Depop Couture Takes Over New York Fashion Week

Fashion
A stripe of artist-adjacent weirdo fashion is challenging the establishment.

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Daniel Zuchnik

Fashion week is back, baby, though it seems, like everything else that’s back, baby, many people’s private feelings are at odds with the propagandic positivity being peddled by industry elders. “If it were up to me,” one fellow fashion journalist texted me this past weekend, “I’d rather be in my room watching Law and Order with a chamber pot.”

NYFW, September 2021: Dun-dun!

But by Tuesday afternoon, when I was attending my first in-person fashion show since I was in Paris for the men’s shows in January of 2020, I was smiling, thinking, “I’m just so happy to be sitting in a jungle-themed nightclub in Midtown on this mushroom-shaped stool, next to this animatronic elephant, watching this person in an ostrich feather thong carry a tiny dog down an astroturf runway.”

The designer of this barely-there canine-friendly frock was Sintra Martins, a Parsons graduate (and former Thom Browne intern) who launched her label Saint Sintra last year. To a soundtrack of psycho-pop Blondie covers and millennial girl group B-sides, she showed clothes in conversation with the exhilaratingly irrational styles of the early-to-mid-2000s MTV Video Music Awards: crystals draped into a shape suggesting a mini bubble dress, court shoes and ruffles on Little Lord Fauntleroy-types, and Ibiza-ish rope skirts with mesh tops and dresses. Martins is a purveyor of what I’d call Depop Couture, a mixture of Club Kid kitchen-sink-and-thrift-shop DIY with the playful “adulting” attitude of Clueless plus an exuberance and occasional political incorrectness indebted to Galliano-era Dior. Actually, all the models were in some degree of undress—thongs and nipples were almost always visible. Which is either a sign of liberation or an emperor’s new clothes situation, depending on your level of cynicism.

Pairs of models at the Collina Strada show.

Fernanda Calfat

Fernanda Calfat

What makes this new strain of fashion interesting is the way the runway seems to reflect the audience, creating a loop of inspiration and representation. Fashion week has always attracted peacocks, and began drawing a new breed when the industry started opening its doors over a decade ago to bloggers whose fanaticism for fashion violated the pristine terms establishment editors followed for modest fashion show dressing. But in the chaos of the past 18 months, a number of young people began seeing themselves as their own greatest visual creation and designers and PRs have responded in kind. That means that these in-person shows are primed to be a locus of industry shock, perhaps an upending of the old order. The fringe characters who once preened before photographers are now perhaps the dominant strain: outside the show, people were smoking cigarettes in polyester nightgowns, in lucite platform heels and a Statue of Liberty robe, in a Prada sleeveless neoprene dress affixed with red satin puff sleeves. I chatted with Gutes Guterman, the co-editor of the Drunken Canal, which is releasing a fashion issue this week that lovingly parodies the cover of Vogue’s September issue, and sponsored a party with Saint Sintra—which should tell you something about the new order, that the indie media darling of the week is a freewheeling zine-ish art project launched in summer 2020. Guterman’s friend, a model, chatted with us while changing from a denim miniskirt and tank top to a more masc pair of black trousers and a T-shirt for a Prabal Gurung casting, revealing the waistband of their briefs to me and the rest of 57th Street.

Something strange was happening: in my vintage Atelier Versace shirt and Casey Casey pants, I felt underdressed. It seemed that the attitude and characters of URL had taken over IRL. I pointed this out to a friend, a streetstyle photographer who’s been on the scene for ages. “Well,” he said, “that’s because there are no editors.” I looked around, and indeed, though we were at a small show, a buzzy young designer’s first, there were indeed no other magazine types, no one dressed briskly, for business, during fashion week. In fact, everyone was either dressed like Evan Mock—cool T-shirts and subtly funky pants with sports drink-colored hair—or Carrie Bradshaw: in little pencil skirts and modest, expensive heels, in which the cute show of mid-century domesticity is violated by a revealing crop top.

Double vision at Collina Strada.

Fernanda Calfat

Fernanda Calfat

“The hair is Season 1 Carrie, and the outfit is Season 3,” said actor Hari Nef, also smoking, after the Collina Strada show a few hours later. Collina Strada has been around for years, quietly ascending as few young designers are allowed to do now, and has blossomed from an enjoyable oddity to downtown touchpoint whose environmentally conscious raver aesthetic is appealing to those who like their fashion to have principles but sneer at the blind inclusivity and greenwashing habits of more mainstream fashion. Among the 250 guests, the artists Chloe Wise and Jeanette Hayes were in attendance, as were Nef and Tommy Dorfman, both dressed by the brand. (Of her earrings in mismatched colors, Dorfman said, sounding like Dorothy Parker writing Vogue copy back in the ’20s, “Different colors, same story. Different pages, same book.”) Taking place on a rooftop grange in Industry City, the show was full of impressively well-executed clothes modeled by friends and family of the brand. A number of models walked with their parents or children; some leapt or hurdled down the runway like creatures.

Technically speaking, designer Hillary Taymour’s clothing has gotten more sophisticated, or maybe just better. Her sweatshirt and mask became a must-have for the over-scrutinized denizens of Dimes Square during the depths of the pandemic. Still, it’s the ease of her clothes that was remarkable here—the slightly grimey weirdo performance belied the fact that her clothes are extremely easy to wear. Collina Strada embodies the attitude of Depop Couture while preserving the ethos of American sportswear—jean jackets, pull-on pants in wild prints or velour, loose sundresses (again, in all the colors of Evan Mock’s hair), and carpenter pants doodled with friendly vegetables. (Those looked fantastic on the comic Lauren Servideo, who was bopping about like a Freudian kindergarten teacher interviewing guests with a carrot-cum-microphone about childhood memories.) With the America-themed pair of Costume Institute shows coming up—the first part will launch next Monday, alongside the first Met Gala since 2019’s Camp-themed fete—everyone is suddenly pondering the meaning of American clothes. It could be that, between upstarts like Saint Sintra, emerging stars with staying power like Collina Strada, and proven talents like Eckhaus Latta and Maryam Nassir Zadeh, the off-center, artist-adjacent hero is displacing the slick society type as New York fashion’s leading spirit. Nef told Taymour after the show that she felt “a thud of ascendance” for the designer. And of course, Taymour also showed a number of surprisingly lovely gowns, Marie Antoinette-ish creations with bubble-panniers in sustainable fabrics like silk made out of recycled rose petals, suggesting she’ll probably dress someone for the Gala. Grimes? Dorfman? Whoever it is, they’ll wear it with ease.

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