This pandemic season, Fendi shipped logo pasta, Kenzo mailed branded honey, and Prada sent Marchesi 1824 tea and biscuits, all to humanize their brands and connect with runway viewers across time zones in front of their screens.
But Joseph Altuzarra’s collection care package felt the most intimate — a handwritten note and a copy of the novel “Dune” with fabric swatches, sketches and photocopied photos of portraits and sculptures tucked between the pages. “I’m not usually a sci-fi person, but there was something really relevant about the survivalist narrative and what they wear in the desert,” the designer said of the first book he read in quarantine, which ended up loosely inspiring the collection he showed Saturday via a runway film.
While holed up in New York, he also did a lot of soul-searching. “Pre-COVID-19, as a small company, we were trying to compete with the big guys, and have this façade of polish. But I’ve learned to embrace my vulnerability and the emotional quality I bring to the brand as a strength and not as a weakness. The fact we can do things like this, and I’m literally putting these things together for every single person, there is a messy quality to it, and it’s not something big brands can do.”
The thought process reinvigorated Altuzarra’s creativity, and his collection was brilliant for it, like a breeze swept through and lightened everything up.
He played with volume on a cocooning white poplin caped shirt dress that would be a forever classic, deflated couture pretenses with an olive-green ribbed merino knit cape dress with looped hem that seemed to dance around the body, and telegraphed ease with wrap sweaters, bouncy pleated jersey bubble-hem skirts and knit totes made from deadstock fabric shredded and woven into yarn.
Less lady than laid-back, tailoring was also relaxed, with drawstring pants and cinch-waist blazers, some in featherweight leather, and draped camisoles matched to trousers creating a new kind of suit.
Altuzarra’s take on lounge was also inventive — a ribbed knit bra with gingham patch pocket pants an elevated take on pajamas, for one, and a pinafore dress a marvel of patchworked shirt stripes, pin-tucking, side-buttoning and pleating.
Other special details, like mother-of-pearl buttons and freshwater pearls on cage body pieces were sourced from job lots bought on Etsy during quarantine, making the brand feel more hand-touched than ever.
Not forgetting his pleating specialty, Altuzarra developed a new technique involving cut, seamed and heat-pressed pleats for a gorgeous tentacle-like effect on halter tops and skirts. “They took three months to make,” he said of the graceful pieces. “They move like jellyfish.” Just the thing to survive on a hostile planet.