Almost every fashion show has some kind of historical reference or allusion-based theme underpinning it. Sometimes, these inspirations are a clever way to get weird, sensational stuff on the runway—like voguing or death metal. Other times, it's just an excuse to copy someone else's brilliant ideas because the designer can't think of anything better on their own. But, in general, these themes are almost always offered to help frame the collections for the buyers, who we suppose need a fancy little fairytale to prod them into emptying their pockets.
However, there is the rare occasion where some of these concepts are actually pretty illuminating. When they are good, they provide a window into the designer's creative process and taste, and they help expose folks like us, who only see the finished product, to cool new ideas and people we may have never heard of.The most recent collections presented at New York Fashion Week offered a host of themes. A lot of them were nonsense and weren't even reflected in the clothes. But a few managed to stand out—some because they were awesome, and others because they were offensive. Below is a roundup of the ones we found worthy of exploring a little deeper, beyond the runway.
Martine Rothblatt is one of the world's most successful and influential transgender women. As the founder and CEO of United Therapeutics Corp., she earns more than $38 million a year, making her the highest paid female executive in the US. One of the most exciting new concepts she's pioneering right now is "mindfiles," which would allow you to upload your consciousness into a bioanotechnical body and attain techno-immortality. Martine used her "mindclone" technology to create a robot version of her wife Bina in 2010—which is kind of similar to what Nazi supervillain Arnim Zola did to himself in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but way more romantic.Chromat, the Brooklyn label that outfits pop divas with "cage clothing," cited Rothblatt's mindfiles concept as a key inspiration behind its fall/winter 2015 collection. For the MADE runway show, designer Becca McCharen outfitted models in black geometric pieces with green lasers glowing around their neck and nipples, while others wore fuzzy white bustiers fastened to latex knee socks. Trans models Giselle Xtravaganza and Isis King modeled the S&M looks, while a series of other models represented different races and body sizes. Although McCharen didn't clone her brain for the show's finale, she culled together an army of futuristic-looking bionic girls that shows us how fashionable techno-immortality could be.
From mass genocide to the theft of their land, Native Americans have suffered despicable treatment in this country. Despite these obstacles, they've somehow managed to hold on to their illustrious culture. But even that has been under attack in recent years as important signifiers like headdresses have been appropriated by everyone from Victoria Secret to drunk white girls at music festivals.So when London-based brand KTZ made it known that their debut collection at MADE Fashion Week was going to be inspired by Native Americans, the question that loomed was whether the Brits would honor the beautiful and painful history of Native Americans or turn their culture into a grotesque caricature.This wasn't the first time the duo behind the line, Marjan Pejoski and Sasko Bezovski, have used other cultures to inspire their collections. They pride themselves on "embracing ethnographic references and multiculturalism" with previous influences including the holy sadhu men in India and the Berbers in North Africa.Unfortunately, as awesome as the collection looked—and it did look magnificent—it failed to live up its creators goals. With arrow headpieces and confederate caps, the runway show did a great job of inadvertently reminding everyone of the disrespectful way Native American culture has been commodified over the years. Although Marjan claims he did a lot of research, the thick bone necklaces, turquoise jewelry, and long fringe bags hardly offered an informed representation of the marginalized group. Not to mention, following the show, several indigenous media outlets accused KTZ of stealing the designs of Bethany Yellowtail, a Northern Cheyenne/Crow fashion designer. Whether there's truth or not in that accusation, it highlights our twisted reality where the people who originate a culture wallow in obscurity and the people who appropriate it are seen as "visionaries."
Although it might seem weird at first, prison culture isn't such a strange place to draw fashion inspiration from. Just think, we incarcerate more people in the US than any other country in the world. So it is inevitable that the styles that develop behind bars will one day find their way onto the streets (remember sagging?) and eventually the runway, which is pretty much what happened with Hood by Air's latest collection. Some of Shayne Oliver's new pieces—like his chambray jacket and pant combo—referenced the prison attire directly, while more subtle pieces, like jackets and sweatshirts colored jailbird orange, also made their way down the runway. Shayne even put his own twist on the khaki and denim pieces that prisoners wear when they're toiling away for the CCA by adding his usual assortment of HBA logos, zippers, and patches.As a concept, prison culture was an especially a fitting source for HBA to tap considering it can be both hypermasculine and homoerotic—one only needs to watch an episode of Oz to see that. And it's there, at the the nexus between those seemingly contradictory elements, that HBA's vision is its most powerful and affecting.
A Clockwork Orange
Being inspired by painting or architecture to make a fashion collection is one thing. But basing your collection off of a movie can come off kind of lazy, considering a costume designer was already paid to make those clothes. This season, however, the Blonds managed to put their own exuberant spin on the look of the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange with glorious results.
The designers paid tribute to Stanley Kubrick right away, opening their most recent show with a song from the 1971 film's soundtrack. The tune was Wendy Carlos's darkly electronic take on Henry Purcell's classical march, "Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary." In addition to being a crucial electronic composer, Carlos was also a pioneering transgender woman who started making her transition in the late 60s, which made her music's inclusion doubly perfect for the Blonds, who willfully challenge gender norms with their garments and have garnered a strong fan base in the LGBT community.Not long after the music began to play, lights dramatically illuminated naked statutes of glittering divas which protruded from the walls in a similar fashion to the decorations of the infamous Korova Milk Bar from the film. And then out came three models in black bowlers and white leotards that offered a glamorous, feminine update on the iconic getups worn by Alex and his crew. What was interesting is the way the Blonds subverted the original costumes. Where Alex had an oversized codpiece that exaggerated the shape of his junk, the women on the Blonds runway had glittering jewels over their pelvic region in the shape of a womb. The crowd roared when they realized the middle, main model was none other than Phillipe Blond, the designer who runs the Blonds with his partner David Blond. It was definitely a real horrorshow moment.
This season, lovable oddball designer Jeremy Scott dubbed his latest offerings the "Dolly Pattern" collection, which was a pretty big hint that he was inspired by the big-breasted country artist. The influence of Parton on Scott makes perfect fashion sense—like her, when the Los Angeles–based designer is at his best, he represents high and low culture, trash and glamour.The new collection shown at MADE Fashion Week featured patchwork fabrics that were a clear reference to Dolly Parton's classic song, "A Coat of Many Colors," about a poor little girl whose mother makes her a coat out of hand-me-down dishrags while telling her the biblical story of Joseph. It's a quaint little tale that kind of pooh-poohs highfalutin fashion, which makes it a pretty ironic source of inspiration for what will likely end up being some pricey shit at the VFiles store next fall.
A lot of people hate brutalist architecture, and it's not hard to understand why. Often made of concrete, brutalist buildings have an imposing presence that doesn't necessarily put you at ease. The large fortress-like structures first started popping up around the world in the 1950s and continued through the mid 1970s. The harsh aesthetic was usually used for large modular government buildings and shopping centers that all resemble futuristic prisons.The architectural style does have its fans. One being menswear designer Patrik Ervell, who used the aesthetic to explore new structural ideas in his latest collection. He used industrial-looking fabrics from the textile brand Maharam, and his jackets, sweaters, and trousers were presented in varying shades of gray reminiscent of concrete. And the set for the show was modeled after the Barbican Centre, a brutalist-style concrete ziggurat in London that received backlash for it's appearance in the early 80s and 90s but is now starting to be revered. Let's hope it doesn't take people that long to appreciate Ervell's strong new collection.
Aldo and Nedo Nadi were like the Manning brothers of fencing in the early 1900s. They grew up in Livornio, Italy, where they were born into a fencing family. And led Italy to sweep the 1912 Stockholm Olympics in three team events, with Nedo becoming the youngest person to win the individual gold medal for foil. Aldi also went on to win several gold medals of his own in 1920. It is said that the one time the brothers publicly faced each other, it ended in a draw. And they ended their awesome sword-fighting lives in California, where they taught fencing and worked on Hollywood movies.While the brothers were very accomplished athletes, it was when they weren't rocking lames that inspired Robert Geller's fall 2015 collection In past seasons, Geller's called on everyone and everything from British rockstar David Bowie to the work of French photographer Sarah Moon to guide the theme of his collections. The Nadi brothers served him just as well this time around, tempering his dark palette with a hint of prep. The layered looks featured cropped trousers, colorful turtlenecks, and striped sweaters. Many of the models had their hair slicked back in the same way the brothers wore theirs while sporting tailored suiting with leather suspenders and waist-cinching belts set off by silk patterned scarves. The collection was a masterclass in how to take the badass yet archaic spirit of something like fencing and make it work in a day and age when the only sword fighting most guys do is with their dicks.Follow Erica and Wilbert on Twitter.