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Fashion The best of SS21: designers respond to the pandemic and climate change

Oct. 5, 2020
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In March, as Fall Fashion Week came to an end, the world faced a threatening global pandemic. Fast-forward to Spring 2021 and the much-needed spirit of Fashion Week is gone, and there are no paparazzi or photos of best-dressed show-goers. With everything that’s going on, from wildfire disasters to conversations regarding BLM, the future of fashion seems irrelevant and out of touch.

Designers had to tackle their own difficulties, figuring out how to make and present their collection while staying relevant. This season, some designers responded to what’s going on around the world—from the pandemic to environmental issues to the future of the fashion industry.

ECKHAUS LATTA (NEW YORK)

Staged parallel to the East River near Manhattan Bridge, the event was live-streamed alongside random passersby, amidst the city’s white noise of traffic. Models wore their hair almost naturally, self-applied minimal makeup, walked without a soundtrack, and best of all, wore masks. 

What we saw on the runway emphasized coziness and comfort: crochet skirts, earth-tone sweats, wide-legged pants, and knee-length dresses, perfect for working from home and spontaneous grocery runs. “We wanted a casual pedestrian quality… Not a spectacle but something that felt more human,” Mike Eckhaus explained. “Like the models could just be going out for a walk with their friends.” 

A burnt orange double-layered check set styled with a matching face mask is possibly as glamorous as it gets. For now, the future of fashion is comfort, and these clothes celebrate just that. Staying true to New York’s walking culture and the hustle and bustle of city life, Eckhaus Latta’s Spring collection reflects daily life post-COVID—a reality in which we’re at ease being in the midst of a global pandemic. 

COLLINA STRADA (NEW YORK)

Hillary Taymour is a designer on a mission. Having founded her label on the values of environmental consciousness, she always opts for upcycled and repurposed fabrics in her collections. This season, the designer chose to embrace fun and optimism amid everything that’s going on. 

Because she couldn’t produce a show, Taymour teamed up with photographer Charlie Engman to make a fashion film: within a trippy virtual dreamscape, models of all ages dance alongside animated flower-humans, cows, and frogs.

This season, her vibrant, scribbly prints and tie-dye patterns take over the collection’s entire color palette. Standout pieces include pink tie-dye flower-shaped thong bikinis, lime-green cut-out bodysuits, bright, metallic flower-shaped masks, and wacky pants with hand-drawn flowers and attached bows. It’s playful, childish, and wildly weird but still brilliant. To the designer, this is a celebration of the Earth and every weird creature that calls it home. 

ART SCHOOL (LONDON)

Shot a month prior to Fashion Week, Art School’s Spring show took place in Waterlow Park, north of London. Journalists and photographers were invited to watch the filming from a safe distance—still with masks on, of course. Although it’s not easy to plan a collection (especially during a pandemic), designer Eden Loweth was able to send out 54 looks on an extensive cast of models of varying ages, genders, races, and physiques. 

Since Art School was founded, the brand has made it its mission to redefine the limitations of gendered clothing and celebrate queer identities. “Isolation was difficult,” Loweth commented. “I’ve named the collection Therapy. I wanted to do something that felt more like a community, to get everyone together who is supporting me.”

Some may say that the future of fashion looks bleak. But in reality, fashion is about connection and we’ll never stop seeking self-expression, community, and kinship. “Life only stops when you stop trying,” Loweth said. “More than ever I feel a real purpose. And for the first time, I feel I have the power to say that.” 

For this collection Loweth worked with Zebedee, a talent agency that represents models, actors, and performers of different disabilities and trans/non-binary identities. 

MATTY BOVAN (LONDON)

In the making of his Spring collection, Bovan was under lockdown just like everyone else in York, his hometown. While spending time at home, he drew inspiration from elements of England, the history of his hometown, and “[his] grandmother’s yellow floral carpet and curtains.” 

Instead of presenting a show, Matty Bovan opted for a lookbook shot in a 19th-century chapel in York. Here, he draped and hand-sewed the whole collection while taping the process for the world to see. “I think that showing the process is really important,” he said. “I’ve always done things on a small scale. I think it kind of shows future generations that lots of people are creating fashion this way, for the love of it.” 

For his Spring collection, Bovan used Celtic-knot graphics, Liberty fabrics, and other old English elements such as Shakespearean doublets and patchwork ruffled skirts. It’s old, yet contemporary and future-forward. He replaced models with faceless dummies. The colors and patterns are maximal and chaotic, with standout pieces including a curtain-like shoulder draping. 

Bovan regularly sources recyclable materials and repurposes old fabrics. His self-sufficiency allows him the comfort of creating even in the worst of times. “I’ve always done things on a small scale,” he shared. In this collection, he layered the old with the new, creating a whimsical and punk-infused series of looks to celebrate his English pride.

FASHION EAST X MAXIMILIAN DAVIS (LONDON)

Lulu Kennedy’s incubator, Fashion East, has always been an energetic creative hub. In 2000, the project was established—at a time when London Fashion Week was losing its relevance. Since then, the project has been a stepping stone in the career of many now-successful designers including JW Anderson, Gareth Pugh, Martine Rose, Simone Rocha, Ashley Williams, and Craig Green. 

For Spring 2021, Fashion East newcomer Maximilian Davis took the wheel. Davis made his Fashion East debut with the collection “J’ouvert.” “Black people must be in charge of their narrative,” he said. “Right now, people are more open than ever before to talking about race. This collection is offering a starting point for me to be vocal in that conversation.”

Celebrating Black elegance, his collection focuses on a well-tailored fit and intricate lines with a twist—from a slashed suede dress styled over fitted black trousers to a bra-like top paired with an A-line skirt with black feather details. The young designer aims to rethink sophisticated fashion, pulling inspiration from the history of Trinidadian Carnival. “I discovered that in Trinidad enslaved people were set free in 1834, but before that, they had performed for their slave masters,” he shared. “Carnival came out of their liberation. I wanted to put that imagery into my tailoring, comparing 19th-century history [to] the cutout garments [that] are worn at Carnival today.”

SIMONE ROCHA (LONDON)

Staged at the Hauser & Wirth gallery, Simone Rocha presented her Spring collection to a select group of journalists. “I’m not going to lie: I’ll be the first to say I love runway shows,” Rocha revealed. “Now that the pace of shows has been stripped away, I wanted to find a space to represent that.” The short video that accompanies her lookbook was shot in the same space, enclosed by blank walls. Ten models stood motionless a few feet apart, somber and atmospheric music resounding as the camera took sharp turns around the room. To Rocha, it wasn’t as much about the performance as it was about seeing the clothes in person. 

Right now, it’s pretty unexpected to see extravagance in a collection when most of us are opting for loungewear. But this season, Rocha sought a sense of nostalgia and escapism. The combination of silk, puffy sleeves, pearls, and ruffles conveys undeniable femininity. Pearls were featured everywhere in the collection, as they’ve become Rocha’s signature—from headdresses and breast outliners to pearl-shaped clutches and pearl woven totes.