NEW YORK — The search for hot new talent is an endless one. And while there are a multitude of young downtown designers aiming to make the cut, only a select few manage to rise to the occasion. Nevertheless, despite the competition, there seemed to be an underground movement this season — a tiny clique intent on supporting each other’s efforts.
A case in point: When newcomer Jess Holzworth showed her debut collection last week, her friend Chloe Sevigny walked the runway while another pal, I.O.C. overnight sensation Tara Subkoff, turned up to cheer from the sidelines. An artist, designer and musician, Holzworth, 27, decided to go solo after a stint at Susan Cianciolo. This season she came up with a collection of 13 all-black looks in a style that can best be summed up as a debauched Holly Golightly, or as Holzworth put it, “dainty-evil.”
Her inspiration was drawn from Bob Fosse, the world of dance and the timeless look of classic Hollywood films, all souped-up with a healthy dose of edge — sweet dresses with bows at the front, vintage-looking jackets with flower pins or cord details, pleated skirts with black shirts and a long peasant skirt with a striped top and jacket. The girls wore pearls and slumped down the runway with plenty of can’t-be-bothered attitude, which, Holzworth explains, was an attempt at “being real.” And though she is chummy with the highly political Subkoff, she says she has no plans to launch any manifestos of her own. Benjamin Cho, another member of the downtown society, lived up to the advance hype that surrounded his collection. He presented his small avant-garde line to a packed house on Thursday evening, which included Claire Danes and many who’d attended Holzworth’s show, at the Angel Orensanz Foundation. Out came his signature, silk-braided fringe pieces worked into dresses, a corset and a slew of perfectly tailored suits, each draped to perfection, though he didn’t have to show quite so many to make his point.
That same night, Morteza Saifi presented a small, beautifully constructed collection on Lispenard Street. There were skillfully tailored suit jackets and trousers, a gorgeous backless drape-front sweater, and a dress with pleated details. Sometimes things got a bit tricky, but the pieces were undeniably appealing, something that cannot be said of the models’ distracting hair styles.
Longtime downtowner Pierre Carrilero staged his first proper runway show this season under the label Pierrot. As reported earlier, he has done knits for Miguel Adrover, but Carrilero is a designer with his own vision. For fall, the Frenchman demonstrated his love for Americana with campy knits inspired by the time he’s spent in Michigan. Models exited a tent and proceeded down a runway, covered in packed dirt and dried leaves, wearing varsity sweaters and knit cheerleader skirts, camouflage hunting gear and sweaters decorated with Native American motifs such as a howling wolf or deer head. All naive, yet unquestionably witty. There was also some simpler fare in the form of cabled sweaters, but the audience preferred the camp, and he certainly delivered there.
Young designer Markus Huemer showed his Unit collection in a movie theater at the Anthology Film Archives building.The designer sent out only a few looks, all simple and clean-cut, but each had a unique detail that made it distinctive. There was a top with elbow insets, an off-the-shoulder corduroy top worn with narrow pants, a silk satin dress with draping on the sleeves and a T-shirt dress with gathered insets. While it was a strong effort and a good try at originality, other looks fell short when they got too gimmicky.
Looking to the future while referencing the past, Sonja Rubin and Kip Chapelle, the design duo at Rubin Chapelle, showed their small, modern collection of Grecian-inspired tops and front-placket pants with displaced pockets in an old garage. Some pieces, such as the tulip-cut pants, were a bit much, but the sweaters, loose trousers, pinstripe skirts and chiffon tops were all sure-fire winners. Meanwhile, Diva Pittala and Adrian Cowen of People Used To Dream About The Future showed a mini collection of nine pieces at the Downtown Community Television Center on Lafayette Street. While four or five of the looks — the turtlenecks, denim pants, the white blouse and a jumpsuit — were great, the rest were lost in the designers’ penchant for quick tricks.
Finally, Behnaz Sarafpour presented a solid premiere collection of 12 looks. Also known as the talent behind the Barneys New York label, which she will continue to design, she has worked at Anne Klein, Narciso Rodriguez, Richard Tyler and Isaac Mizrahi. Sarafpour says that the reason she wanted to do her own collection was to create pieces that “aren’t about what the whole country wears.” She showed a black-and-white trompe l’oeil tuxedo dress, a T-shirt with an Elizabethan-style lace collar and some lace leggings under a tuxedo coat and cummerbund.

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