Carly Mark has always been attracted to oddities. The fine-artist-turned-fashion-designer looks to peculiar themes for her Puppets and Puppets collections, exploring bizarre universes through the language of clothing.
For spring, that entailed a wide pivot toward Nicole Kidman’s character in the film “Eyes Wide Shut,” as well as a suite of drawings by Gutave Doré depicting Dante’s Inferno.
“In the movie, Nicole Kidman is an incredibly powerful, intelligent and confident woman. Especially with the evolution of my business — to my surprise I’m growing into a confident New York businesswoman. I think I relate to her character more than ever before. Now it’s all about finding an intersection between the creative and business,” said Mark.
While Puppets and Puppets started more as an art fashion project — which Mark established alongside a since-departed co-designer — to her surprise it’s “turned into a full-scale business.”
This season was her first working with new hire Gahee Lim, formerly of labels including The Row and Sies Marjan, as consulting design director. Vintage dealer and fashion bon vivant David Moses styled the show in collaboration with Kerri Scales. More than 300 people, the brand’s largest audience, attended to see the end result.
The suiting that has always been part of the Puppets narrative — with its shrunken French New Wave proportions — opened the show in ode to Mark’s newfound corporate prowess and the confidence she shares with Kidman’s on-screen persona.
There were stretch jersey basics — all made in collaboration with the early Aughts T-shirt brand Michael Stars, which is now vying for a comeback. Commercial potential also came courtesy of Puppets’ best-selling “Cookie” bags, little lady bags with a resin cookie attached to its front.
Each season Mark updates the cookie and adds a limited run of other desserts to make them collectible. This season, the cookie’s chocolate chips were replaced with rhinestones. She also made bags affixed with resin versions of Little Debbie’s Cosmic Brownies — angling her bags toward an audience that appreciates an inside joke.
But her business instincts told her that wasn’t enough. Mark, looking to improve things further, worked with Katie Hillier this season to fine-tune the bag’s construction and functional features for a better user experience.
For spring, Puppets and Puppets abandoned some of the tropes it had looked to since its 2019 founding. Historic references from centuries past — the epaulets, peplums and hoop skirts Puppets had used as a means to cut a directional form — were mostly gone.
Instead, Mark streamlined her outlook on escapism for a fresher approach — leaning on close-fitting jersey and backless dresses, many of them draped so low as to expose the top of the buttocks. Mark’s cheeky sense of showmanship remained — with butterflies adorning models’ cheeks and butt cracks.
The designer seems to be capitalizing on this moment, when New York Fashion is trying to redefine itself in the post-COVID-19 era. With all the commercialized endeavors this week, the industry seems to appreciate Mark — who is out there flying what she’s proudly described as a freak flag.
If there are still doubts that Mark can’t modulate her artistic instincts — take a look at the sculptural practice from her fine arts era past and see how far she’s toned it down. She has a level of self-awareness and tenacity to go the extra mile.
“I’m pretty fearless. It’s so hard and you have to be crazy to keep going, but I’ve somehow figured out how to fill that New York gap. There are a lot of commercial brands here and I’m still putting weird things down the runway, but I care about keeping my lights on. I like to wear clothes to look good, but I’m weird,” she said.