The dream is still alive.
It’s not Tom, Tommy or Ralph, but a new generation of designers this New York Fashion Week who are shaping the look of American fashion — couture-like, quirky-special, inclusive and tech-enhanced, but above all democratic.
One silver lining of the pandemic is that it gave designers time and space to be creative, birthing new labels like Interior NYC.
“There’s a new wave of brands gaining momentum, and in time that will lead to real presence. What these brands do so beautifully is build community. And that’s really the future of fashion, it’s not monolithic any more, it’s grassroots,” said Interior co-founder Jack Miner, a veteran of Bode.
“It’s not big blowouts in the front row.…This is what the industry needs and is calling out for. It’s all happening now and we’re excited to be part of it,” said the designer who, with co-founder Lily Miesmer, will host their first presentation for their quirky-special luxury women’s wear collection Tuesday at Waverly Inn.
Others, like pop star favorite Colin LoCascio, used pandemic downtime to hone their brand visions by launching direct-to-consumer businesses. “Growing up in Queens, it’s such a dream to be part of New York Fashion Week. There is work to be done, but it’s made major strides in inclusion of different sizes and people,” said the designer of raver knits and faux-fur pieces, who also hosts his presentation Tuesday.
The industry, even at the highest levels, seems to be embracing the change.
“A successful fashion week doesn’t need to necessarily be anchored by marquee names, there is just as much talent and opportunity for American fashion with these new younger designers. And sometimes that’s where the innovation is happening,” said Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA, while noting that there is still a tight application process to win a spot on the calendar.
“This is really more about reclaiming our identity,” said IMG president of fashion events and properties Leslie Russo. “If you look back to the Battle of Versailles, New York has always been the underdog. But in the sense of culture, it has also always been the one pushing the envelope,” said the executive — touting her company’s role in promoting designers by bringing in brand partners like Keds, which is collaborating with Maisie Wilen on a runway capsule, and Afterpay, which will make Sergio Hudson’s collection immediately shoppable, as examples.
“Christopher John Rogers had his first runway show in partnership with IMG, and Markarian’s Alexandra O’Neill released her first look book on our platform, and now she’s on her second show and dressing Jill Biden,” said Russo.
IMG is partnering for the fourth season with the Black in Fashion Showroom, which has also played a role in helping elevate young and diverse talent in recent seasons. (IMG also adopted an inclusion rider for this season.)
“From fall ’21 when I first showed with the Black in Fashion Council, my brand took off, it was a crazy turning point,” said Marrisa Wilson, who has graduated from the showroom to the runway this season.
“Part of being more inclusive is supporting designers at an earlier start and not waiting for them to be at this big moment,” said BIF co-founder Lindsay Peoples Wagner. “People can be quick to judge a look book and say this doesn’t feel expensive or luxurious, but it may not feel expensive or luxurious at this moment because they don’t have access to the same fabrics as European designers and an atelier with 20 people customizing a fit of a garment. So it’s about being a little more open-minded and giving designers a chance.”
Designers have taken notice of the evolving American landscape.
“One reason I wanted to launch my collection in the U.S. is because the industry here supports young designers. I don’t think there is that support elsewhere,” said Bach Mai, a veteran of Maison Martin Margiela in Paris, who is hosting his first NYFW presentation of eveningwear on Wednesday, and recently joined the CFDA through the new tier of membership launched to encourage new designers to join.
“I also love how diverse talent has been growing here, that’s another reason I wanted to come back,” said the Texas-born Mai. “I remember Peter Do’s show last season, he’s another Vietnamese designer, and seeing his version of Vietnamese national dress on the runway was really touching. That’s something that really only happens in New York with so much authenticity. When I saw my name on that calendar, it was incredible.”
Here, WWD spotlights six emerging designers to watch this New York Fashion Week season.
Bio: A veteran of Maison Martin Margiela, where he worked alongside John Galliano (he still wears the trademark white coat), Mai, 33, is aiming to bring back the tradition of American couture with his dramatic, sexy and deliciously deranged eveningwear. A native of Houston who fell in love with couture through seeing Galliano’s Dior shows online, he is inspired by debutantes and society mavens alike.
Mai has backing from French fabric house Hurel Paris, which gives him access to textiles a young designer might not otherwise be able to afford. “We’ve never had this type of arrangement, but Hurel Paris has a long history of working with designers from Chanel onward. This allows us to come out of the shadows and be more open,” said Baptiste de Bermingham, co-managing director of the fifth-generation family-owned textile firm, of the partnership forged after he met Mai in Paris. “I was especially impressed by his vision for fabrics and passion for fashion history.”
Mai will hold is first NYFW after gaining traction last year dressing celebrities including Tessa Thompson in a black leather gown at the Gotham Awards, and Venus Williams in a silver lurex bias-cut gown at the premiere of “King Richard.”
P.O.V.: “America has a huge couture market. There is a lot of talk about Asia and the Middle East but why are there not more U.S. designers who understand couture? Not just the fantasy side, but the women who wear it in their lives.
I want to dress these women who I know, and I’m from Texas where a lot of them are.…It’s interesting Texas has such a stronghold on this particular genre. If you look at Brandon Maxwell, Tom Ford, Daniel Roseberry, we’re all Texas designers who do glamorous clothing. It’s something we live and breathe in Texas, so it’s the idea there should be an American designer who knows his client and is wanting to exalt craftsmanship. For so long New York has been synonymous with sportswear, but America is much more than one look.”
Fall 2022: “I love Cy Twombly, I grew up in Houston with the Cy Twombly gallery, and I was inspired by an exhibition called ‘Blooming’ that he did in Avignon, as well as by Japanese courtesans. I worked with several incredible fabrics, including a clear lurex that Hurel developed that’s treated with ombré color.”
The business side: “We’re still figuring out our hybrid model. After we made the last collection we talked to a lot of retailers, so we’re commercializing a lot of those pieces which will go to market this week. With this new collection, and I don’t want to call it couture because that has a very specific meaning, since we did really well with red carpet and we are out of dresses, a lot of these dresses could be for celebrities since we’re leading into red carpet season. This new model gives us the time to work on and develop gowns, then make them available commercially. It’s giving durability to the ideas we spend so much time and energy developing.”
Dream collab: “I used to design shoes for Prabal Gurung, so I love doing shoes which we don’t have capability to do at the moment. Another dream I’ve always wanted to do since I was young was a perfume. I already know the scent of my woman. One day!”
Puppets & Puppets
Bio: Founded in 2019 by artist Carly Mark, 33, Puppets & Puppets is a leader in what WWD has called the “new American grunge movement.” The contemporary-priced women’s brand has evolved to include conceptual pieces like spring’s leotards and hoop skirts alongside more salable, whimsical basics like fruit-printed denim, its bestselling “Puppets” sweaters (after Mark’s chihuahua terrier mix) and quirky accessories like a handbag with a resin cookie for a handle. After selling exclusively at Ssense, it has been picked up by Nordstrom and Bergdorf Goodman.
P.O.V.: “I come from a fine art background so everything I’ve been doing is from that perspective. Fashion is limitless to me. In New York there is a lot of commercial fashion but not a ton of what I’m doing. But it’s starting to rise to the surface and young designers are inspiring each other to do more,” Mark said.
Goal for the fall 2022 season: “To scale so the community can be part of what we’re doing while keeping sustainability in mind, choosing materials that are eco-friendly, going for higher quantities so people can afford the product, but not so high that it ends up in landfill.”
Dream collaborator: “New Balance, I want it so bad! I’d also love to do something more fashion-adjacent. Since a lot of things we have made are inspired by food, Milk Bar is the dream….I want to develop a nut-free, vegan, gluten-free cookie I then put on a bag.”
Fall 2022: The theme is Coven — “witch-inspired but an early 2000s loft-dwelling witch that’s very New York….,” said Mark. “There is something so feminist about witches, and I’m a lady CEO boss casting those spells.”
Bio: Now in his third season, luxury menswear designer McKnight, 27, nabbed the first investment by Maison Kitsuné’s Ventures to help with logistics, and was the inaugural winner of the Fred Segal and Black in Fashion Council Design Competition. “For me, the support has been incredible. Your biggest fear when starting your brand is that nobody notices,” he said.
P.O.V.: The Kith and Bode veteran is making an impression with his graphic knits, elegant workwear and brand story weaving in the Black experience. He worked with Dunhill designer Mark Weston to dress Josh O’Connor for the September 2021 Met Gala.
Why NYFW? “What’s amazing about a presentation is getting to interact with people face to face, there is intimate conversation happening.”
At retail: “My first season I retailed at Ssense and Nordstrom, and now I’m also at Frances May in Portland, 10 Corso Como, Nitty Gritty in Stockholm and other specialty stores. I’m hoping to expand more globally in Asia and Europe…I’m doing well in the U.S. but not as many buyers are traveling because of COVID[-19]. My goal is to reach as many people as I can and tell my story.”
Dream collab: “I’m working on a few, so that’s tough. Probably a sneaker collab.”
Fall 2022: “This collection is about work. I had this conversation with a security guard at the store I used to work at, Club Monaco on 57 Street, he was from the Caribbean and had this whole thing about loving the cold weather because it made him work best, which was funny coming from someone from the Caribbean…So I’m exploring work and how it relates to productivity in cold weather.
“I looked at the Black experience of work over the course of history, some of it darker than others, from the Reconstruction era to today. For Black folks in particular, there was certain work that was considered good work. I wanted to explore that. My grandfather owned a leather goods supply store and fixed carriages, and my parents are lawyers. There is a progression from generation to generation. My family has been here since the slave era, and getting to see them going from doing more blue collar work to become lawyers is sort of amazing.”
On the topic of inclusion in fashion: “It’s a work in progress. I see a lot of brands rising, but my biggest hope is not even that everyone goes out and starts a brand but that when you get into rooms and corporate spaces where people are making decisions, that you see more people like me and my colleagues. I do think it helps when there are people better able to speak to their experience.”
Bio: The first generation Guyanese-American, 28, founded her advanced contemporary womenswear brand in 2019, focusing on vibrant hand drawn or digitally rendered prints and color-blocking on wearable silhouettes like mock-neck midi dresses, and her statement Billie blazers with contrast lapels and a wrap front with side tie. She’s having her first runway show this season.
P.O.V.: “My customer is a cool, easygoing, laid-back woman. I dig into prints and textiles, and like to work in bodies that are familiar…I work with high-low color, playing with texture, and maybe a pop of something on the inner sleeve,” she said.
Goal for the season: “We’re trying to push into department stores. I believe in partnerships and building relationships, and being able to show that season after season. Conversations have been happening, they realize the brand is still around and now we’re doing runway.”
Dream collab: Wilson collaborated with Levi’s on a capsule collection for International Women’s Day in 2021. Hopefully, next? “Footwear, I love shoes.”
Fall 2022: “I was inspired by the convergence of digital and physical identities. I want to make sure in this new world of the metaverse there is space for women and women of color to express themselves and experiment.
“We will have a core collection on the runway, and see now, buy now commerce enabled by a livestream partnership with IMG. We are working with the CreateMe Knitwear Center in Brooklyn to fulfill the garment production in real time, building this narrative of local for local. The tech in their facility does full garment knitting that comes out of the machine seamlessly and is sustainable because there is less wastage. That beanie and vest my model is wearing are part of that.
“We will also have NFTs that authenticate some of the real garments on the runway. I was inspired by my professor of illustration, Glenn Tunstull, who illustrated for WWD for years, and I wanted to bring some of my hand-rendered illustrations into the digital space, and make some of them animations. We are going to share some tips on how to set up your digital wallet, communicate that out, and make sure people are able to actually purchase it.”
Bio: Friends since eighth grade, Jack Miner and Lily Miesmer, both 33, started their luxury womenswear brand in 2020, and were picked up exclusively their first two seasons by Net-a-porter to be part of the retailer’s Vanguard program. The collection is marked by fluid feminine tailoring, patchwork silk jackets and quirky pieces like a fruit-charm dinner shirt. They will have their first presentation at the Waverly Inn.
P.O.V.: “We like specialness, things that are emotive, like emo, that are right with a little bit of wrong — stuff that’s a little uncanny or weird. We’ve always been that way, we could observe the market and say there is a lack of specialness at a certain price point. It feels like there are plenty of luxe modular basics that feed into a neutral wardrobe, but that’s not really what we’re good at making or have the heart to make. It’s way more fun to make a silk shirt that has mohair-embroidered spider webs all over it, which we’re working on now for fall. People want the weird, if you know you know. That’s how the product came to look the way it looks,” said Miesmer.
Why the runway? “To show what the brand is about you have to put on your fever dream of an event, but the constraint is money. The Waverly Inn has worked with us and we’re so grateful. Restaurants are my version of partying and I love dinner, so what better place to show the clothes than where we envision them being worn, that desire line between someone’s apartment, getting into a car, getting out at the restaurant and sitting down? The whole thing feels very glam and New York, so I love that’s the journey the clothes will be on in the show,” said Miesmer.
Goal for the season: “Now that our exclusivity [with Net-a-porter] is ending, we have an opportunity to bring product to market that could be picked up by others as well. That was the reason to do the presentation, to give people the vision to experience the brand in a more tangible way. It felt like the right time to make an investment,” said Miner.
Fall 2022: “Feels a little darker and grungier and dystopian, like a fisherman’s sweater with a cable pattern that goes off the rails and falls apart, that’s a through line. A silk dress is beautiful, but with copper thread woven through that looks like it’s decaying. One cheerful expression is our collaboration with the artist Richard Haines, who painted on some actual styles for us. We love anything tricky or trompe l’oeil. He drew on buttons, darts and pockets on jackets and silk shirting underneath. It’s very subtle but expressive.”
Our customer is: “A woman…I’m not a girl anymore, I’m 33…I’m a grown-ass woman now, and I don’t want to be in cropped tops. Our woman will never be uncomfortable or too exposed. She’s sexy and revealing on her terms — and intellectual,” said Miesmer. “We’ll never get pulled for ‘Euphoria,’ but maybe we’ll be on Richmom TikTok!”
Bio: The former Kendall and Kylie designer has worked for Marc Jacobs, Adam Selman and is senior ready-to-wear designer at Retrofete. After years of making made-to-order clothes for celebrities, he launched his namesake contemporary women’s label for fall 2020. His whimsical raver-printed mesh pieces, fun knits, faux furs and accessories have been worn by Cardi B, Anitta and Lady Gaga.
Pandemic pivot: “When I had a made-to-order business and worked with a lot of celebrities, I didn’t have infrastructure to produce. But during the pandemic, I launched by collection direct-to-consumer on my website, and got to reconnect with those customers who followed me over the years. They were able to get their hands on it, and that informed my design decisions and still does now, seeing what they bought,” said LoCascio, 28, who is hoping to pick up retail accounts this season.
My customer: “Women wearing my stuff are open to wearing younger brands, they take pride in wearing younger designers. When I first started, all people wanted was to be in big brands,” he said. “I went to RISD, a lot of my friends went to art school, too, and as they were getting older and progressing in their careers, they had a hard time dressing because they wanted to be the fun, cool party girls but also respected in meetings. In my brand, she can still be the fun, edgy party girl but when something is due, they know she means it.”
Fall 2022: “I’m leaning into Bridge and Tunnel from the 1980s and ’90s.…I’m from Queens, I’m fan of Fran Drescher, so it will be quirky but a little more grunge. I launched vegan leather, so there will be lots of patchwork and some new accessories.”
Dream collab: “I studied toy design and have always been interested in stuffed animals and soft toys…Maybe Bratz, oh my god, Bratz is it!”