NYFW: Gabriela Hearst and Bach Mai
Gabriela Hearst is not a designer who lives in a creative bubble. She has honed her collection presentation into a formula involving collaboration with others whose craft yields artistic expression. Her vast knowledge and connection to other artists add to the highbrow nature of her clothes and accessories.
For Spring 2024, Hearst toed the line of her oeuvre approach in her namesake collection, the first since it was announced she would be leaving Chloe. The designer trailblazed the outer borough show trend when she took up residency at the Agger Fish building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the post-Covid era, purposefully setting herself apart from the New York design scene. It's a testament to her influence as many in attendance complain about the trek that can easily take up three hours of a busy NYFW day.
This season, her main collaborator was Arnulfo Maldonado, a Tony and Obie-winning Broadway set designer who made the vast, poorly ventilated, hot, rust-ridden space slightly more intimate than in seasons by condensing the room with white sheer panels (similar to the ones at Brandon Maxwell who showed just before in Manhattan.
Maldonado said it references Hearst's stated inspiration of Druids, which figures into Hearst's plant-based and sustainable ethos. Indeed, the robe and caftan shapes that prevailed felt a bit Shamanistic. A Hearst staple, organic knits, which in this case was a rare case of color in the collection, was attributed to another artist, Haitian artist Levoy Exil. Amy Schumer was a pop of color sitting front row in a pink pantsuit. (Other VIPs like Laura Dern, Marcia Gay Harden, and Lindsey Vonn chose black.)
Show notes also referenced cloaks in a statement attributed to the collection that read, "She is entering, head facing forward, she is not somber or ecstatic, she has acted. Two hands, a sword and proof, tools and symbols. They stand beside her, she can sense them in their dark cloaks, eight on one side and six on the other. The walk is one of triumph but with a somber scent from having seen more of the evolution that still needs to happen. Fear or love, she is a mirror of you."
As models walked to the most famous Argentinian rock star Fito Paez's music, the mood did feel a bit somber, adding to a sense some oomph was missing from the mainly black and white collection. However, the looks demonstrated Hearst's focus on craft and upcycling—to wit leather patches on a form-fitting hand-crochet fishnet floor-length dress. The offerings drove home a long message for spring and touched upon current trends, such as sheer and lingerie-inspired pieces, while delivering solid tailoring for men and women, another hallmark for the brand. The beauty of Hearst's clothes is in the details, and a triumph would be to consider the kind of presentation that allows one to get up close to witness the luxe fabrics, skilled technique, and tiny flourishes such as pearl buttons and the 18K gold hardware and jewelry. If it were centrally located, that would also make the audience ecstatic.
Bach Mai also called upon the other arts for his first runway show since launching his namesake brand in New York in 2022. He hosted his first runway show at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music and engaged guitarist Josué Pagán to serenade the models waking.
Speaking to reporters backstage post-show, Mai said his fourth collection was an homage to his recently passed father. It was a visibly emotional moment for Mai. "I didn't expect to do a runway so soon, but my father passed away, and I felt I needed to honor him. The title Atlas Crossing the River Styx, so I wanted to treat it like I was guiding him into the next life," he said to Fashion Network and other reporters.
Manifesting the collection as an homage to Mai's father meant an approach the designer referred to as "memorialization of time.' To that end, the garments contained construction details that mimicked frozen gestures, such as a hand in a pocket or gathering up a skirt hemline. More directly, nineties-esque cargo pants and utility details paid tribute to his Dad, who worked at an oil refinery in Texas where Mai grew up.
The latter was part of the collection's focus, the designer showing another side of his work. "I am not just an evening wear designer. I do it well and have gotten a lot of Red Carpet press," he said, with case in point with Kate Beckinsale and Misty Copeland attending the show, adding, "But some of our best-selling pieces are jackets and pants, so we wanted to push that we do separates and daywear," he said. They also demonstrated a tougher, grittier side of his work, perhaps a result of his return to New York after working in Paris for design houses such as Maison Margiela, training under John Galliano as well as stints at Oscar de la Renta, Prabal Gurung, and Calvin Klein.
This allows Mai an advantage over many New York designers as he has impeccable fabric options thanks to those prior associations. This season's prints were based on a lotus that 'represents rebirth,' the designer said. According to Mai, the collection included garment-dyed fabrics highlighting stitching and cotton and silk blends that were less precious and easier to wear.
Mai also represented his heritage in the collection. It was important for me to show an Áo Dài, a traditional Vietnamese garment, on my first runway. It's one of the national dresses where women wear pants," he said of the long open-side tunic style.
It was a lot to unpack and, at times, felt a bit less sophisticated than Mai's previous outings but understandably filled with many different emotions and influence. Time will surely steady his ship and keep his vision on track.
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