Simkhai and Dion Lee runway collections beckon New York City nights
Although it temporarily succeeded, even the pandemic couldn't quelch New York's reputation as the city that never sleeps. As generally predicted, the roaring 20s are alive in practically all five boroughs come sundown. That energy of the city pulses throughout the day, giving NYC its distinct vibration. Two designers, one now based in LA and the other from Australia with very different approaches, captured that sultry vitality on Friday night.
A raw penthouse space at the tip of Manhattan, with New York's bridges and buildings visible through the windows and glimmering in the dark below, designer Jonathan Simkhai returned to where he established his namesake brand to reposition it as well. Speaking to FashionNetwork.com backstage post-show, he explained that the brand has a new logo and is now called Simkhai. The show marked a significant branding shift for the collection, which was teased on Instagram via charming NYC-centric videos touting the new name and S-logo over the nighttime city streets. He called in the big guns, such as Camilla Nickerson, Odile, Diane Kendall, and Michel Gaubert, to help style the show. The name simplification is geared at ease for international growth, all signs of a bright future for the label.
Yet personally, the designer is keenly sensitive to the precarious state of the world. "The world feels upside down and uncertain and spinning around. I wanted to create a collection that felt grounded and toughen it up a bit and create wearable pieces that stand the test of time," he said, offering perspective, adding, "the fabrics are luxurious but also stable."
His approach to grounding had Simkhai "celebrating the classics; for instance, looking at a jacket from the inside out, learning its construction." For example, he explored a white tank top, which was enforced with a slick coating, at times in silver, and examined how in one look, it was a one-shoulder tunic whose straps dusted across the legs. Or, in another contorted with snaps became a long slinky dress worn with combat boots. Examining the jacket meant cropping to the bust, creating zip-off hemlines, or imagining it for after-dark dressing in an S-logo crystal minidress sported by Emily Ratajkowski, who closed the show.
In another ode to the evening looks, Simkhai found grounding in the heritage of his family's former lace business run by his grandfather in Tehran before the exile of the Shah of Iran. Several looks made from beaded metallic lace felt futuristic, while a print collaboration with visual artist George Harvey based on a microscopic view of a crystal allowed for organic grounding.
The outerwear made a case for covering up; it's a fall collection, after all, but the designer bared just enough skin to provoke while keeping it classy.
Just above Canal Street in another raw space—New York is still ripe with these post-pandemic—Dion Lee showed his Fall/Winter collection, which to a passerby could have resembled a line-up waiting to get into a rave. It goes with the territory with a 9 PM show, which in this case, started at 9:45 PM.
Fortunately, it was worth the wait. In his show notes, Lee threw out some inspiration in short catchphrases, "second skin, shedding of skin, snake, unraveling, scale, helix, infinity," by encapsulating the visual feast of the looks to follow.
Backstage Lee spoke to journalists and made an analogy to the design process. "The snake is regenerating its skin, and as a designer, we are also constantly shedding and evolving," he said. To that end, Lee imagined the natural occurrence of ecdysis, shedding the whole skin at once as fashion. The most literal was a snakeskin leather dress that looped around the body in one piece trimmed in scale-like interlocking silver hardware.
Shedding was evidenced in an etching technique on leather jackets, pants, and miniskirts that gave them a distressed stringy appearance, especially with a beaded fringe effect or shredding of fabric for a peeling-off effect. Other fabric manipulations included embellishment techniques that also referenced scales.
The theme also played out in fishnets, crochet, and mesh skin-baring designs signature to the brand, which are tempered with sophisticated tailored items. It's a juxtaposition of aggression and beauty that Lee deftly maneuvers.
"It's that tension between being slightly subversive in a way but doing it tastefully and desirably. It's a hard balance to achieve," said Lee.
While the brand is big on unisex, the mixed runway seemed to play to typical gender tropes partially due to the influx of eveningwear geared towards the female form. Lee developed second-skin stocking dressing, or tissue, as he refers to it, that was ruched and pulled using industrial cording. Not to leave the boys without an exciting alternative to a tuxedo, he showed a layered and spliced two-tone bustier top with tailored pants.
In a playful nod, Lee reimagined the puff coat without using physical filler. Instead, this outerwear was blown up with air, some made from plastic used in a pool floaty and others in a bonded fabric. The jury is still out on whether or not it offers any warmth from the elements.
Aggressive hardware looked right at home on the healthy offering of bags sported on the runway, which speaks to brand development in anticipation of new stores stateside. While fully established in Australia, the brand plans to open US locations. While he owns the nightlife crowd, flagship stores will surely attract new skin to his label.
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