Celebrities, Fashion and Beauty

New York’s new energy

New York’s new energy

New York’s new energy
October 28
02:03 2018

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New York City’s fashion landscape is morphing. For years, the city’s runways have been seen by the industry as the home of commercial, even conservative, collections. But in recent seasons, something new has entered the flow: a growing force of labels that are championing progressive programmes, seeking to represent a wider range of consumers, and carving out creative niches that span celebrity-splashy to artfully subtle.

Call it New York’s new energy. To name a few of its leading lights: Telfar, by Telfar Clemens, a label that has been around since 2005 but that really hit the big time last year, when Clemens won the Council of Fashion Designers of America Fashion Fund Award; Chromat, by Becca McCharen-Tran, which blends technological swim- and athletic-wear with a message of zero-barrier-to-entry inclusivity; Vaquera, by Patric DiCaprio, Claire Sully and Bryn Taubensee, which tackles contemporary identity with a do-it-yourself vibe; Pyer Moss, where designer Kerby Jean-Raymond is examining what it is to be a black designer in America today. And then there’s Christian Cowan, a British designer based in New York, whose over-the-top aesthetic has landed his designs everywhere from Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy album cover to the animated TV series American Dad; and Matthew Adams Dolan, refabricating Americana through modern craft.

None of these brands is officially linked. Collectively, though, they are the faces of a more dynamic, forward-thinking and all-embracing American fashion industry.

Pyer Moss AW18
Pyer Moss AW18

The turbulent sociopolitical climate in the US may have encouraged designers to blaze forward with a more outspoken agenda — but this shift has been in the works for some time. Editors, influencers and critics have been calling for more diversity on the catwalks for years. And fashion consumers have become more demanding. They do not want mass. They want niche. They want individuality. They want to say something different with their clothes.

Cami James and Nadia Napreychikov founded their label Discount Universe in Melbourne, Australia, in 2010, but the pair have become far better known since moving their brand to New York in 2017. “The reputation from outside was that [New York] was super-commercial in comparison to other major fashion weeks,” says Jones. “But in recent years, it feels as if it has shifted a little. Had we arrived earlier, a brand of our flavour might not have been taken seriously.”

Eckhaus Latta AW18 © Jason Lloyd-Evans
Eckhaus Latta AW18 © Jason Lloyd-Evans

James and Napreychikov are confident they can adhere to their ethos without having to cave in to the commercial. “We are in a market flooded with wearable and traditional,” says Napreychikov. “It feels as though there is less desire for brands that fit the mould.”

Cowan agrees. “There [has been] such an overwhelming commercial presence of super-houses in New York that [we were] due for an uprising of fresh talent.” Cowan’s approach to business is also notable, focused as it is on bringing his most flamboyant wares to market. “We dress celebrities, we gauge what has the largest reaction, and we take the best-performing styles into the retail environment,” he says.

Christian Cowan SS19 © Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Christian Cowan SS19 © Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

At Eckhaus Latta, designers Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta take a quieter, more considered approach to ready-to-wear: last summer, their work was recognised by New York’s Whitney Museum, which held an exhibition around the brand. “New York allows young people to be left to their own devices,” says Latta, “and I think that creates more progressive ideas.”

Vaquera AW18 © Dan & Corina Lecca

Clemens has been a striking voice in American fashion since starting Telfar in 2005. Imbued in his work is a hyper-smart, often moving representation of black and queer communities. But his relationship to consumer culture is pragmatic: he designed the uniforms for the fast-food chain White Castle.

Discount Universe SS19 © Alessandro Garofalo
Discount Universe SS19 © Alessandro Garofalo

Does Clemens think that New York’s fashion industry has become more progressive? “There was an apparatus that suppressed black designers and queer culture that has kind of disintegrated,” he says. “It can’t really show its face any more, even if it still holds the keys.”

But there are limits, he argues, to the city’s breaking down of barriers to entry. “It is more likely than not that fashion could follow the model of sports and music — fields where the majority of athletes and performers are black but ownership and management is almost all white. Representation is a good thing — but it’s not the whole thing.”

Matthew Adams Dolan AW18 © Shawn Brackbill
Matthew Adams Dolan AW18 © Shawn Brackbill

And when it comes to the overall evolution of the industry in New York — and, by extension, the US — Clemens offers a stark conclusion. “America is setting the tone culturally and aesthetically for the entire world, as far as I am concerned. But America is on fire; if fashion is about the future, we are living it here, for better and worse.”

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