At New York Fashion Week, Designers Tapped the Art World at the City’s Temples of Wealth - The World News

At New York Fashion Week, Designers Tapped the Art World at the City’s Temples of Wealth

As the Armory Art Show wound down two weeks ago, creative types convened across the city to watch more than 90 US-based designers unveil their Spring/Summer 2024 ready-to-wear collections during New York Fashion Week. As has been typical in years past, a few designers tapped into art and its historical glut as reference. Others, whose profiles are rising, thanks to appearances in museum shows, continued to consider how their own work slides between art, craft and commerce.

One of the week’s closely watched American brands was Dauphinette, whose founder, Olivia Cheng, lent two dresses to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2021 exhibition “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” held at the Costume Institute. Cheng, who has yet to turn 30, was the youngest designer featured that week.

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At New York Fashion Week, Designers Tapped into the Arts the City’s Temples of Wealth

She has gained a following for pairings of unusual materials like metal, PVC, resin, and flower petals. Dauphinette’s latest collection, unveiled under the title “Gods, Girls, & Monsters,” was described in the pre-show notes as “slightly surrealist.” Some dresses were made using real beetles, while others produced to look like chandeliers. There were handbags affixed with the hinged openings for metal letter boxes, and there were heels that sprouted brunette hair, an apparent riff on the Surrealist tendency to make inorganic objects seem human, as Meret Oppenheim, René Magritte, and others did in their art . Applying “anatomical elements to inanimate objects” and vice versa, Cheng said, are “core” to the label’s concepts.  

Palomo Spain, a designer who’s already well-known for exploring intersections of gender and class, reached back ever further in art history with its show at the Plaza Hotel. Itscreative director, Alejandro Gómez Palomo, brought gender-bending designs to a gilded runway, with men dressed in corsets, lace, and sheer embroidered coverings. He has openly cited Spanish history painting and its distinctly romantic elements as informing his visuals. Those influences were apparent here, where the boxy clothes of courtly subjects in paintings by Velázquez loomed large.

On a dusky runway erected on the floor of the Williamsburg Savings Bank, Piotrek Panszczyk, the creative director behind New York–based label Area, debuted a couture-focused collection on fur. In his notes for the show, Panszczyk termed fur “the oldest form of clothing,” and it would not be difficult to conjure examples from European painting to support that notion, from Renaissance nudes by Titian to Flemish Old Master portraits by Rubens. Toying with its associations with wealth, he printed photocopied images of animal hides onto denim and drowned models in oversized faux fur coats.

The cult Downtown brand Puppets and Puppets looked beyond the Renaissance, going all the way back to art of the Middle Ages for a show at the Immaculate Conception Church in the East Village that took ghosts as its inspiration. There were puffed sleeves on a flat white dress fit for a monastery, and there was a sheer dress printed with imagery that appeared to be lifted from 16th-century tapestries held at the Met Cloisters. One of those famed textiles depicts a unicorn who serves as a stand-in for Christ—a reminder to its viewers that the dead sometimes do not remain dead. The same, apparently, goes for art of bygone eras.

Look 11 from Dauphinette’s SS24 Collection. Courtesy Dauphinette.

Other designers, like Proenza Schouler and Khaite, sought to connect with the upper echelons of the commercial art world, not by making allusions to famous artists but by bringing their clothes to venues that regularly host the market’s high-end players. The former brought its audience to the Park Avenue headquarters of Phillips auction house. The flashiest pieces were skirts decorated with mirrors; the rest of the collection skewed more minimal, with spare tailoring that fit the tone of the white-walled building where the show was staged.

Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, the 20-year-old brand’s founders, said in a statement that the show was meant to consider the relationship between art and commerce. “That’s where art comes to be judged on its commercial viability,” they wrote.

Meanwhile, at the Park Avenue Armory, Khaite had its models walk in solid overcoats, some of which were paired with bags that looked like bars of gold. Interview compared the show to a heist.

Still other designers involved artists in their latest projects more directly. Rachel Scott, the creative director of Diotima, founded in 2021,collaborated with Jamaican artist Laura Facey to stage her latest collection. The show’s title, “Nine-Night,” comes from a funerary ritual also known as Dead Yard that is practiced in some Caribbean countries. Grieving family members and friends hold the ceremony—both a party and long wake—as a memorial to the recently deceased. For the collection, models hung Facey’s amorphous sculpted pendants from their earlobes and waists as they donned Diotima’s knitted fabrics.

And then there was still another way in which artistic allusions was seen on the runways this week, with artists themselves modeling looks for Eckhaus Latta, a brand that has regularly bridged the gap between the fashion and artists’ circles.

Eckhaus Latta hosted its showcase at the International Building in Rockefeller Center, a business epicenter located just a few blocks from Christie’s New York headquarters. The Los Angeles–based duo behind the brand, directors Zoe Latta and Mike Eckhaus, have shown their art in institutions like the Whitney Museum and the Hammer Museum, and have accrued a following a loyal following of artists alongside their institutional exposure. In a recent interview, Latta said that for the latest designs, she and Eckhaus were more focused on extending the lifespans of their items to keep up in an industry that prizes rapid production over longevity when it comes to clothes.

Their models this time included artists such as Aria Dean and Susan Cianciolo,. They ascended a set of escalators at the center of the venue’s Art Deco lobby, wearing items that were both functional and not: translucent shirts and dresses that appeared to be barley there, made from technical fabrics produced to resist long-term wear from the elements; other ensembles included leather, providing durability to pieces that otherwise would have been fragile.

The inclusion of Cianciolo, who herself combined art and fashion wth her famed RUN project of the 1990s, is telling about what Eckhaus Latta was up to with this collection. Cianciolo has long resisted contemporary fashion’s commercialism, individualizing garments for members of her own artistic network. (She, too, has also earned her art world bona fides, doing a project for the 2017 Whitney Biennial that was set in the museum’s restaurant.) Eckhaus Latta’s founder have has said they’re continuing to follow Cianciolo’s precedent.

“We were thinking about our identity as American designers,” the two told ARTnews in a joint statement following the show. “It’s about finding where our language exists, and staging the show at an icon of American design helped inform that exploration.”

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