Walking Amulets. Stella Jean AW21

Stella Jean is the pioneer of ethical fashion, long before it became the new standard in the fashion industry. Moreover, Jean doesn’t shy away from controversy or important causes. She has been a fierce spokesperson bringing awareness of racial inequalities in the Italian fashion system to the fore, pushing the industry to answer tough questions and to bring about effective change. In her practice as a fashion designer, her commitment to celebrating multiculturalism and the creative contribution of minorities and marginalized communities in her collections goes back a long way. Her label was actually born out of her desire to pay homage to her Haitian-Italian roots. For autumn-winter 2021, she partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Through its Women’s Committee, she teamed up with the Mountain Partnership Products initiative (MPP), which provides technical and financial support to small communities of producers and artisans in remote rural and mountain areas around the world. Jean was introduced to the work of Kyrgyz women from Barskoon, a settlement at 1,750 meters elevation in the northeast of Kyrgyzstan. The area is known for inlaid felt carpets and wall hangings traditionally handcrafted by women, using techniques passed down from generations. “When I saw all that beauty, the richness of the colors, the symbology, the history behind this culture, I was blown away,” Jean told Vogue on a Zoom call from her home in Rome. “These women are custodians of a naturally circular economy, totally equitable, and with the lowest environmental impact.” Jean connected remotely with the Topchu artisanal collective there with MPP’s support. Working with a local designer based in Bishkek, she came up with a capsule collection of five pieces featuring Kyrgyz embroidery in felt work. Jean chose simple shapes that can be easily replicated; artisans in Italy cut the patterns and sent them to Kyrgyzstan, where they were embroidered by the Topchu women. Once embroidered, the pieces were sent back to Italy to be assembled. “From next season, the collective can work on the patterns as they wish, creating new items that can be sold and bear profit,” she explained. “The patterns are not mine; I don’t own them. And the beautiful felted decorations have only been loaned to us – they’re theirs. The Kyrgyz women can source textiles locally, producing independently from outside partnerships. We’re not their saviors. We just have to accompany them, and then let them go find their own path. I think this a healthy, participatory way to look at globalization.” Jean integrated the Topchu collaboration into her collection beautifully, while also continuing to support a network of women artisans in the Umbria region, who made specially commissioned pieces, like a fabulous fringed wool poncho handcrafted with imaginative 3D ornamentations. For their part, the Kyrgyz artisans worked on simple wardrobe staples, energizing them with their vibrant decorations in saturated colors. The capsule comprises five looks: A sweeping hooded cape and a slim city coat in Prince of Wales checks were both embroidered with colorful motifs of birds and flowers in a mountainous landscape, and an oversized striped cotton shirt was decorated with long-legged herons. The pièces de résistance were two gorgeous skirts – one fitted, the other cut in a trapeze shape- both embroidered all over with the Shyrdak motifs traditionally handcrafted on felt carpets. “Their symbology is ancient,” said Jean. “It brings prosperity and good luck. Those skirts, they’re almost like walking amulets.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Soothing Grooviness. The Elder Statesman AW21

If The Elder Statesman was a music album, to me, it would be Lana Del Rey’s latest Chemtrails Over The Country Club. It’s laid-back, it’s care-free, it’s soothing. Greg Chait‘s California-based company makes the trippiest luxurious knitwear out there, and with every season, he manages to expand his world in a natural, considered way. The pre-fall 2021 collection was photographed on a troupe of homesteaders and pot farmers in Northern California, and the autumn-winter 2021 line-up at Biosphere 2 – an environmental simulation in Arizona. In both contexts, Chait’s sun-drenched, signature style is key: clothing engineered for durability, warmth, and optimum vibes. For the latter collection, Mordechai Rubinstein, the photographer and hippie dandy, offered his eye for a swirling tie-dye collaboration. There is a new crochet program in which studio scraps are knotted into trousers and hoodies, each one unique and groovy. The brand’s new fabric, a cotton-cashmere herringbone, was cut into button-downs and casual pants, which were hand-dyed in a lot behind the studio. The inside of the herringbone is electric with color and the exterior faded, a result of the fabric blend. Chait describes it as sort of a happy accident; cashmere takes dye well, cotton doesn’t. Going through the entire collection you get the sense that Chait and company are having a great time, trying to stay smart, small, and sustainable. And it pays off!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Gabriela in Paris. Chloé AW21

Most debuts are bumpy, epecially in COVID-19 circumstances. However, I can’t hide I’ve got some very mixed about Gabriela Hearst‘s first collection for Chloé. Knowing her style and philosophy at her name-sake, New York-based label, you could be sure she would take her sustainability-forward mindset to Paris (that was one of the main reasons why she was appointed as the creative director of the brand). Aesthetic-wise, we know her for ultra-luxurious, assertive minimalism with eventual, feminine details, but you will hardly find any irony in those cashmere cape-coats and gorgeous pleated leather dresses. Most of all, it seemed to me that the designer decided to revolt against the New York ‘Gabriela Hearst’ and let things take some sort of laid-back approach, in the spirit of the Saint-Germain-Des-Prés lifestyle (Chloé founder’s Gaby Aghion first fashion shows took place in Café De Flore. Hearst’s models walked out of the cult Brasserie Lipp into the empty, evening streets of Rive Gauche). The result is a collection filled with layered, nomadic silhouettes that unfortunately look cumbersome and overworked. The striped, knitted dresses, ponchos (they nodded to Hearst’s Uruguayan heritage), floating dresses (the flou is a must for every Chloé designer) and shearling coats were in general mild-looking. The designer closed the collection with puffer outerwear repurposed from Chloé overstock spanning designers and eras (I mostly noticed Natacha Ramsay-Levi’s memorable prints – the way they were clashed kind of diminished her Chloé tenure). The pieces were created with Sheltersuit, a nonprofit organization providing aid to the homeless, which also collaborated on a series of backpacks. As mentioned above, Gabriela’s Chloé will take a no-jokes road to sustainability (she said that Chloé had already decreased this collection’s environmental footprint by 400% compared to last winter’s line), which is admirable. She mentioned certified materials, circular economy, net-zero goals as just some of her aims for the brand, and placed sustainability center stage for her debut – as her inspiration, her material, her technique, and even her silhouette. This really does have a potential, especially in Paris, where that topic still feels dormant. But for her future offerings, she should get some proper styling (or editing) done.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Core. Marine Serre AW21

Digital Paris Fashion Week started today, and it hit off with Marine Serre‘s “Core” collections. We’ve got used to Serre’s dystopian visions, which appeared to be ironically precise (she pioneered face masks on the runway seasons ago…). However, her autumn-winter 2021 line-up is all about optymism and hope. The collection wasn’t heralded by a shallow short movie,  but by a website, http://www.marineserrecore.com, which went live at her regular spot on the Paris schedule. The website is a chronicle of all that goes into her designs, and ergo her view of the world, as much as it is a reveal of her new offering and a joyful, life-affirming celebration of family, friends, and community. “Core means the core of the brand, in much the same way as the idea of the core of a computer,” Serre said during a preview. “It’s all of the memory; how everything connects. Pragmatically,” she went on to say, “it’s been three years since we began. We’ve been doing a lot, being an extremely creative brand; we felt the urge to talk, ring the bell, raise the alarm, and reflect that in what we’ve created. This is maybe another moment. An opportunity to look at the interesting processes we’ve put in place; to really think about the garments and the materials we make them from – the transformation of those is really part of our creativity.” The collection is essentially a blueprint of all that Serre has accomplished since she launched the label, filled with her signatures. It’s also a pretty breathtaking and brilliant statement of what can be achieved in the space of three short years; what can emerge when you harness talent with a clear sense of purpose and convictions about what constitutes your values.

There are plenty of Serre’s upcycled silk scarves, draped around sinuous black dresses, which have been accessorized with talismanic metal belts and petite chain-strap bags, while other scarves have been worked into tunics and tees. Deadstock leather in shades of black, tan, and brown is graphically patched, with an anthropomorphic feel into blazers with squared-off shoulders, biker pants, and jeans-style jackets, sometimes layered up with short dresses created out of antique tablecloths. And the now iconic crescent-moon-motif-embellished bodysuits and regenerated denim or else was mixed with more hybridity in the form of sweaters and dresses collaged out of upcycled knits. All of this was shot on a terrific cross-generational cast of characters, kids included. “It was interesting to revise what we’d already done,” said Serre. “Basically the goal was to bring more real life to our design process, to bring garments into daily life.” Her solution was to ask the team to try things on, give their feedback, then modify to make everything more relatable. The website also houses a charming series of depictions of those within the extended Serre label family, wearing a few of the pieces, and engaged with their routines. “Cooking, spending time with your mother, in the garden, playing with your dog…pleasures which are simple,” said Serre, describing the scenes. “Fashion has always been about a dream, and I don’t like that. Here, fashion is the last thing you see. What you see first are the people.” Serre’s thinking about the site is akin to the way she thinks about her designs. Visit, spend time, come back, visit again, get to know what something means and what it stands for. Nothing should ever be fleeting, or disposable, gone in the blink of an eye.

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.