Contemporary Elegance. Vaquera SS21

Although digital-live Paris Fashion Week has officially started today, there are still some great collections coming from New York. One of them is Vaquera, a line-up that ironically muses on different kinds of elegance, created by Patric DiCaprio, Claire Sullivan and Bryn Taubensee. Over the summer, one of the most “outsider” brands out there got suddenly certified by the upper echelon of fashion – but not the most common one, though. After hosting their autumn-winyter show back in February, Dover Street Market added Vaquera to the roster of brands it supports through its Paris showroom slash incubator. DSM will help with production and handle all sales and distribution, “the backend stuff that takes us away from being creative,” as DiCaprio put it. The point of the arrangement is that with DSM handling the commercial side of the business, the Vaquera trio can focus on creativity. But the partnership has already impacted how they’re channeling that creativity. “Knowing they’re going to be there on that side helping us with sales was really inspiring, for me at least,” DiCaprio continued. “We were like, ‘Let’s make this skirt perfect and the fit really nice and make these fabrics really good so they look good in their showroom.’” Their new collection is a sort of codifying of the Vaquera ethos and aesthetic. Wearability has been emphasized without forsaking too much of their hold on weird. So side by side there are washed denim jeans cut to fit both guys and girls and a Little Bo Peep cosplay outfit in white canvas and croc-stamped vinyl. Mixing with twisted bankers stripe shirts and oversized suiting is a tutu explosion in an amorphous body-obscuring shape of the kind you might see on a Comme des Garçons runway. “We were inspired by what we want to wear, what our friends are wearing, who we’re with,” Sullivan elaborated. “That’s so much of what Vaquera is: context, reference, culture. What do you wear, what do I wear, how do we make it Vaquera?” In certain neighborhoods of New York this summer it wasn’t unusual to see women wearing their bed clothes on the street, one of the many impacts of months in lockdown. In the look-book, that translates from innerwear to evening-outerwear. What makes it Vaquera is that all genders sample the retro bra tops and the satin and lace teddies affixed to T-shirts. New, never-average, edgy elegance for whoever feels it.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Walk That Walk. Eckhaus Latta SS21

I loved Eckhaus Latta‘s spring-summer 2021 collection for its honesty and rawness. Walking became, thanks to COVID, pretty much everyone’s primary outdoor activity these days. As a parallel to that, the show celebrated this fact. It was staged outdoors, underneath a section of New York’s FDR Drive where a long, straight jogging path provided a runway, and with a bare minimum of fuss: hair au naturel, model-applied makeup, no soundtrack, just an abbreviated collection and the train rumbling by now and then. “We wanted it to feel, like, no spectacle,Mike Eckhaus explained after the show. “Like the models could just be going out for a walk with their friends.” The clothes matched that easygoing manner. There were stylish sweats, of course, but also baggy jeans and knit suiting and gingham tops with the airiness of wind-borne kites. The most fitted looks were knit and the most tailored were done of featherweight nylon, the material often patchworked together in tonal color blocks. These were casual items, but every garment seemed to have been hand-worked, and that gave this collection a bit of emotional undertow; in a socially distanced era, it felt as though Eckhaus and Zoe Latta were communicating touch through their clothes. That was true of the collection’s ornate crochets, but it was also true of the hand-dyed jeans and the burnout florals. Smart, authentic, durable clothes for the new reality.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Hope Is Here. Tom Ford SS21

Tom Ford’s spring-summer 2021 line-up – of course presented as a look-book – is the finale of the largely digital New York Fashion Week, which had missing many big names and was a mood rollercoaster. Some labels opted for sober pragmatism (like Khaite), while others for something more joyful and sweet (Rodarte for instance). Ford’s collection falls into the latter camp. “I honestly wasn’t sure I could make a collection even if I felt inspired to do so… I felt that fashion should simply go into hibernation for a year.” Of course, that would never do. Ford is the rare designer who knows what his woman wants before she does. The collection he put on the runway back in February was loaded with athletic gray sweats and patchworked jeans – exactly the kind of glam casual things that his customer might have liked to wear through quarantine.  For spring, the designer’s gut told him to do something that’s hopeful and exuberant. “The last thing I want to see are serious clothes,” he said. “I think we need an escape. I think we want to smile. I know what’s going on in our world right now doesn’t make us want to smile. So that’s what I’ve done: hopeful clothes that make you smile.” Ford found the conduit for those vibes in a documentary about the fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez and the ’70s models Pat Cleveland and Donna Jordan whom Lopez sketched. That is the era that he loved to work around at Gucci. And when Ford looks back at his Gucci years, expect good things. This is an extrovert’s collection, with plenty of skin and very little pretense (I just hate the logo-ed bands…). There’s a compelling ease to the clothes, even though the attitude is dressed up. Shirts are unbuttoned to the navel, nodding to the cult spring 1995 Gucci show. The colorful florals seen on several slinky dresses and a pair of neat blazers for both women and men are cheering. The tie-dyed caftan and pool robes are heaven and make me think of Samantha Jones. Maybe, in the end, we will again enjoy festive garden parties?

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Sober Classics. Khaite SS21

While it seems that most of the designers in New York take the escapist route this season, Khaite‘s Cate Holstein chooses to embrace sober classics. “What does it mean to feel simultaneously paralyzed and galvanized?” reads a line in Khaite’s press release. “Growth is never easy,”  Holstein told Vogue on a Zoom call. “We’re going through one of our collective nightmares as a society. They’ve made horror movies about this. It’s mind-blowing, but it also gives me a renewed strength. Living through it has been so challenging, but on the other side, it’s so invigorating and inspiring.” Her collections had taken on a darker, moodier tone before the pandemic; she was craving a uniform of jeans, leather jackets, and combat boots. No frills, no fuss. She said she was thinking about the New York she inhabited as a college grad in the early 2000s, when the city had an “element of menace” that has since faded. “But now, there’s a bit of that industrial feeling again,” she said. It’s a survivalist one too. New Yorkers are in the streets (there’s nowhere else to go), linking arms (metaphorically, that is) and getting through this together. How do you dress for that? “I think women are going to want to look strong.” Holstein worked with director Hanna Tveite to distill that feeling of New York into a look-book and film. They also created 100 “presentation boxes” to send editors and buyers, packed with blown-up look books, fabric swatches, and an augmented reality experience that beams Khaite’s shoes into your living room. Holstein was surprised to report that shoes were among her top sellers this summer, despite the fact that most of us hardly left home. Also surprising: Women bought Khaite evening dresses, and Holstein could hardly keep her leather moto jackets in stock. The former speaks to the “fantasy shoppers” dreaming of future events; the latter illustrates a growing interest in timeless, keep-forever investment pieces. Holstein’s word for them: “cherished.” When we can’t predict tomorrow’s headlines, there’s a comfort in buying something you can see yourself wearing and loving 10 or 20 years from now.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Modern Goddess. Bevza SS21

The one good thing about this season’s cropped New York Fashion Week is that the small brands that show here for years, but stay always under the radar due to overcrowded schedule, get the spotlight they deserve. Svitlana Bevza’s designs may be minimal, but there’s deep meaning and history behind their simplicity. In her previous Bevza collections, she’s often referenced her Ukrainian heritage, specifically the country’s powerful women. This season, she created a narrative around her study of Trypillia, an ancient pagan civilization that cherished women. Harvest symbols also played a role in pieces like a delicately braided knit top and a silk dress with pleating at the bodice mimicking a “tree of life.” Paying homage to the Trypillia women, Bevza designed sharply tailored, corseted dresses, and a tunic with visible stitching outlining the female figure. Those pieces were soft and sensual but still strong, especially a hand-knit ivory coat. The earthily hued, subtly textured garments were accessorized by ceramic jewelry modeled on the statues of the Trypillia people. In the absence of a show, the designer created a film that further emphasized her aesthetic and passion for sharing her Ukrainian history. This collection is an example of how fashion can tell a story and educate us on the world.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.