Timelessness. Michael Kors AW21

I might not be a Michael Kors fan, but his latest collection (celebratin the brand’s 40th anniversary) is so great. It’s the old, good Kors of the late 1980s and early 90s, adapted to contemporary times (well, maybe specifically the re-emergence times that will come sooner or later). How do you sum up a four-decade career in 63 looks during a pandemy? In an audienceless show, you’ve got Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen, Carolyn Murphy, and Shalom Harlow vamping down New York’s 45th Street in evening sequins and double-face cashmere. The designer told Vogue that in the downtime of the pandemic, he’d gone searching for the “connective threads” of 40 years. “Certainly timelessness is something we’ve always prided ourselves in, something that I think our customers really appreciate.” One season he gives his runway a timely Mad Men gloss, another it gets a Studio 54 spin, but his collections are always optimistic, always unshakably him. Much of what he did first, American fashion now takes for granted. Bare legs in winter. The unexpected combination of a rhinestone-encrusted cocktail dress and a man’s topcoat. A city-country mix. An evening number with streamlined athleticism, a maillot with leather straps and matching heels. “Extremes of opulence and glamour with simplicity and ease” is how he summed up his approach. In a year when the Costume Institute is showcasing American fashion for the first time in decades it seems important to recognize that much of what we think of as American sportswear is Kors-ian sportswear. Considering our collective experience of the last 13 months, back on 45th Street Kors put the emphasis on opulence and glamour. “People are going to want to step out, get dressed up – in certain instances get overdressed. Girls are going out for a hamburger in cocktail dresses and high heels.” This was his bid to clothe them for those reemergence moments. Maybe in a red patent leather balmacaan, a “cotton ball of a shearling coat,” or a glossy black puffer cape. Or perhaps in a hand-sequined silk jersey gown in gold under a pavement-sweeping camel cashmere coat. And always with a spiky pump or slingback.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Forever Timeless. Bode AW21

Autumn-winter 2021 marks the first collection Bode has shown since lockdown, though it’s technically spring (arriving in stores this month) and autumn rolled together. For the occasion, Emily Bode invited New York-based editors into what appeared to be a teenage boy’s 1960s bedroom, preserved in all its clutter. Newspapers and LIFE magazines were scattered on the tables; a vintage Monopoly set was splayed on the floor; desks were pinned with comic strips and old photos; and, of course, there were clothes everywhere: spilling out of a hamper, piled on the floor, dangling from coat hooks, draped over the bed. Each item was painstakingly arranged by Bode and her team, but it was a convincing replica of her uncle Bill’s college dorm room at the University of Vermont (or at least Bode’s impression of it, based on his recollection). In 1969, he tricked his parents into thinking he was back at school when in fact he was taking a year off to explore the East Coast, race cars, and play games. Bode explained it was also the last year before Bill’s wife, Mahri, came into the picture; they met in 1970, married, and were together up until 2019, when Mahri passed away. Suddenly, 2020 was Bill’s first “year off” from the life he knew, and he found himself reminiscing about 1969 again. Bode related his story of love, loss, and reflection to our own “year off” during the pandemic. Sifting through the piles, you could find all the familiar Bode-isms: silk button-downs with prints lifted from vintage postcards and handkerchiefs; embroidered camp shirts that are the expert work of Indian artisans; patchworked merino suits, an evolution of her quilted jackets; and her most refined knits yet, from a space-dyed pullover to a stunning hand-crocheted cardigan. A few pieces nodded to Bill and Mahri, like a souvenir jacket with a pug embroidered on the back, while others seemed happily arbitrary: an intarsia’d camel sweater, a pair of shorts chain-stitched with line drawings and funny phrases, a sweater crocheted with 3-D grapes. A small group of tailored pieces trimmed with rows of real pearl buttons spoke to Bode’s particular passion for preserving crafts and techniques. She bought them in bulk from a closed-down button factory in the Midwest, and pointed out how each was individually hand-carved, hand-sanded, and one-of-a-kind. They may have been thrown away or relegated to some dusty warehouse if Bode hadn’t purchased them; the same could be said of the quilts, table cloths, and scraps of fabric piling up in her Brooklyn studio.

If it’s tempting to lump Bode in with other “sustainable” or “upcycled” brands, it’s actually more of a coincidence that some of her materials – not all – were already made. Bode cares about sustaining traditions and stories, not just reducing her carbon footprint, and she understands her role as an employer. She couldn’t have scaled her business to its current size if she hadn’t found a pragmatic, sustainable way to mass-produce certain garments with new materials, like her camp shirts and chore jackets, nor would she have been able to hire her teams of craftspeople in India, Peru, and New York (many designers canceled their orders in Garment District factories during the pandemic, but Bode made it a point to support them.) Bode’s brand-new tailoring shop, located next to her flagship in the formerly-turquoise Classic Coffee Shop, is a more apt reflection of her sustainability ethos. Her tailors will alter your brand-new Bode suit or mend an old quilted jacket. Even if you just picked up your first Bode shirt next door, there’s a comfort in knowing you don’t have to be precious about wearing it; when the time comes, someone will be there to fix it up. On the long list of things that separate Bode from her peers (and her many imitators) is that she absolutely intends for her clothes to be worn – and would rather fix the hole in your shirt than sell you a new one.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Balance. Area SS21

Area‘s Piotrek Panszczyk and Beckett Fogg play along their own rules – and it certainly works. The pair presented their second see-now-buy-now ready-to-wear offering, filled with signature glitz, twisted with a pinch of Dada, and photographed by Paul Kooiker. Unlocking the ability to offer the full Area proposition has opened up a new galaxy of creative potential for Panszczyk and Fogg. The more conceptual pieces take the idea of duality, two ideas swirling together, and represent it literally in a spiral of fabric on bosoms and blazers. Models wear full face masks and giant crystal bow headbands, their feet tucked into platform disco-inspired clogs. The surreal look-book only makes the Area proposition feel all the more appealing, highlighting the more challenging garments and elevating the easy-in-approach ones. There’s a freedom in Area’s new path forward of fusing comfort, creativity, and smart e-commerce. That’s their gold recepe for a small brand thriving in harsh times.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

The Great Beauty. Danielle Frankel AW21

The topic of bridal-wear might be a dull for some (like me!), but the moment I’ve discovered Danielle Frankel, I instantly changed my mind. Danielle Hirsch, the designer, made her mark as a bridal designer, yet her autumn-winter 2021 collection is a hybrid between a wedding gowns line-up and fabulous eveningwear. Many of her clients gravitate toward the idea of remixed bridal looks, choosing slinky slip dresses and silk separates. Moreover, Hirsch noticed that women are rewearing their pared-back, yet elegant wedding looks beyond the altar. So, the designer’s transition to ready-to-wear is a natural one, even though the body-skimming white dresses with Hirsch’s signature flourishes certainly look like they’re made for getting married in. Also in that vein is a standout column dress with sheer sleeves and exaggerated shoulders created with layered lace flowers. One of the best “ready-to-wear” pieces is a royal blue dress with a pleated waist that gives the body a severe and beautiful whittled effect. The neckline opens up to reveal a slight décolletage, and further flows into sculpted, voluminous shoulders. Hirsch will always have her bridal clients, but she definitely feels the ground in less ceremonial (and equally entrance-making) garments.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Lockdown-Era Avant-garde. Puppets & Puppets AW21

It’s great to see some of the most exciting New York-based labels gradually returning with their new collections. How about some lockdown-era avant-garde? There was a time not so long ago when Carly Mark’s Puppets & Puppets might have seemed more like an art project than a fashion brand. Mark is, after all, one of New York’s most well-known mixed-media artists. But over the course of this pandemic year, she has recalibrated her fashion work, turning it into a true business ( new production manager was brought on and factories in Italy were contracted, as were knitting artisans in Bolivia and Peru). Mark is charting a course in which Puppets & Puppets is just as much a clothing company as a creative expression. Her historically minded bustles, panniers, and corsetry remain as the label’s signature, only now there is boning interfaced into the garments to make them easier to put on and wear. Denim in a medium wash straight-leg style is new, and there is an expansive knitwear program that brings together artists in New York and South America over pomegranate sweaters, logo intarsias, and azure maxi-dresses. In the brand’s look book, cast by Anita Bitton, there’s Jane Moseley posing in a crinoline skirt made of sunny florals, and the stylist Patti Wilson, a longtime supporter of the label, taking a turn in card-print suiting and a patchwork dress. That’s the ultimate goal of Mark’s expansion project: to ensure that her community and collaborators can continue to be a part of her world.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.