At Home. Batsheva AW21

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.

Surf and Quilt. Stan AW21

While New York Fashion Week feels very sleepy this season (due to quite understandable reasons), that state of slowness has has its advantages: there’s more time to discover the newcomers. Well, in case of Tristan Detwiler, he is new to the fashion insiders, but on TikTok, he has a following of over 133,000 users who watch him cut up antique blankets and quilts, some dating back to the 1800s, and transform them into chore jackets, Baja hoodies, board shorts, and cocoon coats. The videos offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the process and reaffirm Detwiler’s skills as a maker; when he wasn’t competing on University of Southern California’s surf team, he was taking fashion design classes and customizing his own clothes. Upcycled quilted jackets are Tristan’s brand Stan signature, with boxy, unisex fits that accommodate a multitude of sizes, genders, and ages. To hear him tell it, he made his first one in college to replace the quilts he draped over his shoulders for chilly mornings on the beach, but fell in love with the story behind old textiles, quilts in particular. In 2018, he joined the Bumann Quilters of Olivenhain, a group of ladies who have been quilting for decades. In addition to sharing the stories of their quilts and teaching Detwiler their techniques, they’ve gifted him with textiles and heirlooms to use in his collection. The opening jacket in his autumn-winter 2021 collection was made from one of those gifted quilts, a 1920s ‘one patch’ style in a checkerboard motif. It was large enough to make a matching pair of pants too. The second outfit’s ivory coat, chore jacket, and pants were all cut from the same 20th-century ‘wedding quilt,’ while other looks had a more haphazard mix. A jewel-toned jacket made from an 1890 Amish quilt was paired with trousers cut from a 1980s screen-printed potato sack. It’s worth mentioning that these items are already available to buy on Detwiler’s website; since they’re one-of-a-kind, fashion’s usual production time-table doesn’t apply (similar way of doing things at Imitation of Christ!). Detwiler describes himself as a storyteller and a curator, not necessarily a designer. He doesn’t aspire to be the next American mega-brand. But joining the New York Fashion Week calendar places him in the context of the mainstream fashion conversation, and inevitably draws comparisons to his peers experimenting with quilts and upcycling. Emily Bode comes to mind of course, though it isn’t really worth comparing their work; Bode’s is polished and fully “designed,” while Detwiler’s has the messier, intentionally rumpled attitude of California surf culture. Whether it’s a one-time fling or a serious venture into fashion, the vision of a sun-drenched surfer in his DIY quilted jacket and crotchet knit is compelling, especially in the COVID era.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Act Compassionately & Sustainably. Imitation of Christ AW21

Imitation of Christ isn’t a regular fashion brand. Every single piece made (“produced” just doesn’t fit here) is one-of-a-kind. No pre-collections and no traditional business models, but rather spontainety and a sense of inspiring care-freeness is what prevails at Tara Subkoff‘s brand. And of course it’s one of the most ingeniously sustainable labels that exists. Second season in a row, Imitation of Christ’s upcycled collection is available and sold on The Real Real – and half the profits will go to Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future. Also, there’s no coincidence that the autumn-winter 2021 collection was presented on Valentine’s Day. It’s a reaction, said the designer on a call with Vogue, against “a Hallmark holiday or some consumer driven idea of romance.” Instead, the designer highlighted, the line-up (and the accompanying video) offers something “true.” The collection video, made in collaboration with Daphne Muller and Adam Teninbaum, is not for the squeamish. Though it features six hip Californians, a few of some renown, the piece is dominated by “a real 3D animated heart,” that is, admits Subkoff, “really shocking. We have this very strange idea of what a heart is, which is… really a cartoon version that we give to each other. We all have a heart pumping blood in our bodies and it pumps for a finite amount of time, then it’s over. And I think the more we understand that, maybe the more compassionate and kind we can be towards one another.” A similar feeling of compassion is present in the off-kilter garments. Subkoff  has always had a penchant for beaded dresses from the 1920s, and these were back and looking fresh. Deco beading was applied to pieces for men and women, and this incongruity was perhaps best exemplified by the pairing of a gray utility suit with shimmering white bead work (there’s a well-considered Martin Margiela method in these de- and reconstructed pieces). Subkoff believes that what good you do in the world becomes an ever growing legacy. She’s been serious about sustainability for decades and hopes, through her actions and messaging, to inspire others to design and act sustainably (“Please, other companies or other people – copy this, do this,” the designer offered).

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

First Lady Approved. Markarian AW21

On January 20th, the Inauguration Day, Dr. Jill Biden wore Markarian from head-to-toe: a custom cerulean tweed dress and matching coat trimmed with pearls and velvet cuffs. Michelle Obama boosted the profile of many young American designers in her day, and Biden’s choice was a reminder of how deeply women care about what First Ladies wear – and how influential their choices can be. But also, it worked as a statement: supporting small brands and companies is important. That day, Markarian’s Alexandra O’Neill experienced ultra-visibility that most young designers only fantasize about. On a Zoom call with Vogue, O’Neill said her social media following doubled instantly, and the e-tailer Moda Operandi reported a 570% spike in traffic to Markarian pieces within 24 hours: overnight, the label went from relative obscurity to international news. And here’s a plot twist. Anyone expecting an autumn-winter lineup of Dr. Biden-esque coats or a deep political statement will be surprised to hear that O’Neill’s inspiration – one she conceptualized months before the election – was actually Ancient Rome. She studied Roman art and mythology in college, and the relaxed glamour of the period (draped tunics, twisting braids, lots of gold jewelry) felt newly relevant in a year of lockdowns. Markarian isn’t a casual brand, so O’Neill’s challenge of late has been creating elegant clothes you can wear out or at home. A brocade robe dress met the criteria, as did a long-sleeved style with a burnout velvet motif of shimmering grapes. Yet many of O’Neill’s customers will be more excited by the pieces that read fantastical, not practical: an LBD with “firework” crystal embellishments or the dreamy, yet unpretentious wedding gowns. With so much unexpected recognition the brand has received, it’s exciting how O’Neill will push her vision forward.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

A Fine Edit. Victoria Beckham AW21

It’s the official start of fashion month, which of course won’t be the usual, hectic marathon we know from the pre-COVID times. Look-books and videos are here to stay, and much less brands will show in the traditional schedule. New York Fashion Week is having a hard time, cropped down to just two days. Many designers are reflecting on the way they used to work and put sustainability as their main priority. Victoria Beckham‘s autumn-winter 2021 is a fine edit of both pre- and main collection. It’s all about unmistakable wardrobe essentials with versatile intentions – meaning easy day-to-night transition pieces. After the financial shockwaves of the epidemic, this season marked Beckham’s pared-down foot forward in general. “I sell clothes,” Beckham told Vogue. “I don’t sell so many shoes and bags that my collections are just about ticking a fashion box. They’re about creating clothes that people want to wear and can really wear. That’s why commerciality is not a swear word to me.” The look-book she released today demonstrated what a consolidated Victoria Beckham woman looks like. Rather than introducing new complex cuts or ambitious experimentation, familiar VB garments bore testimony to a certain studiousness: they’ve been simplified and perfected. Prairie and flapper dresses were streamlined, her slinky long-sleeved everyday dresses were recut for a t-shirt-like ease, and tailoring looked as optimized for comfort as it must have felt. For anyone hankering for more bling-bling, there were those knee-high silver sparkle boots and some rather subversive floral prints. In one instance, the latter clashed in a mad floaty dress that evoked some of Beckham’s more directional collections. “We never want anything to be boring,” as she put it. The morale of this collection is that less is more, if the quality and design is at its best. “People ask me if I think people will buy less when we come out of lockdown, and I hope they will! We want to sell clothes, don’t get me wrong, but I hope people will want to invest in pieces they really want to wear. Buy a piece and get your wear out of it. Don’t just buy it for one season,” Beckham concluded.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.