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Eckhaus Latta 2019 backstage

What does it feel like to be attending New York Fashion Week, right now? The first thing that I will say is that it feels very different than it did even two or three years ago. The spectre of the 2008 financial crisis has bowed out, the #metoo movement has encouraged a changing of the guard (symbolic or not), and New York designers are committing to a vivacious new creative mission of imagining what the local fashion scene can be. Quintessential New York Fashion Week heavyweights like Rodarte and Proenza Schouler spent the last handful of seasons showing in Paris. Their simultaneous return this season signifies a quiet recognition that New York is alive again, and American brands don’t need the cachet of Parisian chic to prove their seriousness when some of the most profound creative output is coming from the city as we speak.

But while fashion’s fans are undoubtedly excited for Rodarte and Proenza’s re-entry, these two established brands now find themselves almost shoulder to shoulder with a slew of electrifying young labels that have grown in capacity, profile, and most importantly – confidence. Names like Vacquera, Eckhaus Latta, and Pyer Moss were once alternative shows on the fringes of fashion week, but today, the thoughtful conversations about gender, race, activism, culture, and identity that they are at the fore of, undergird the new collective spirit of fashion week.

The praise for Eckhaus Latta has been effusive, both from the fashion world and visual arts, as evidenced by their current exhibition Eckhaus Latta: Possessed on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art. On Saturday, their show in Bushwick was all hand-painted knitwear, Italian raffia yarn, and a new foray into experimental digital prints.

Eckhaus Latta’s take on what you could call minimalism was just as subversive but even more meticulous than in the past; a linearity and crispness pervaded the collection but was never overdone in a way that might cast aspersions about the clothes losing the earthy, off-the-wall, rawness that they are known for. The tailoring was sharper, the materials more tactually seductive, and the cuts provocative, making for an overall tighter, neater, more sophisticated (in any sense but elitism) collection that lives up to the promise that this great young brand has been given. Eckhaus and Latta also get bonus points for their bona fide commitment to some of the best casting we always see at New York Fashion Week, emphasising inclusion, character, and uniqueness.

Eckhaus Latta Spring 2019 runway

An evolution is also underway for Collina Strada, a label that Couturesque has been watching for the better part of three years, and one that has also – season after season – stepped up its game and delivered a thought-provoking, heavily researched collection. At their show on day one of New York Fashion Week, guests were treated to a reprieve from the sweltering heat in the form of a sound bath, complete with a gong and children playing chimes. The sticky day felt instantly cooler in the form of white satins, organza shorts, and a healthy dose of fringe and tie-die. What could have trended heavy-handedly towards festival wear or Wild Wild Country-cult leader garb instead felt contemporary, clean, and thoughtful. Designer Hillary Taymour’s desire to reset and find balance was well thought out in what can only be described as a promising step in an increasingly purposeful direction.

Collina Strada Spring 2019 runway by Soraya Zaman

If Collina Strada is meditative and breezy, LRS is its anarchist cousin. The 2014-founded label opened their show with translucent white cotton, but then (queued by choppy wet hair and cowboy boots) quickly became a rhapsodic explosion of colour, vinyl, lilac suits, pink buzzcuts, cutouts, clown makeup, devil-horned hoodies, and a painted-on crop top. Designer Raul Solis was upfront about the collection’s theme being abundantly plural, and while the result was chaotic, it also says something about our multitasking, bricolaged, postmodern world.

LRS Spring 2019 runway

Downtown, Sandy Liang is the Lower East Side’s resident champion, and Spring 2019 was no exception with a low-key presentation staged at Cantonese restaurant Congee Village on Allen St. It is hard not to gush over Sandy’s entire line, season after season, under the auspicious of “wanting to wear it.” While wearability can be a dirty word among some of the fashion set, Sandy creates clothes that everyone wants to live in – comfortable, colourful, playful, and unquestionably cool. We loved it all – from Coco Baudelle in a black gauze-backed evening dress, down to the pink bucket hats, and the vivid floral arrangements by Brrch Floral. Oh, and Maya and I definitely stayed to tuck into some dumplings and Chow Mien.

Sandy Liang Spring 2019 lookbook by Kathy Lo

As a young creative studying, living, and working in New York, it is invigorating to feel excited about fashion week again and to feel as though the support for emerging, risk-taking labels is finally here. Instead of begging for an invite to a major corporate show, the hot ticket is to see collections from brands run by people near our age, who think, speak, and act the way we do, and care about the values that we profess. The intersection of down-to-earth, intellectual, subversive, and richly personal innovation has always been the hallmark of what makes creativity in New York so special, and we’re excited to be here and bear witness to it.

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