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New York Fashion Week: Proenza Schouler, Shayne Oliver

New York Fashion Week: Proenza Schouler, Shayne Oliver

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photos: Cathy Horyn, Isidore Montag/Imaxtree, Jonas Gustavsson

When a designer says his runway show will be more like a music festival, you can assume several things. It will start late. It will be extremely loud, and everybody will be standing, looking up at the stage — which, in Shayne Oliver’s case last night, was scaffolding with a platform that snaked through a semi-dark performance hall at the Shed in Hudson Yards.

Oliver had not presented new fashion in awhile. After burning up the runway with his aggressively styled brand, Hood By Air — its key years were 2012 to 2016 — he put it on hiatus in 2017. He’s now back with the Shayne Oliver line (and with HBA resuming as a separate, web-only business). In an interview recently, Oliver told me that in the last year or two of Hood’s earlier existence, he and his design team had strongly disagreed about its future direction — with some arguing for a return to its streetwear roots and Oliver wanting to embrace high fashion. “I was growing as a designer,” he said. And judging by the look of the last few HBA shows, he prevailed. The design was definitely more ambitious, though still with a hard attitude. In fact, so explosive was the creativity that some HBA shows felt like two collections in one.

In our interview, Oliver said the mood for the debut of the new namesake label was glamour, even ballgowns. Not for one minute did I believe that Shayne Oliver would do a recognizable ballgown. His technique is to chop up, to remove or rethink beauty, and it follows in the tradition of designers like Martin Margiela and Rick Owens. He also told me, “I definitely want to find a new way of showing.”

Shayne Oliver
Photo: Cathy Horyn

That might explain why he had his models walk through the audience, with practically no warning. The first model appeared — in black briefs with a silver spangled top and a black bubble jacket with thigh-high white stiletto boots and huge black goggles — and the crowd gradually parted. Soon the guests formed a runway through the center of the hall, though some models — a few carrying a single-stem white rose, as if to some pagan ritual — went their own way. Or maybe they were lost.

Anyway, in the end, all the models finished the show by walking gingerly along the platform of the scaffolding, while a female singer performed in a chopped-up white bustier gown. She was Alexandra Drewchin, known professionally as Eartheater. At one point her two attendants, attired in not much more than thongs, crawled on all fours behind her — a fitting posture before a goddess, I guess.

Even though I had a good perch near the impromptu runway, I could only catch snatches of the costumes. A beautiful, low-cut black silk gown suspended from thin shoulder straps. Some irregularly cut short dresses in vivid pastels that looked hand-tinted. A black coat with excessively built-up glamour shoulders, with a silver-spangled hoodie and really absurd white patent-leather booties with toes so long and pointy they could cut hedges. No wonder the model took baby steps. There was even a kind of bromance nod to Oliver’s friend, the designer Telfar Clemens — or rather Telfar’s ubiquitous logo tote bag, the so-called “Bushwick Birkin.” Oliver transformed the tote into a one-dimensional silver breastplate on the front of a black tank top, with cool black trousers. It was a fun, sneaky gesture: appropriating his friend’s hot bag and then mocking it as a status symbol.

Other designers have staged shows in the mood of a concert, notably Telfar, who even had a mosh pit. Still, the mission to “find a new way” of presenting runway fashion is worthy. Though Oliver’s comeback collection was just that — a tentative beginning — it projected strength in form and attitude. It just would have been nice to see more of the clothes.

As the fall 2022 collections got underway on Friday — the beginning of a month of shows — strength and individuality were themes at Proenza Schouler and the young designer Elena Velez.

Proenza Schouler
Photo: Jonas Gustavsson

“It was just instinct,” said Lazaro Hernandez, about the genesis of the sensual, lantern-shaped skirts and peplumed tops at Proenza Schouler, held in the starkly beautiful Brant Center in the East Village. “It feels like we’re entering a new moment in our careers, in the world.” His partner, Jack McCollough, added, apropos of the shapes, “They almost look like slight historical nods.”

He meant the ultra-airy lantern-skirt dresses that featured a knitted upper portion that defined the waist, creating a soft hourglass shape. What was striking about the collection was how it deftly carried over ideas from the last two Proenza collections, in particular simple dresses with a lot of flow, pantsuits with a sharp waist, and fresh colors (this time, a gorgeous inky purple and a violet for a long silk shirt-dress). Although the lantern dresses got a little goofy, I liked the designers’ sense of play. Far more interesting were a black knitted strapless top with a peplum worn with black wide-leg trousers, and a long, off-white sequined evening shift with a twisted racer back. Those looks conveyed “the new formality” the designers sought, but with modern ease.

It was a big day for Eartheater, whose chilling music was also played at Proenza Schouler — by a violin quintet conducted by Simon Hanes.

Elena Velez
Photo: Isidore Montag/Imaxtree

Velez called her collection “Maidenhood & Its Labors.” Maybe just call it “women and the shit they put up with.” Perhaps from experience, as a daughter of a mother who is a ship pilot on Lake Michigan, and perhaps from her own sensibility, Velez has a wonderful way of implying female strength — in her choice of handsome, sharp-featured models, in her cuttings techniques with humble fabrics that can often seem savage and confrontational. She works in linen, gauze, laminated military canvas, and recycled parachutes. Vernacular goods. Some of her garments on Friday night were quite structured — loose floozy dresses in off-white gauze with seams that hinted of boning, a well-constructed brown wool blazer yanked closed at one side and worn with dark parachute pants.

But many of her clothes have a broken, hectic quality, as if the wearer stitched up a few scraps of old cloth into a dress and got on with her day. Other pieces look like Velez may have brushed some paint on the fabric and then baked in the oven because her women do what they want. And maybe that’s the source of the sexual sting in her clothes. But whatever it is, it seems to come from an honest place.