looking into new york’s new fashion underground
A generation of young designer’s in the Big Apple are pushing a post-internet state of mind into their genderless clothes.
Hood by Air fall/winter 15
NYFW might not have the reputation for eccentricity and rebellious freedom that London has, but scratch beneath the surface of the mega brands that get all the column inches and sales there's a young generation of avant-garde designers pushing post-modern deconstruction and breaking down gender codes.
The international success of Hood By Air is testament to the continued liveliness of New York's outsider spirit. Shayne Oliver's genuinely new approach to mixing fashion and subculture feels like it's at the forefront of our generation's creative conversation. At this season's autumn/winter 15 shows it felt like a generation of young designers came of age; VFiles, Eckhaus Latta, Telfar and Chromat all, in some way, take their cues from HBA; mixing eclectism, pastiche, radical takes on sexuality, and deconstruction for a new vision of New York's creative spirit.
These are the brands embracing the art world's post-internet sensibility; obsessed with nostalgic aesthetic throwbacks to the symbols of Web 1.0, cryptic philosophical statements, collaborative practices, blurring gender codes, and the accelerationist insider flexability of normcore and health goth.
These are brands founded and staffed by a generation who grew up online and who utilise, communicate and are informed by the hyper connected world we live in. Is it any wonder then, that they are rejecting a sleek, sterile, modernism, when they're informed by the vibrant unfiltered visual maximalism of the world wide web.
VFiles are a prime example; the online network of designers, stylists and models who create work that is then sold through its online store. This season they used the internet to crowd source the four designers of their season; a bit like Fashion East and NEWGEN, but en-masse, and perhaps a little more self-sufficient and more insouciant. Their show, which opened NYFW, was fashion design as a raging world of clashing colours, shapes and prints, that left a trail of broken good taste rules in its wake.
Design duo Eckhaus Latta are aesthetically the opposite, they're a label that possesses a raw, revolutionary energy. They favour function over form, simplicity over noise. They operate unbound by theme and reference, placing emphasis on the simple relationship between wearer and fabric, their online store features each item shot separately on both male and female models and their shows too break down these gender binaries, featuring men in "womenswear" and transgender models.
Their autumn/winter 15 show was produced in collaboration with DIS, a New York post-internet collective and magazine, with a soundtrack by Dev Hynes and featured luminaries of New York's art scene like Michael Bailey Gates and Hari Nef on the catwalk. As their models strolled down the catwalk they each took a hammer to a wall at the runway's end; Eckhaus Latta are literally breaking down boundaries.
Telfar are another one of the handful of design labels that champion the subversive and subterranean, turning the weird and outsider into the glorious and beautiful. Like Eckhaus Latta, Telfar pushes at gender boundaries, this season's show saw men in skirts take to the catwalk, though it wasn't as aggressive as HBA's take on the same trend. Sure there is always something slightly shocking and aggressive about seeing a man in skirt, but Telfar had de-sexualised it, taken it out of the realm of drag performance. Telfar described them to i-D as "part of a larger and more abstract concept for brand, which is always about multi-functionality and unisex applications." It's this unisex application that strikes the most radical note.
Chromat, designed by Becca McCharen, also tackled this for autumn/winter 15, in a collection that featured sculptural cages, latex suspenders and PVC bras fitted with neon-green laser beams.They looked to NYC's highest paid CEO, Martine Rothblatt, as a source of information - not inspiration. Martine, who is transgender, recently launched the Terasem Movement: an idea that the human brain can be uploaded onto a computer, so that when the physical dies, the possibility to communicate with the deceased remains. It's why 3D printing played such a large part in Chromat's designs, to create new ways of not just producing fashion, but challenging the restrictions on our ways of life.
If you can take anything anyway from New York's new underground designers, it would be that they seem to be actively challenging a world of meaning in fashion's codes and traditions.
Yes, New York will always have its top guns - but it deserves much more of a diverse dialect when we discuss its fashion output. Those great big slabs of modernist concrete - the bastions and moneymakers of fashion help facilitate the wild animals of the fashion jungle that also roam its streets. Like the opposites listed above, they need each other to exist and to conflict in order to instigate change. That's something that no other city has really. That concrete jungle. Because that's what dreams are made of.
Text Greg French
Catwalk Photography Mitchell Sams
Backstage Photography Kate Owen