Batsheva Hay‘s brand is a great example of New York-based label that’s both small and big. The production isn’t huge, sustainable way of doing things is at heart, and there are no fancy runway events taking place each season. But the influence of a Batsheva dress is seismic, both in women’s everyday wardrobes and red carpet events, and the cult following of clients, who are looking forward to small drops of prairie gowns in one-of-a-kind vintage textiles or cute crotchet knitwear, would make a number of “big” brands quite jealous. This time, the designer is continuing the cookbook look book recipe she started for pre-fall 2021. The task of photographing people cooking in their own kitchens has taken her and her husband, the photographer Alexei Hay, into homes of various Batsheva wearers. Once they arrive, the goal is simple: photograph each person wearing Batsheva, cooking their favorite meal. This season the cast of model muses includes such individuals as Ego Nwodim, Nicky Hilton, Amy Fine Collins, and Maude Apatow, each offering a different take on clothing and cooking. As Hay recounts over Zoom to Vogue, some take hours to get ready – the designer-photographer duo don’t bring hair or makeup – others require their own accessories, and some have such specific recipes they take a whole day to produce. At the core, Hay offers clothing for women to live their lives in. It’s hard to predict what tomorrow might bring, especially now, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a garment that did it all: looked pretty on Zoom, was comfortable to wear, and could be dressed up enough to simply feel good? Hay’s roomy dresses offer that option, with sweet ruffles, crushed velvet, and bow ties to make the proposition all the sweeter. But for those without a sweet tooth, Hay is also expanding her traditional ready-to-wear. She has made jeans for the first time, two pairs with ruffle trim and elastic waists, and continues to expand her knitwear offering. Corsets and cummerbund details are built into her dresses, offering a smart styling solution.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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 First, Batsheva Hay‘s dresses just don’t get boring – how can such versatile must-have ever become outdated?!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.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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.
There’s no street style in New York without the Batsheva dress. Batsheva Hay‘s prairie look has trickled down to other, local brands’ repertoire, which just reassures her success. The designer expands, trying out new things. The autumn-winter 2020 collection had no runway, but a look-book featuring… figure skaters. Batsheva and her husband, Alexei, had conspired to shoot this collection guerrilla style in the American Dream mall, and stumbled upon a figure skating competition on the day they went to scout locations. “Part of what I’m always trying to prove is the wearability of my clothes,” she said, “and athletic movement is the definitive wearability test.” The skaters spin, twirl and jump in Hay’s chiffons, cottons, and custom flower pot embroideries, frozen mid-gesture by the camera. It’s intentionally not glamorous (and definitely not Tonya Harding) and the styling is kooky in its spontaneous way. For the season, the designer brings in evening-worthy sparkles, vintage flocked wool trenches and a red bustier “going out” top. It’s proper hot. For prairie girls not ready to give up their pastoral vibes, Hay offers ruffle V-front dresses and smocks, as well as velvet leopard with a wider, less Victorian neckline – this one is my personal favourite. Sounds (and looks) like lots of fun.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.