the best young brands to emerge from new york fashion week this season
All the most exciting young brands to emerge from NYFW this season.
From L - R: Gogo Graham, Gauntlett Cheng, Puppets and Puppets
New York is a city of two halves. Known and mythologised for its underground scene and creativity in the arts and music, the city’s fashion history doesn’t really stack up. NYFW has earned a reputation as the safe, commercial player of the Big Four, with critics looking to Paris and London for risks and new ideas.
Not so fast! This season, it felt like there was something fresh in the air. The gap left by Calvin Klein -- the focus of much critical love over recent seasons when Raf was in charge -- meant that attention was directed elsewhere, giving younger labels a chance to shine.
Raf had used his position at Calvin to speak to the contemporary American situation. Fake news, data farming, Fyre festival, Elon Musk dating Grimes; it’s undeniably a pretty weird time to be in America, and indeed the world. The land of the free hasn’t been doing much to uphold its moniker, with Donald Trump targeting the rights of women, immigrants, POC and trans people in recent times. But where chaos reigns, creativity flourishes, as it has done in New York, where an urgent creative energy is sweeping the city. While Telfar and Eckhaus Latta have been leading the pack, this season a number of other brands cemented this new wave of distinctly Downtown DIY. They’re rebelling against both right wing America and the city’s boring commercial fashion.
One such label is i-D favourite Gauntlett Cheng, known for their deconstructed knitwear and modern sensuality. “We've never quite fit in with bigger commercial names and don't make decisions based on what industry standards are, simply because it doesn't work for us and our lives,” designer Jenny Cheng says, describing how the label sits in relation to the traditional luxury fashion industry.
It also worth noting these newer labels’ authentic attitude to casting. While it’s increasingly difficult in the US to be an immigrant or POC or trans, these labels spotlight and celebrate them. While diversity in runway lineups generally is improving, for these brands, celebrating variety in gender, size, age and race has always been a core part of their DNA. These are labels who are making inclusivity cool – replacing the upturned nose of fashion with a more original and interesting brand of aspiration. One that isn’t exclusive, but still feels exciting, proving that fashion can be friendly and cool.
Another label repeatedly producing excellent clothes alongside effective fashion activism is Gogo Graham. Whilst trans activism by brands can easily feel tokenistic, Gogo Graham creates clothes that directly serve the needs of her fellow trans women. Her runway shows feature an all-trans cast, wearing artfully designed garments that are both beautiful and necessary additions to fashion’s limited offering for trans women. For her, attention to the business side of her label is directly linked to helping leverage her community.
“Each step I take with my brand is made with the financial empowerment of my community in mind,” she says. Her recent autumn/winter 19 collection was a high drama affair that explored marriage and death. “Drawing upon emotionally powerful themes is something that I hoped would garner support from sponsors who care about what I do… I'm working with the skills I have to get the people in my community who work with me on my shows paid, and this is how I've learned to be able to do that.”
During his CSM MA show, Edwin Mohney presented a slightly different, and surreal dig at the American President, with a pair of what he called “Trump-ettos” – rubber Donald Trump masks worn over stilettos. Now the young designer is back in his native NYC, and for Edwin, the key to keeping things fresh is avoiding the hive mind syndrome created by a city. “Indirectly the hustle and bustle inspires me to go out to the secluded countryside and design from a completely separate perspective. I'm more interested in doing whatever is authentic to me and then showing it in the city, which I hope highlights my individuality.”
This season, he presented a combination of old and new work – including the infamous Trump-ettos – in a shop-cum-installation showcase on Canal Street. “My goal wasn't to reinvent the wheel, but to have an honest and stripped back dialogue with the city itself,” he explained. Alongside critical acclaim, Mohney’s DIY show afforded him “so many incredible conversations with people from all walks of life; fashion students, tourists, local artists who stopped in from walking the dog, journalists, editors, angry drunk people… it was all perfectly strange and unexpected.” In a single presentation, Mohney managed to return fashion to the essence of NYC; a melting pot of characters, opinions and experiences thrown together in an unpredictable and wonderful way.
Perfectly strange and unexpected, just like another showstopper of a new designer. Japanese costumier Tomo Koizumi saw his Tokyo-based label catapulted into the NYC spotlight when a message from “fairy tale godmother” Katie Grand arrived, inviting him to show in New York. NY mainstay Marc Jacobs also helped out by offering up his store to host the newcomer’s show. Together, the pair used their influence to facilitate one of the most high octane Fashion! moments of the week, one that had the likes of Gwendoline Christie and Bella Hadid descending Marc’s shop stairs in Koizumi’s enormous creations. “I hope I can keep creating beauty with passion,” Tomo said in the aftermath of his show. “Also I hope there is some support to designers who are showing dreams, not commercial pieces.”
The spirit of performance continued with another label’s debut – artist Carly Mark and Ayla Argentina’s Puppets and Puppets, an avant garde art-meets-fashion-meets-theatre collection featuring lots of faux fur, shoes dipped in resin and exaggerated versions of 2018’s tiny sunglasses trend, courtesy of Poppy Lissiman. “There's a lot of young, exciting fashion happening in New York right now,” Mark says of the city’s current climate. “We’ve been very inspired by our contemporaries, designers like Lou Dallas, Luar, Vaquera, Telfar… Everything feels like progress, as well as a bit of political push back.”
“I think our collections always come from a really intimate place – they're influenced by our emotions and desires,” says Esther of Gauntlett Cheng. “Maybe that retreat and looking inwards is a response to things being pretty shitty at the moment though?”
That being true, these labels are serving up some serious David vibes to the commercial machine’s hulking Goliath. With a focus on performance, community and creativity, these New York brands are returning the city to its punk rock roots.