“It’s really just an excuse to get all your friends together,” said a young set designer seated next to me at the Puppets and Puppets runway show. He was commenting on the kind of shows for spring/summer 2022 that are an antidote to the business-as-usual tony old guard of NYFW. For these designers fostering a community triumphs over courting a celebrity, fun and chaos replace the elitism and bitchiness of yesteryear. The atmosphere is a mixture of pop-up, block party, impromptu gig. At art school the limited budget for supplies and materials cannot halt creativity but the woes of our debt to Mother Nature, those sustainability overdrafts, cause these designers the utmost concern.
The Puppets and Puppets show was held in the Ukrainian National Home in Manhattan’s East Village, and the lines of preening young attendees all with their phones out wound around the corner infuriating the owner of Veselka restaurant at peak brunch hour.
“How has the pandemic affected us mentally— are we still haunted by it?” read the show notes for the collection which, although inspired by the roaring twenties, maintained the art world sensibility of co-founder Carly Mark whose drop waist silhouettes were not paired with flapper purses of beaded fringe but totes made of gold Christmas tinsel. China saucers were stuck to models’ behinds and an oversized Emmental adorned heads. The feeling was a melancholic celebration. “We are teetering the line between hauntedness and hopefulness.”
Streetwear label Head of State founded by Nigeria-born Taofeek Abijako hosted dancer Abu Bakar onto the runway for the brand’s womenswear launch entitled Homecoming. The designer describes his brand as a “representation of postcolonial youth today” with all proceeds going to underserved communities.
Welcome the new guard of NYFW
This sense of engagement mixed with a do-it-yourself glamor and an elevation of mundanity are the art-school trademarks. They were present right from the opening day of NYFW when Saint Sinter created a playground of stacked furnished neon cubes and strung up foam clouds above an astroturf runway bordered with lawn chairs and chintzy sofas. It echoed the dysfunctional apartment living that has united New Yorkers over the past eighteen months. Guests got their seating assignment and vaccination card checked at that most commonplace location: the newspaper kiosque out front.
The braless conditions of lockdown dressing have also advanced the Free the nipple movement. Trompe l’oeil boobs adorned knitwear at Puppets while nude dresses were a feature at Private Policy and Saint Sinter. But these were not the floor-length ruched tulle columns worn by Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé or Megan Fox. Short and bouncy, these runway dresses were like repurposed beaded curtains that danced with the sound of maracas.
Greenery emerged from white pots at Private Policy, evocative of how we became plant parents during lockdown while the lush bouquets that splashed the runway at Jason Wu were integral to the process of creating his collection. Flowers were rolled up in fabric so that they left an imprint. While Wu’s formal occasionwear does not naturally sit with the style of the other collections mentioned, he is taking the flowers to Pratt to deliver a workshop to the students on natural dyeing, so perhaps an honorary membership to the art school crew is in order.
Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry