The small fashion houses that saved Fashion Week

Top fashion houses just did not meet the standard this time during Fashion Week. While some pieces were fun and new, there was nothing truly thrilling, stimulating, and experimental from major brands like Chanel, Tom Ford, and Ralph Lauren this past month, which is what fashion, in my opinion, should be.

But thankfully, smaller, independent fashion houses showed up (and possibly even saved) New York Fashion Week 2021. Brands like Private Policy, Tia Adeola, and Imitation of Christ explored history, emotion, and inclusion in their Fall-Winter 2020 collections to connect and send a message to society today. 

First up is Private Policy, a New York-based brand whose designers are Haoran Li and Siying Qu. Their brand is known mostly for its use of chunky and silver chains, slanted checkered pattern, and genderless garments. 

In an interview with RAIN Magazine, Li said that the two often find inspiration in the streets of New York, especially “around the Lower East Side, SoHo, and Chinatown.” Inspired by the 19th century gold rush, and the Chinese migrants that came with it to the United States, the collection is especially relevant during this time when the frequency of xenophobic sentiments and hate crimes against Asian Americans are increasing. Historical photos the designers looked at for inspiration showed a mixing of cultures in the migrants’ clothing. For example, utilitarian coats and quilted vests were being paired with wide brim hats.

With this as inspiration, Li and Qu designed a collection that incorporate Chinese designーquilting patterns through the brand’s staple checkered pattern, knot buttons, wide brim hats, Mandarin collars, and qipao dressesーwith American and Western flair, like cowboy boots, denim midi-skirts, and utilitarian jackets that resembled a more modernized version of the 19th century Chinese migrants’ wardrobes. They accomplished this “modernization” through the use of bomber jackets, vegan leather pieces, and their signature bulky silver chains. They created a look that features a T-shirt with a twist on the American symbol of the bald eagle carrying an American flag in which a crane carries a checkered flag.

All things considered, Private Policy’s collection concurrently pulls the viewer from past to present, while still providing a relevant message to our world today and is the innovative, fresh breath of air fashion week so desperately needed.

Another innovative brand is Imitation of Christ, a conceptual brand that has a history of playing the role of the “provocateur” or instigator in the fashion world. Their brand is based on a rejection of status quo and in the designer Tara Subkoff’s eyes, “the courage to think differently.” This collection, whose show was on Valentine’s Day, was meant to offer something “true,” Subkoff says, on a commercial holiday that sells a capitalist, consumer-driven idea of love and romance. She tells Vogue Runway that the realization that “we all have a heart pumping blood in our bodies for a finite amount of time” inspires compassion for others, a goal of hers with this collection. 

Subkoff utilizes 1920s inspired deco beading that represents the craving we have for movement and freedom at this time. Probably the most remarkable part of this show was the use of a 3D-animated beating heart that seems to react to the exultant, positive-themed clothing, beating at different paces and growing flowers. Most of the actual pieces in the collection are very experimental and bright, and a couple of them, honestly, do not work. A pink dress has green and teal patches and pieces of fabrics half-attached to it, which definitely exhibits IoC’s “different thinking,” is just not wearable or attractive. However, pieces like the velvet red dress piped with deco beading from the bottom of the dress to the ends of the sleeves on both sides, is, while also displaying the theme Subkoff hoped to achieve. 

Subkoff hopes that in this era of copying and imitating, her work inspires others to think and act sustainably. Her upcycled collection goes on the RealReal, a luxury consignment site, and 50% of profits from the collection go to Greta Thunberg’s “Friday for Future.”

Finally, we have the eponymous Tia Adeola. The 24-year-old designer is widely known for her sheer ruffle sets seen on celebrities, like Dua Lipa and Gigi Hadid. She finds inspiration in Renaissance artists like Botticelli, El Greco, and Sanchez Coello. In her new collection, Adeola explores a Marie Antoinette-esque path that highlights Black beauty, which happens to be the message of the show. In light of the racial injustices of the past year, Adeola states, in a Vogue Runway review of her show, that she “wanted to put out something beautiful, and show Black bodies from a lens of luxury and fantasy,” and after diving into the collection, called “Le Noir est Beau” (Black is Beautiful), I can confirm that that is exactly what she did. 

In the collection, Adeola continues to showcase her signature use of sheer material with embellishments like white feathers and summery-hued flowers that add excitement and a unique flair to each piece. While some of her pieces, like a white bodysuit embellished with pristine, white pearls, might not be suitable for the majority of people, Adeola is worn by many performers like Lizzo, Kali Uchis, and SZA. Perfect performance wear. 

Notably, Adeola’s sheer, printed jumpsuit with feathered icing on the ends is an obvious nod to Cher’s iconic 1974 Bob Mackie dress, which some might argue is plagiarism. However, such an obvious gesture, in my eyes, is praiseworthy because it pays homage to a major moment in pop culture that instills feelings of nostalgia, compared to collections from Versace this fashion week, which had logos and designs that were so clearly copied from Fendi, Prada, and Goyard. It lowers the integrity of major houses that represent the fashion industry to the world. 

More importantly, Adeola works with sustainable manufacturers in her hometown of Lagos, Nigeria, which she says in an interview with The Cut feels “really good” because she’s taking “the money back home and creating jobs.”

In the end, Adeola’s exploration of the past allows for a refreshing experience that showcases diversity and luxury.

All in all, the lack of originality, vision, and purpose in top house collections was exquisitely made up for by smaller houses that produced opulence and excess, diverse beauty and refinement, and messages of deep importance through their alluring, sui generis collections.