Performance. Vaquera AW21

The dancing theme, whether it’s Erdem‘s ballerinas or Dries Van Noten‘s emotional contemporary dance production, is having a moment this season. It’s natural: we’re year in global lockdowns, and we all want to shake it off. For autumn-winter 2021, Vaquera‘s Claire Sullivan, Patric DiCaprio and Bryn Taubensee were inspired by the sensation of “waiting to go back out in the world, to go onstage.” That’s why you see an oversized tee that reads “Runway Star” and Tonya Harding–style leotards. Of course, performance is central to the Vaquera mystique and they’re hoping to be back at it by showtime in September, but the downtime of the last year has helped them to grow in other ways. New York’s perennial cool kids are growing up. The latest line-up marks their second season under the Dover Street Market umbrella and the Vaquera lifestyle is expanding. There’s without a doubt a new level of finesse to the new season’s vegan leather motorcycle jackets; they call them “real” pieces. The collection also takes cues from the way the designers themselves are dressing. There are sweatshirts fused with bras and slip dresses, and the front panel of one skirt is embellished with a pair of satiny panties. A turtleneck collaged with found scraps retains the DIY spirit that has defined their work since the beginning, and a very large brassiere worn as a tank is an example of the proportion play that is another hallmark of their earliest collections. Many designers this season end up with offerings that are somewhere between WFH comfort and optimistic vision of finally going out to the world. Vaquera checks all the boxes.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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.

Four Brands, One Runway. Section 8, Creatures of The Wind, CDLM & Vaquera SS20

This is a long post, as we’ve got four brands on one catwalk. Yes, really! But seeing designer solidarity in New York makes sense: the schedule got tighter, the locations seem to be worlds apart, the costs for show venues are rising (unless you’re showing on a street, which becomes more and more popular this season) and catching everybody’s attention IRL and on social media is an art in its own rights today. Section 8, Creatures of The Wind, CDLM (which is actually by Creatures of The Wind designers) and Vaquera, all in one place, under one roof.

Lets start with Section 8, which I’ve discovered just now. The label first appeared as an anonymous collective back in 2017, staging its debut at a tiny gallery in Chinatown. Since then, stylist Akeem Smith has stepped out of the shadows as the label’s designer and has slowly been edging the brand into the spotlight. For his spring-summer 2020, models came down the runway with second-skin fishnet body stockings layered under body-hugging crop tops and butterfly-shaped bras that were cut from the body. Smith isn’t afraid to mine complicated sociopolitical subject matter for inspiration (the brand takes its name from the U.S. government’s low-income housing voucher system, by the way). As part of his research the designer visited the Jim Crow Museum, whose archive of racial propaganda is now being used as an educative tool to promote social justice. To wit, the bustled silhouette of the midi- and maxi-length skirts were a nod to the turn of the last century, when segregation laws were first enforced. Though the historical references were anything but literal, they resonated on a deeper level in the context of an all-black cast.

Creatures of The Wind and CDLM are two labels that show together, even in the same looks, without distinguishing who’s who. About a year ago, Chris Peters of Creatures of the Wind launched CDLM, with a plan to work in a more sustainable manner, focusing on upcycling and repurposing, picking washed and worn tie-dyed tees with sun-bleached vintage cotton nightdresses. Now Shane Gabier, Peters’s design- and life partner whom he cofounded Creatures of The Wind with, is also working with him on CDLM, and each label is operating with the same eco-minded concept. For spring-summer 2020, the designers offer striped rugby shirts stitched together to form long dresses, slouchy, XXL shoulder bags worked up out of deadstock croc-stamped leather and jackets made out of vintage denim patches. The way they style their looks is as inspiring as the sustainability aspect behind the garments. There are no specific references or inspirations behind the clothes. But they look really cool, and I’m fine with that.

Vaquera’s line-up was the most charismatic and bold of all the four brands, but by that I don’t mean it was the best. Patric DiCaprio, Claire Sullivan and Bryn Taubensee were inspired by life and its downs, and knowing their always-exaggerated way of doing things, they played with different archetypes and cliches that affiliate with daily life in the Big Apple. “It’s mostly about being let down in different ways: on Valentine’s Day, by the fashion industry—by New York,” DiCaprio said before the show. Taubensee continued: “We’ve learned it’s empowering to be frustrated and disheartened. In this new collection, you’ll see more of the old Vaquera, where we’re just like, ‘Fuck it, let’s just do it.’” Pin-stripe suits were cut and shaped into bustiers and big head-pieces (bye, corporate life!); over-sized slip-dresses and the bride’s dress in black were all about romance, messed up by dark humor; the big heart ‘dress’ looked like the previously mentioned take on Valentine’s Day and the moment you really l ove(or hate) that cheesy, heart-shaped box of chocolates. Vaquera likes being literal, loud and sometimes even ridiculous. That’s why I adore this brand: it doesn’t take fashion too serious. It actually mocks it.

Four collections on one runway might feel like too much. But seeing Section 8, Creatures of The Wind, CDLM and Vaquera together shows that the young and niche designers in New York have a viewpoint, a stance and do what they really want to (especially breaking the industry’s rules).

All collages by Edward Kanarecki.