Batsheva‘s resort 2022 is a love letter to New Yorkers, all of it photographed on and worn by the beautiful locals. With her photographer husband, Alexei Hay, she set up a booth in Washington Square Park and recruited people in the area to change into her spring offering and model it spontaneously. One went full Dovima in a strapless ’50s-style golden gown and kitten heels. Another just tossed an ivory dress coat over their regular clothes, coffee cup in hand. There are teen goths, lovers, sisters, NYU graduates, and passersby smiling throughout the look book, a total celebration of New York back in action. The breadth of this season’s offering is as diverse as the people in the clothes: a skateboarder wears a roomy midi-housedress in a hologram print. Best friends sport a shapeless glittery dress inspired by a traditional Hasidic style and burnout velvet pants. A roller skater chose practical black-and-white ruffles while a pair of sisters model crochet tops and skirts. This is probably as close as we’ll get to “probably back to normal” this summer – and it looks great. And what’s new in the designer’s gradually-evolving dictionary? On a basic level, school clothes make sense as an inspiration for Batsheva Hay – and not just for their sweetness. She started her brand as a young mother, aiming to make funny dresses that work for working moms. Now her daughter, Ruth, is well into elementary school with a uniform of a pinafore, shirt, and cardigan. Hay has sized up each of these to an adult scale and rendered them in shades of neon yellow, brown, and cherry red, adding rosettes to the boxy sweaters.
Many brands that start with one, sharp, distinct, signature piece, quickly reach its peak popularity… and equally fast fall down the cliff of oblivion. Just think of all the bag labels that had that singular “it bag” and couldn’t maintain the momentum. But Batsheva is a different story. First, Batsheva Hay‘s dresses just don’t get boring – how can such versatile must-have ever become outdated?! – and second, the designer gradually expands her universe, making old clients come back and new ones feel attracted. And the brand’s pre-fall 2021 look-book makes it even more relatable and relevant to our lockdown lives and habits. In her work, Hay has taken the symbols of femininity, domesticity, and intimacy and made them things for women to be proud of, not ashamed of. Typically, the industry rewards designers who offer more modern, minimalist takes on female style or versions of womanhood that are so fantastical and exaggerated they can only be described as “whimsical” or “dreamy.” Hay’s work is neither: it’s quirky, messy, funny, and embraces the chaos of a woman’s life. And in the new season, the Batsheva woman even cooks in Batsheva. The collection’s fantastic look-book stars real women, from club legend Susanne Bartsch to actress Gretchen Mol, wearing her latest wares in their own kitchens. Hay and her husband, Alexei, the photographer, traveled around New York taking the portraits, discussing the recipes with each woman, and eating each meal. The results will be published in a cookbook next year. “Seeing the way other people wear the pieces is so important,” Hay says, stressing that each piece must feel like “a wanted garment.” If it doesn’t elicit love from her ladies, it doesn’t get made. The garments that did get made continue to recast the possibilities for ruffles and floral prints. Hay is leaning into big 1980s graphics and piecrust collars à la Princess Diana. Those developments, she explains, were designed with an eye to Zoom routine. From the waist up, she’s offering a new bolero jacket, added embroideries and details on yokes, and expanded her offering of gorgeous crocheted tanks and hooded pullovers. Pants, skirts, and a new wrap dress round out the offering. “When I started, I thought I would run out of things to do with ruffles on dresses pretty quickly,” she told Vogue with a smirk. But trying to define what it means to be a woman in this world is an endless journey – and one of constant reinvention.
Maybe you can’t judge a season – a month of fashion shows and look-books – by one brand, but somehow Batsheva‘s spring-summer 2021 line-up makes me believe that things are looking up. In hard times like 2020, there’s nothing better than letting some joy in. In Batsheva Hay‘s fashion, adorable polka-dot dresses appear alongside high-collared midi-dresses with dainty embroideries and prints of psychedelic, acid green figures. There are, perhaps, more ruffles and bows than usual, each alighting on a V-neck or high shoulder. There’s playfulness and camp feeling all over those pieces, which – and that’s a Batsheva special – are made for the everyday. Even, if the new routine of Hay’s clients means days and days of Zoom calls. This is a loud “no, no!” to grey, sad sweatpants. The collection went live a few days before the official start of New York fashion week – which will last just three days and with many brands missing – and while many designers seem to struggle in the new reality, with Hay the situation is slightly different. She launched her brand with an unmissable signature, and evolved it however she felt right in her heart. Since day one, she thinks sustainably – some of the fabrics used in her dresses are either upcycled or vintage. When all the turbulent changes caused by the economic downturn of the pandemic (and because of the chaotic mess of the fashion system) abruptly came up, Hay didn’t have to change too much. “Fashion is about dressing,” she declared on a video call with Vogue. “It’s an answer to how people want to dress: be comfortable. Wear something not too expensive, but that feels elevated.” As a brand, she explained she wants to “exist in some way in ordinary lives.” Thinking soulfully and practically happen all too rarely in fashion industry. With some new, beautiful additions – like granny crotchet knits and a simple khaki blazer that will work with everything – Batsheva is a brand that keeps on evolving. And most of all, surprises with its powerful, never-boring consistency.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki, look-book photos by Alexei Hay.
The Batsheva dress: high-neck, nipped waist, ruffle sleeve, full skirt. That distinct silhouette made designer Batsheva Hay‘s brand become one of New York’s biggest favourites. And even though season goes, this dress – often made from ornate, vintage textiles – doesn’t get boring. Still, now Batsheva has to move on creatively. And looking at her pre-fall 2020, she thrives. Meet the smock frock, which works as a housecoat in velveteen leopard and crimson moiré. “That’s how I want to dress now,” Hay says. And what Hay wants remains the backbone of Batsheva. New, over-sized shapes and menswear-ish separates (like a Western shirt) make debuts. Hay’s choice of fabrics – a mix of quilting materials and unlikely fashion candidates like burnout velvets and suit linings – keeps a consistency between her circle skirts and more structured day dresses. Get the Batsheva look.
Batsheva is the fashion brand on everybody’s lips in New York. And not only. Her signature prairie dress has already left a mark on fashion, seeing very, very similar silhouettes at other brands (like at the just launched, first capsule collection from The Marc Jacobs). But Batsheva Hay seems to be unbothered. Her loyal clients will buy the original idea at its source. And her resort 2020 lookbook doesn’t just sell the clothes. It sells a fresh view at fashion, which is more of an outsider’s perspective. Here, Batsheva herself is the model, and her photographer husband, Alexei, takes the photos. They ran around Manhattan shooting the collection quite spontaneously, in their favorite places together. No makeup. No stylists. Just a married couple marking some of their most cherished spots in the city where both grew up. So, what do we have? Of course, the prairie dress, in new colours, lenghts and prints. We also have Victorian blouses and a gorgeous, voluminous skirts in gingham. One of the dresses with a turtleneck was sewn from a sourced, U.S.A. flag. Flared pants in leopard print, styled with a matching dress, look hot. With every season, the designer makes you want to come back for more of her clothes, her kind of ‘basics’, that are quintessentialy… Batsheva.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Photos by Alexei Hay.