This was an exuberant, joyful and extremely uplifting Batsheva collection. Batsheva Hay’s spring-summer 2022 runway show pushed her prairie, girly aesthetic to electric new heights, at some points even camp-y territories. We’ve got crinolines, yards and yards of silver lamé, diva-worthy gowns with early-’60s swing backs, and simple white eyelet sundresses with tie dye tights. The show, which started with a ballad and swung into grunge, was a spectrum of Batsheva’s evolving asethetics. As the world opens up, Hay explained post-show, she can’t stop thinking of home: starting her brand in her home, her family in her home, and the freedom we have in our private homebound moments. Dialing up the collection’s glitz and campiness was her way of honoring dressing up at home, that moment when you throw it all on, do too much, and feel fashionable and free of peering gazes. Busy Philipps, Ego Nwodim, Amy Fine Collins, Chloe Fineman, Heidi Gardner, Veronica Webb, and more New York legends – and Batsheva clients – took turns in cascading frills and sweet dresses. This was one of these New York Fashion Week moments that we all missed during the pandemic seasons.
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.
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.
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.