacarla Boscono and Lea T – to a deep, British forest. Under the canopy of nature, every feeling that had washed over the designer during lockdown was released in an ominous performance created by the artist duo Anne Imhof and Elizabeth Douglas, who sang at the live-streamed event. Staged sans audience, the tactile performance that ensued could easily make you forget we were in the middle of a pandemic. Cameras captured models getting dressed inside claustrophobic boxes before they could escape and embrace the freedom of the forest. It all felt very liberating until groups of men in black suits and sunglasses popped up behind them. They followed the models to a clearing where white-clad performers engaged in a ritualistic dance macabre amidst billows of orange smoke that had young commenters on the streaming service Twitch, which hosted the show, rife with quips. Looking at the collection, it was just the right balance of street and fashion. The prints were finally as good as the ones Tisci spoiled as back at the French maison. Summing up, it was a very good collection, edited down (no 150+ looks, thankfully) and desirable. “Being scared made me realize how lucky I am to do this job,” Tisci said. “I want to be more creative. I want to give the best of myself. In the beginning, you want to get to a level you want to get to. When you get there, you’re working towards stabilization. But this was a wake-up call: let’s do our best.

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.