Just as New York Fashion Week brought the fashion flocks to New York (or at least out in public en masse), the invasive plant-eating Chinese Lantern Fly invasion for the season also peaked. However, they usually end up squashed on the pavement, while the former moves to London. A crop of indie designers such as Puppets and Puppets, Willy Chavarria, and Luar demonstrated a distinctive New York point of view.
Puppets and Puppets
Carly Mark, the fine artist-turned-designer of Puppets and Puppets, proved that New York still holds a few secret spots. The gymnasium of the Immaculate Conception church’s former school, accessed by a cloister, was a site to discover on East 14th Street. For Mark, it added to her brand’s quirkiness and DIY nature. For starters, guests were greeted by dancing mechanical plush animals, some bearing the viral cookie bag.
Backstage, speaking to the press, she talked about how the city inspired the collection. “This collection was about feeling haunted by memories and also about me and what it feels like to be a woman living in New York,” Mark said, noting that Jazz musician Ajilo, who played during the show, is someone she sees during her daily commute, complete with the dancing toys.
Asking herself ‘what do I want to wear?’ was specific to the edgy, cool downtown slash Bushwick world she lives in. Yet, her work evoked the trauma of the pandemic years and how to process that and be a woman in New York, according to the designer.
One answer was to infuse sporty staples such as T-shirts, hoodies, and pull-on pants that had evolved into something that also exudes glamour. In the case of exaggerated pants with side pockets that helped the pants jut out like 18th-century pannier skirts.
It also meant what Mark’s woman, who tends to live downtown or Bushwick or be arts-centric, wears to socialize. In this case, think asymmetry, silver sequins, unusual draping techniques, brocade, embellishments, and shapes and lengths for all. A couple of silk satin skirts with a front-facing train were kept off the floor via a mouthpiece holding up the fabric. In a literal reference to haunting, Mark and her team referenced turn-of-the-(20th) photography depicting seances.
“The photography medium was new and produced fake ghost-sighting photos; it was a trick of the eye. So, I thought what about a dress or skirt turned into that gesture? It’s not disconnected from that haunted feeling in the city and a person trying to get through a crazy day,” Mark offered.
If that design element looked to the past, another aspect was rooted squarely in the present. The collection featured a couple of mesh, sheer, photo prints that were generated by AI.
“I have the best employees; we talk and listen to each other. One day we were talking about a T-shirt printing project, wondering who was going to give us a good deal and I said ‘It’s my boyfriend. He lives in New Jersey with his parents and listens to metal in his basement,'” she said obviously joking.
An assistant using the AI platform Midjourney, uploaded the conversation and it yielded a print revolving around a person fitting that description while another conversation produced a unicorn print.
“A lot of what I do is organic. I think AI is okay as a tool maybe, not to take over the world,” she said.
Mark’s ‘best employees’ include a new design team that has visibly upgraded the production quality of the goods, poising the brand to continue to grow. Accessories are a big part of the brand’s success, and this season Mark introduced a new bag with an organic shape. Though it slightly recalled a Galliano-era Dior saddle bag, Mark gave it her own twist by using an ordinary metal kitchen ladle bent as the shoulder strap. Its practical comfort level is TBD, but it’s the kind of (non-AI) conversation Puppets and Puppets started since day one.
Willy Chavarria’s jumping point of the season began with last season’s palette cleanser, an all-black dressier collection that was monastic and romantic. According to the designer, it was also to prove his acumen as a designer that went beyond the mostly inaccurate streetwear designer label that he was given.
In an about-face and to address the season, Chavarria lightened up the mood with a palette that was big on white and khaki to address the warmer season among other reasons. It was also closer to home than any of his previous outings.
“This season is the most emotional collection so far. It refers back to my authentic self as a designer, taking elements of cultural references that inspired me and fashion period,” Chavarria told FashionNetwork.com backstage.
The Mexican-American designer hails from Fresno and hugely identifies with the Chicano culture he grew up in. Chavarria is helping to promote the resurgence of this style which has been trending on social media platforms of late.
“The hats are referencing Machismo for me. It was something my grandfather wore and originates from men who worked in the fields and wore the hat all day. It’s a symbol of manhood, though the Machismo idea is so different now. It doesn’t mean the same as it did before so now, we see it on all types of people,” he offered.
Thus, Pachuco fedora-style hats adorned with oversized red satin roses were generally paired with the tailored looks that featured strong shoulders, often nipped waists, and double-breasted jackets paired with Chavarria’s signature voluminous pants and shorts. These were also shown on women, but this didn’t signal a brand extension.
“It’s 2023. All my clothes are non-binary,” he affirmed.
While he nailed that date, the clothes were meant to reference everything from the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 60s, but also the future. An example cited was the sequins on tops and pants. The models with long, often kinky hair types had their tresses sculpted into bulbous organic shapes with the help of hair nets that completed the looks with a futuristic, yet referential mood.
The tailoring was also combined with Chavarria’s take on streetwear—i.e., lots of mesh and track styles—appeared to introduce some tongue-in-cheek logo treatments that played upon the athletic sportswear giants’ markers. The designer also seemed to signal a new category; underwear, in a series of tank and brief styles that were distressed and discolored. Maybe another reference to work in the fields? It also rang true of the world’s poorest, especially children who are often seen in such tattered garb. Taken like that, it felt in poor taste.
His signature nods to Catholicism and Christianity were also spotted; Chavarria holds the church near and dear thanks to its chic quotient. He has even shown in a church though this season chose the beauty of the Woolworth Building in lower Manhattan. The models descended a marble staircase as they took to the runway. Only select seating sections witnessed this and saw the entire collection walk as a production snafu left some models skipping parts of the runway.
Chavarria is a talent and wants to be regarded among the greats.
“Last season I was doing something to be perceived at the highest level of design; top tier such as Oscar de la Renta or Yves Saint Laurent. It’s still that but I really dug into my own personal influences and the cultural references that built me as a designer,” he said.
His audience wants that too, but that regard is also holistic. The production of Willy Chavarria’s show could also be elevated to be timelier and more organized to get to the place he deserves.
Raul Lopez of Luar has taken over the New York Fashion Week top spot once held by Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford, as the last show of the season. Given his passionate fan base, his show creates the kind of frenzy of excitement as those of his predecessors (and that of his first endeavor Hood by Air with partner, Shayne Oliver).
The day following his show, the CFDA announced the nominees of its next award ceremony in early November which saw Lopez as the only designer-slash-brand nominated in two categories: American Womenswear Designer of the Year and American Accessory Designer of the Year, so it’s a deserved spot.
The nomination moving from the emerging designer category to the established designer is an indicator of growth in the right direction. However, it doesn’t mean that progress doesn’t include some pain.
Lopez seemed to address this conflict in the show notes of his Spring 2024 show that took place deep in industrial Bushwick, Brooklyn, relaying a story from his native Dominican Republic where he witnessed the dichotomy of religion and hedonism in the same spot; El Hoyo, or the Hole.
As this apparently occurred while in a car, a structure resembling a tire was in the middle of the room and sets of flood lights to mimic headlights faced each other on each side of the room.
Adding to this contemplative moment, the designer heard a song at the same time called Socorro, which means ‘help’ but also his mother’s name, which became the collection’s name. Lopez examined how each side considers the other and is ultimately pulled back to their path of salvation or oblivion. This got the designer considering his own notion of being ‘pulled back’ to his roots as his star rises in the industry. It’s a valid question as the designer’s wares could be seen as niche.
Lopez depicted this weight on his shoulder by focusing many of the designs on the shoulder which were strong, wide, and often exaggerated. A sign of design acumen came via cleverly extended shirt collars that protruded off the back of the neck, a literal depiction of pulled back. His use of cracked leather was an ode to the walls of El Hoyo.
The collection also offered the Luar brand of sexy; whether it meant peek-a-boo hemlines or strappy cutaway bodices held in place with brand logo L hardware or men in pants wearing heels. He played with the idea of revealing and modesty with skirts that button up or not to show more leg. In fact, the lower extremities came in focus via fur-trimmed gym shorts, miniskirts and a long fishtail skirt that cuts out the fabric at the thigh to the calf; a clever idea that made for some awkward walking.
It was also tempered with some smart tailored looks, cool enough for the kids to desire. Lopez also showed the options for evening with a group of black beaded embellished styles for a fresh take on black tie. Floor length outerwear came mainly in the form of a pleather or vinyl, perfect to fend offspring rains and still look fabulous. It also reminded that protecting oneself is always a good look.
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