Designers from disparate corners of social media all came together on Monday night – their attendance and nominations at this year’s CFDA Fashion Awards are seen as the final mark of the insurgency in traditional fashion channels
There’s a new wave of designers now defining American fashion. It has been described by some as an “era”, a “changing of the guard” or, more diplomatically, a “new energy”, reflecting a post-COVID-19 America where independent and creative thinkers are, “fuelled by the tenacity to be more of a hustler. There’s an all engines on mentality,” said CFDA New Accessory Designer of the Year Raul Lopez, founder of Luar.
For the first time in a long time, American fashion is in turmoil. In the room Monday night, look to a corner and see Emily Adams Bode Aujla whose brand of flea market and Americana opulence influenced much of Etsy’s designer community; Across the room, LaQuan Smith advanced his sultry new age vision in the form of Lenny Kravitz, dressing the rock star in plunging velvet, leather and feathers. And Elena Velez was a stand-in for an actual gothic dress form, in a chiffon-colored deconstructed gown and black lipstick.
If it looks like a random group, you’d be right – that’s the point of New American fashion. This wide range is representative of a myriad of backgrounds, born of a generation that grew up steeped in internet culture. They spent hours delving into niches in the digital world, passing through aesthetic and ideological micro-communities that now influence their many varied brands.
“It’s the Wild West here,” said Puppets and Puppets creator Carly Mark, a former concept artist nominated in the Emerging Designers category, of the American landscape.
Where some designers are inspired by post-emo malaise (Vaquera) or the bridge between Afro-Caribbean culture and the excesses of the early 2000s (Theophilio), Mark seeks to create a dialogue between particular and nihilistic themes and the fashion – resulting in sculptural, often offbeat themes. clothes.
“It’s almost like the pandemic is a controlled wildfire and out of that fire comes all new growth,” she added of the explosion of new talent.
In a year when the class of nominees was among the youngest in CFDA history, a publicist for many up-and-coming designers attending the awards show posted on Instagram that she felt like she was dropping their children”.
The list of brands helping to define American fashion right now is long. In addition to CFDA nominees like Luar, Bode, Telfar, Brandon Blackwood, Puppets and Puppets, LaQuan Smith, Willy Chavarria and Christopher John Rogers, there are countless others: SC103, ERL, Commission, Theophilio, Denim Tears, Interior , Connor McKnight, Judy Turner and Black Boy Knits – all unafraid to represent something outside the boundaries of traditional fashion structures. Some of them were founded over a decade ago, but have come into their own – and into the mainstream spotlight – in the past two years.
Although most of their businesses remain small compared to Ralph Lauren, the group’s combined influence holds great potential for the future – a diverse fashion industry that thrives in the online space and caters to a loyal community of followers.
“I feel like with the internet now, kids in Europe are like – ‘These designers are what represents American fashion,'” Lopez said.
The sheer number of new labels to emerge post-COVID-19 has not been seen in New York since the years following 9/11, where out of the darkness came an outcrop of talent like Proenza Schouler, Derek Lam, Libertine, Doo-Ri Chung and Behnaz Sarafpour, among others, which led to the creation of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2003.
“It was kind of a similar vibe – coming back from a dark time and a difficult time for a lot of people,” Proenza Schouler’s Lazaro Hernandez said at Monday’s awards show.
“[When we started] it was obviously a different point in time, but I think the struggles are the same. Trying to get your brand off the ground is tough. The obstacles are the same, but I think the way you do it is different,” Hernandez said.
Social media has of course been the main tool for to help even the playing field of success between today’s big houses and start-ups. Lopez believes the pandemic has helped accelerate that. “Everyone must have used the internet for two years – in a way it was a gift for a lot of young designers who finally have a voice in the fashion community,” he said.
“You open your phone now and see all the emerging brands and the subculture brands, you don’t see the big American heritage brands – they’ve faded into the back. When you open your phone, you see me and you see us,” he added.
While Lopez founded his brand in 2012 after co-founding Hood by Air, it’s only in the past two years that he’s begun to gain wider recognition – hybridizing the online culture and business strategies that he’s eyed big brands like Michael Kors to launch his own “It” bag in 2021. .
Brandon Blackwood, who rose to viral notoriety in 2020 with a Democratic-prize tote bag proclaiming “End Systemic Racism,” also knows a thing or two about social media. He has developed an emotional connection with his subscribers and online shoppers, whom he calls “my cousins.”
“I’m very community driven, everyone nurtured their own audience who really care about what they do – it’s more than the pieces we make, we create stories,” said the nominated designer. While some of this year’s nominees are more shrewd in their approach, Blackwood has excelled in tackling the broader commercial market. He arrived at the CFDA in a bespoke Schiaparelli couture suit – clearly his strategy is working.
“Diana Vreeland coined the term Youthquake in the 1960s, and the same can be said of the current American fashion landscape. The past few seasons of New York Fashion Week have been all about discovering… The designer group post-COVID-19, while dealing with the challenges of a supply chain and retail shutdown, had the opportunity to focus on creativity and ideas,” said the director CFDA Gen. Officer Steven Kolb.
“We all come from such disparate identities, everyone comes with a story about where they come from and then what they want to see in the world,” Emerging Designer of the Year Elena Velez said of the diversity of ideas. and communities represented.
“Willy [Chavarria] does such a good job of bringing his Chicano culture to his work. And I like to think of myself as a champion of recontextualizing regional craftsmanship. There are so many things you can try or have a conversation about, or bring into your life in different ways. It’s fun,” Velez added.
But in this economic and competitive climate, the new generation has learned one thing: strength in numbers. This generation of designers broke with tradition by relying on each other for the sake of community and support. “We all hang out at the same parties and lift each other up, whereas the older community may be more rattled,” Lopez said. “There’s room for all of us – what I do is not what Brandon does or what Telfar does, you can buy our three bags – just like you can own Gucci, Fendi and Prada.”
Blackwood, who said her best-selling post-pandemic bags were laden with rhinestones, said: “A new brand will emerge much slower than many. We have the right to be grouped together, it propels us all forward.
The upper echelons of the fashion industry, which in pre-pandemic times had been slow to adapt to cultural shifts at the hands of social media and technology, are racing to catch up. Stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue – now competing with online giants like Ssense and Mytheresa – are in a Pac-Man-like frenzy to pick up all the new brands. But the labels, many of which have strong direct-to-consumer sales, are holding far more cards than before – and are declining exclusivity terms and requiring order deposits to protect their businesses.
“It’s a new era and we have to embrace it,” said designer Sergio Hudson. “We’re on a mission to put American fashion back on the map like it used to. We want to show in New York and entertain people. We want that energy here.