Force of Nature. Burberry SS21

As far as I didn’t entirely get Riccardo Tisci‘s Burberry, his spring-summer 2021 virtual fashion-show-slash-performance was gripping. As far as humor goes, it doesn’t get much darker than “a love story between a mermaid and a shark.” It was Riccardo Tisci’s loaded reference for his post-lockdown collection. A metaphor for the events of the past seven months, it reflects the loneliness and thirst for freedom we all experienced in quarantine. But in his under-the-sea analogy – a theme that pervaded both garments and graphics – Tisci’s shark (a career trademark we remember from Givenchy) represented something more menacing than mere loneliness. In that sense, it was an accurate depiction of how many of us felt in lockdown: part zen and at one with nature, part terrified out of our minds. For the show, the designer took his models – and muses, like Mariacarla Boscono and Lea T – to a deep, British forest. Under the canopy of nature, every feeling that had washed over the designer during lockdown was released in an ominous performance created by the artist duo Anne Imhof and Elizabeth Douglas, who sang at the live-streamed event. Staged sans audience, the tactile performance that ensued could easily make you forget we were in the middle of a pandemic. Cameras captured models getting dressed inside claustrophobic boxes before they could escape and embrace the freedom of the forest. It all felt very liberating until groups of men in black suits and sunglasses popped up behind them. They followed the models to a clearing where white-clad performers engaged in a ritualistic dance macabre amidst billows of orange smoke that had young commenters on the streaming service Twitch, which hosted the show, rife with quips. Looking at the collection, it was just the right balance of street and fashion. The prints were finally as good as the ones Tisci spoiled as back at the French maison. Summing up, it was a very good collection, edited down (no 150+ looks, thankfully) and desirable. “Being scared made me realize how lucky I am to do this job,” Tisci said. “I want to be more creative. I want to give the best of myself. In the beginning, you want to get to a level you want to get to. When you get there, you’re working towards stabilization. But this was a wake-up call: let’s do our best.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Lightweight Cool. The Academy New York SS21

One of my favourite discoveries from the digital New York Fashion Week is The Academy New York. Making it through the last half year has been challenging for all brands, big and small, but Swaim Hutson might’ve had it harder than most. The Academy New York is his one man show, and autumn 2020 was the first season he’d hooked up with Stella Iishi’s The News showroom to turn what had been a personal passion project into an honest-to-goodness wholesale operation. He took to Instagram last week to celebrate the fact that, despite the pandemic, he was able to produce and ship the collection to 10 stores. Another reason to celebrate is the brilliant spring-summer 2021 line-up. Tennis, a childhood pursuit of Hutson’s, is the organizing theme behind the collection. One check pantsuit was overdyed a tennis ball yellow and there are riffs on on-court attire in the form of a short knit polo dress and elongated tennis skirts in a lightweight suiting wool. He’s also elaborated on his sweatsuit offering; now there are hoodies and crewnecks, pants and shorts. Leather biking shorts are another nod to the way things are now. But tailoring The Academy’s biggest signature. On that front the most interesting development was an oversize double-breasted jacket long enough to wear with bare legs – and a pair of his tennis bloomers. Another favourite – and a great styling tip! – was the blue shirt-dress worn with over-sized denim pants and minimal ballerinas. Cool and easy.

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.

Resurrected. Imitation of Christ SS21

I discovered Imitation of Christ a year ago, and when I’ve shared some archive images from Tara Subkoff‘s early 2000s shows on my Instagram stories, many replied to me that they’ve never heard of the brand and that it’s just so, so amazing. I was in awe, too. Each of the label’s collections was presented as a sort of ironic performance: a funeral show; a red carpet line-up opened by Chloe Sevigny; a collection solely dedicated to denim, with Scarlett Johansson as a Marilyn-Monroe-look-alike model. Then, the brand seemed to go into a hiatus, then it came back for a moment and disappeared again. And then, to my surprise, somebody posted on Instagram that Imitation of Christ is back this summer with a guerilla couture performance in Los Angeles. And now, here we are with Subkoff’s spring-summer 2021 collection – in a moment that one might never suggest for a brand that’s planning its “big” come-back. But Imitation of Christ isn’t a regular brand, so the circumstances just couldn’t be more exciting. Twenty years after the brand’s first show on the escalators in a subway station, this season’s performances (there were two, one in Los Angeles, one in New York, not identical, but each consisting of a capella singers accompanied) are equally inventive. And, while all of this is going on, The RealReal, from which Subkoff sourced some of her pieces, will offer the spring collection for sale in see-now, buy-now fashion, with part of the proceeds going to Greta Thunberg’s nonprofit Fridays for Future. Upcycling or “resurrecting” existing pieces is the central tenet of Imitation of Christ, and it means that every piece is unique. Collection themes do emerge, however, and are crystallized by the way they are presented. Skateboarding is the organizing principle this time around, and Subkoff describes the clothes as “glamorous activewear” – say, a vintage slip attached to the front of a sports jersey. Some of it could have been hand-sewn by the bored, home-imprisoned Lisbon sisters from Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, by the way. Subkoff became acquainted with skateboarding girls when she was feeling a bit blue. Struggling to find inspiration, the designer started visiting local skateboard parks, which she found to be “heavy on the dude feeling” until she noticed the young female skaters trying to master tricks, falling down, and starting over again. In their determination Subkoff says she found a “good metaphor for what it feels like, to me, to be female in this world in some capacity. Like you just have to keep doing it, until you do it better than the men. And then you have respect in some way.” Looking forward to more of Imitation of Christ, as it’s one of the most enigmatic and intriguing labels in New York.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Simple Magic Is Still Magic. Rodarte SS21

After last season’s Dracula-bitten, romantic extravaganza, Rodarte’s spring-summer 2021 collection – presented in a look-book – is understandably much less dramatic. It’s actually about coming back to the brand’s roots, according to Kate and Laura Mulleavy. The dual crises of a global health pandemic and raging wildfires in California – the sisters’ homeland – forced the designers back into that state: at home, together, with only their creativity to occupy them. While their collection was borne from the same cloistered Californian sisterhood of their earliest outings, the final products are visually different. It’s signature Rodarte, but in more practical-magic version. It’s not so much that the tulle explosions or the cake topper confections have dulled; in the face of such tough times, the sisters are emphasizing the importance of making fashion for this struggling world. “Everything we do is about fantasy and dreams, but we are located in a moment, and we are a part of what is happening now,” Kate told Vogue. A fanciful gown, both designers agree, has little place in today’s world, so instead they channeled their efforts into clothing they would want to wear now “without distilling the ideas.” Expect florals, veils, and just slightly off sweetness. Pajama sets, slips, and robes appear in dainty and orderly floral prints inspired by their local gardens. The floral story continues in the ’40s dresses they played with last season, now relaxed in shape with prints that radiate from the navel or appear in handkerchief-like grids. Silk sweatshirts (I’m on fence with logo ones, though), trackpants, and midi-skirts continue the motif, trimmed in lace or ruffles. All this is topped off with silk floral wreaths that frame models’ faces, giving them the impression of fairies, nymphs, or other magical woodland creatures. With this collection, the Mulleavys have proven their ability to make inherently useful garments that don’t compromise on the Rodarte identity.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Be Camp, Everyday. Batsheva SS21

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.

Adaptability. Peter Do SS21

Gradually, first collections made entirely in lockdown are trickling in. Peter Do, the New York-based designer whom I follow since his time as studio designer at Céline, doesn’t show in the regular schedule, and this season his plan was a presentation in Paris (during men’s spring-summer 2021 collections back in June). Of course, this couldn’t work out, so he released a look-book and short video. The 2020 LVMH Prize finalist and nominee for this year’s CFDA emerging designer award is evolving, style-wise, as well as improving his signature pieces. Adaptability has been one of the hallmarks of his label since its launch two years ago. An early best seller was an adjustable jacket that separated into a bolero and a backless waistcoat. This season, he applied the concept to a technical silk dress that easily converts to an elegantly draped cape-back evening top. In this strange moment, if you are capable of spending on designer clothes rather than on the home improvements, a two-in-one that will play exceptionally well on Zoom screens is a smart bet. His chic long dresses in T-shirt jersey, including one that can be worn back to front with a tank underneath, show off a softer sensibility than this tailoring-focused designer has displayed before. Do told Vogue he was eager to break his own codes and “respond to what happens.” Also, it’s worth mentioning the accessories collaboration with Medea, a brand that makes those cool, leather “shopping bag” bags. For Peter Do, the label came up with bold colours and new sizes. One thing I don’t entirely feel in this line-up is the styling. Actually, some of the looks are over-styled, and it’s a bit hard to comprehend the garments. But then, Peter Do’s clothes are all about flexibility, so it’s really the matter of how you want to wear his clothes.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

L’Amour. Jacquemus SS21

After weeks of digital presentations, Jacquemus‘ spring-summer 2021 IRL show was a truly heart-warming sight. An audience of 100 guests – mainly French press, house friends and family of Simon Porte Jacquemus – were ferried to a gently rolling wheat field near Us in the French Vexin Regional National Park, about an hour outside Paris. After hundreds of Instagram posts, you surely know what the venue looked like. It was a visual dream, a bit like a more sober sister of last year’s lavender field fantasy. Before the lockdown hit France, the designer had been in touch with the dancer Alexander Ekman. Needless to say, everything changed at that point, but the reference remained. During a pre-show interview, Jacquemus said he wanted his collection to talk of love and celebration, “like a simple country wedding or a harvest festival.” Ultimately, he named the collection “L’Amour,” a declaration of love for his team and updated it with Provençal references such as hand-made ceramics, grandmother’s tablecloth and berry picking (actual strawberries were inside Aaron Altaras’ basket-bag). The collection itself was quintessentially Jacquemus: a variety of dresses that channel the Southern French girl, made in all sizes; for boys, Picasso-meet-Miro motifs and cut-out hearts on over-sized tailoring. A toned, sun-washed  palette of clay and ecru looked summer-perfect, although I must admit I love Jacquemus most when he’s induldging in bolder colours. As usual, accessories are the sure best-sellers: fun earrings (a bar of Marseille soap!), leather accessories like a harness for a single plate, or the new Chiquito Noeud, a variation on the house bestseller. Last year, Simon dialed down to two shows per year, and this decision was definitely a good one. It’s not only a sustainable step, but it also lets the designer execute his vision to the fullest. And a live show is a live show, after all. “For me, the runway can’t be a video. It’s at the heart of what we do; it’s not superficial. It’s important to all of us to continue, just like a restaurant that reopens. It’s like a movie of a summer day. It’s our life.” That’s an inspiring dose of optimism for the uncertain times.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.