These American Designers Did New York Fashion Week on Their Own Terms

Why Zac Posen, Mara Hoffman, CDLM's Christopher Peters, and Jason Wu skipped the runway rat race

Fashion’s hard. It just is. And much like America’s middle class, designers with established, eponymous brands and independent visions are either disappearing or struggling to stay afloat. Often unfairly expected to compete with big-money brands (who can do all the things because they have all the dough), they fall into the trap of producing umpteen collections a year and staging expensive, over-the-top fashion shows at least twice annually. All that can be emotionally and financially crippling and a handful of New York designers are capital-O Over it. But they’re not throwing in the towel—no, no—they’re seizing control and doing things on their own terms. Case in point is Christopher Peters, one half of Creatures of the Wind (the other being Shane Gabier), which, in 2017, quit the ready-to-wear rat race in favor of special capsule projects. Well, the day before New York Fashion Week, Peters launched a new, deeply personal project, CDLM—a menswear-leaning gender-neutral range of expertly de-and-reconstructed looks fashioned from deadstock fabric and vintage wares. “Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world,” explained Gabier. “It’s important for me to minimize my impact as much as I can. Beyond that, so much that I love about fashion is based on memory and experience. It’s counterintuitive to start totally new and try and add history and identity to a garment. But I can manipulate things to make the story more interesting.”

The show, held at Soho’s Peter Freeman Gallery, was gritty, honest, and standing room only. Bethann Hardison watched it lying on the hardwood floor, which was frankly amazing, and harkened back to the days when fashion wasn’t so deadly serious. “There are lots of components of a fashion show that are generally anxiety-inducing and I wanted to avoid them,” explained Gabier. “I like the idea that everyone who is there can have front row, that they can go chat with their friends, and just feel more at ease.” Tavi Gevinson and artist John Giorno walked (like pros), but their presence wasn’t Insta-bait—rather, it was organic, natural, low-key, and didn’t steal focus from the clothes, which had a ’90s feel. When asked what he thought he was adding to New York’s crowded landscape, Gabier replied, “I don’t know what in particular I’m adding. I just want to make things I enjoy making.” This October, his fans will be able to enjoy what he’s made too when his collection launches at Dover Street Market’s L.A. outpost.

That’s so important—enjoying fashion. And we industry folk so often forget to do it. Jason Wu, who, after leaving his creative director post at Boss last season, recently restructured his ready-to-wear business, traded his usual runway show for an intimate presentation. And while walking editors through his Spring range, he expressed a similar sentiment. “I haven’t felt like this during fashion week in a very long time. I feel light,” he said standing next to a tiered, black, tulle ballgown. The collection, with its floral flourishes, menswear influences, and a healthy dose of eveningwear, was based on Wu’s signatures and passions. “I’m obsessed with creating beautiful clothes, and this way, people can really appreciate them,” Wu said. “I want to demonstrate that beauty and craftsmanship are still alive and well in New York and that there is a certain joy in fashion in a time that seems a little depressing.”

Cue Mara Hoffman, whose entire collection was about pushing out the old in favor of the joyful new. The designer has opted out of NYFW for the past few seasons, instead opting for one-on-one appointments, but, according to Hoffman, “I wanted to connect spirit and business and [coming back] was just the way to do it.” Obviously, this rebirth on the NYFW scene called for a funeral, so Hoffman threw one, replete with mounds of dirt, interpretive dancers, a diverse cast, and a Dixieland-style jazz band. Hoffman relayed that the linen-centric collection, which has a sustainable, eco-friendly focus and an abundance of sculptural puff-sleeves, was all about “letting the old shit go, because when you let shit go, you can give birth to new things.”

Zac Posen, king of reinvention, knows a thing or two about that. Since Fall 2017, Posen has skipped the runway noise to present his collection in intimate and innovative ways, offering editors one-on-one appointments and debuting his designs to fans on Instagram. This season, his muse was actress Maya Hawke (yes, the daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke who will star in the new season of Stranger Things), whom he tapped to star in a dreamy Gia Coppola-lensed film (below) that showcases the fantasy of his Slim Aarons-tinged Spring 2019 lineup. “I love a runway show, but this is working for us,” said Posen during an appointment, where he also unveiled his La Scala-inspired ZAC Zac Posen lineup.

Seeing Posen’s clothes up close is always a treat—during a runway show, you wouldn’t notice the Liberty-print trim hiding inside his poetically tailored jackets, nor could you admire the structure of a confetti-tweed bralette or the artful boning used for his corseted evening gowns and—new this season—swimsuits. That kind of craftsmanship elicits goosebumps—perhaps even more so than a glitzy runway show.

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