You have a to hand it to U.S-based designers, they don’t cower in the face of the on-going clown/horror/is-this-still-really-happening political adversity and social incivility that could easily drive the most committed designers to apathy. Instead, the runway shows of New York Fashion Week Spring 2019 were a defiant mix of creativity, activism, and celebration. Designers have wisened to the fact that activist slogan tees are not enough to change the status quo (as cathartic as those tees are), incorporating their values into their business by accounting for how their clothes are made, by whom, and what the women representing their clothes look like.
Some of the standout collections came from designers who are runway newbies or returning after a break from NYFW. Mara Hoffman, who a few years ago decided to overhaul her business to be more conscious of manufacturing practices, kicked off the week with a performance art presentation that she described as a “funeral for negativity” — a desire to bury negative feelings and let something else grow. Models and dancers performed against a backdrop of cream fabric, piles of dirt, lilies, and roses. The clothing, made of organic fabrics like linen and recycled cotton, ranged from a statement-making dress, with bold red and white floral print and exaggerated silhouette with oversized sleeves, to everyday pieces like black or cream slips, knitted tanks, and high-waisted pants and skirts. It was a beautiful presentation for an easy-to-wear collection that surely won her plenty of new customers.
Designers and longtime friends Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah put on a celebratory show for their label, Studio 189, blending performance and runway while friends like Alicia Keys cheered from the audience. Dawson and Erwiah, who recently won the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative for sustainability, opened the show with a film describing their commitment to sustainability and job creation in West Africa, before sending an explosion of colorful prints down the runway. The show was punctuated by performances by Jojo Abot, American Idol winner Frenchie Davis, and a voguing dance troupe. The Studio 189 team is passionate about fashion as a vehicle for change and this vibrant show surely left the audience pumped to be a part of their vision.
Another duo who returned to the NYFW schedule after a break was Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin’s Tome. Since it launched in 2011, social responsibility has been an integral part of their brand ethos, and in recent years, sustainability has become equally important. One could argue that the more environmentally friendly their collections become, the more beautiful and wearable the pieces are — their SS19 offering is one of my favorites to date. As always, Lobo and Martin’s collection was inspired by female artists, this time the influence of Impressionist painters Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot is evident in the salmon pink, pale blue, and orange hues. Handmade natural dyes created from repurposed temple offerings of marigold, hibiscus, and rose from India colored the fabrics of natural linen, hemp, and cotton creating a veritable garden of clothing. It might sound like the formula for a hippy-boho type collection, but the silhouettes were modern and fresh.
Downtown, Osklen founder and creative director Oskar Metsavaht wasn’t part of the runway circuit, instead opting to share his new collection entitled, ASAP, through an intimate screening of his new short documentary of the same name. Metsavaht’s approach to Osklen is a model for many brands to consider: start small and dream big. aThe film underscored his company’s now 20-year commitment to creating collections “As Sustainably As Possible.” What began as an organic t-shirt has grown into a collection made of organic cotton fibers recycled cotton, PET, and hemp, and pirarucu leather, the world's largest freshwater fish and a native to the Brazilian Amazon. Osklen collections are often sport-meets-beach inspired and SS19 was no exception with a selection of flowing pleated dress, anoraks, and bermuda shorts in mustard yellow, white, and blue.
There were other designers of note: Prabal Gurung borrowed from the culture and artisans of his homeland, Nepal, and Pyer Moss staged a show celebrating black culture to critical acclaim. While fashion can (sometimes, rightfully so) be accused of being surface driven, designers at NYFW are leading the world and showing they are willing to dig deep to create collections that are commercially viable and ethically responsible.
Words: Laura Jones
Copy Editor: Sonjia Hyon