When you go to/click through enough shows, your brain begins to catalogue the standouts into an encyclopedia of sorts. As with Harry Potter facts or baseball stats, this knowledge helps in certain scenarios (calling in looks for photo shoots, writing reviews); is utterly useless in others (at trivia night, where you realize you haven’t watched a new movie in two years but man can you call out every notable fall shoe); and it can, at times, hinder your point of view.
Referential recall allows us to make sense of what we’re seeing. It creates mental frameworks, helping us to organize our thoughts. But sometimes, in order to form an opinion, you have to be able to remove the context and see what’s actually in front of you.
Don’t therapists call that “living in the now” or something?
Yesterday — excuse me for immediately going back to the past — the sleepy Sunday audience broke into smiles at Tome. Hard to do following a late Saturday night. The music was upbeat, the colors were bright and the models were diverse in terms of skin tone, size and age. Regarding the latter two, there was only one model who wasn’t a size zero and one who wasn’t close to her teens, which could be perceived as “tokenism,” but if you don’t know Tome’s designers Ramon Martin and Ryan Lobo, then a quick glance at their show notes will remind you that they don’t just design for women, they really respect women. They gave credit to those who made their clothes (including the women’s collectives in India who create Tome’s prints), to those who influence their work, to women who influence other women. This casting was intentional and genuine. And wouldn’t you know it, contrary to the archaic argument for why a designer might choose an army of matching models — “because nothing should detract from the clothes” — nothing detracted from the clothes. Nothing can when the clothes are good.
Which they were: Tome’s Spring ’17 designs will make women who wear them feel alive. They require gumption, demand full dedication to a look. Like any noteworthy Dries Van Noten confection (reference point: DVN Spring 2013), this collection takes a skilled dresser who can style herself in the layers, sheer summer plaid and ruffles “properly.” Properly meaning as the designers intended, but something tells me that Tome’s woman can make up her own mind about how she’ll dress and what that means, thank you very much.
Speaking of women…
Carrie Bradshaw walked the runway Altuzarra. Leandra pointed this out and then began referencing all the times in which everyone’s favorite Sex and the City print-smashing heroine wore gingham, ruffled bra tops, ribbed knit dresses/underwear as pants and cherries. (For both fashion and Sex and the City, Leandra is a human library with her own Dewey Decimal System.) Normally, this kind of interjection would confuse my own opinions of a show, but instead it helped break apart the looks that I was already trying to remove from the pretty literal reference put forward: again, those cherries — with fishnet tights and punk-y hardware, Rockabilly ruffles, military greens and at one point, a metal soundtrack that sounded like Hot Topic’s equivalent of Muzak. Joseph Altuzarra cited Wild at Heart in his show notes, and if you’ve seen it or watched the trailer, well, there you go.
But wherever you go, there are you, as they say. Once Leandra threw off the references that I’d checked off, the context deteriorated and the clothes made sense for today: a baby blue beaded dress with pineapple and lemon polkadots so beautiful you’d wear it once them frame it. Dainty balconettes toughened up with python. Put-on-right-this-second dresses. That perfect trench we’re always told exists. The clothes fit so precisely thanks to the expertise of a man who understands what flatters and excites the female (size zero, okay, sure) body. Context and references removed, then cuts sized up about ten extra inches or two, couldn’t you see yourself wearing this? I could.
Here’s another question for you: do you think that Joseph Altuzarra might possibly be on his way to what Oscar de la Renta once was for American womenswear?
At Prabal Gurung, the year 2000, again. I am telling you. His Spring ’17 standouts will stand the test of time, like a burnt orange bias-cut skirt and a deep blue silk dress. But for that quick rewind: off-one-shoulder slouchy knits with feather plumes covered butts and asymmetrical silk skirts — later there were ruffled peasant skirts — and a newspaper-esque dress, yes, just like the one Carrie Bradshaw wore on Sex and the City. The one from John Galliano’s Fall 2000 collection for Dior. Except it turns out Prabal’s dress had its own modern, feminist spin. According to Nicole Phelps’ review, this one featured quotes from “famous speeches by prominent women.” Theme of the day.
Mid-show, a few audience members at Prabal twisted around and toward each other to ask whether or not their pals caught the same fashion references they did.
“Doesn’t that remind you of Proenza?”
But it was as though they were testing one another, not the designer. Or if they were, to paraphrase The Social Network (#nonewmovies): just because you make a chair doesn’t mean you owe money to the original inventor of the chair. Recalling your fashion history, testing your own knowledge and citing past references is energizing. Fun. It doesn’t just make you feel smart, it makes you feel like you’ve been paying attention. Why else would a designer do it? They’re just as much along for the ride as we are.
All photographs via Vogue Runway; feature collages by Emily Zirimis.