Cathy Horyn New York Fashion Week Review: Proenza, Eckhaus

From left to right: Proenza Schönler, Area, Eckhaus Lata.
Photo-Illustration; The Cut; Photos by Madison Vellkel, Jonas Gustavsson. Courtesy of Area

I thought of Helmut Lang often while watching Proenza Schouler (and Eckhaus Latta) two of the best shows of the weekend. Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernández of Proenza set up their seats in an intricate labyrinth at the Chelsea Factory. It required models to move in a circular fashion around the room while also drawing the audience closer. That’s an old Lang setup from his days in Paris. And they featured classic masculine coats over plain sweaters and silver or gold metallic jeans, another bit of Lang déjà vu, and opened the show with their friend Chloë Sevigny.

I later found out the well-known New Yorker Sevigny’s profile from 1994, when Sevigny was just 19 years old. Lang was her favourite designer. That was the year the Austrian minimalist showed his fetishistic rubber dress — actually a Chantilly lace shift glued to a thin layer of latex — and black suits with red-and-silver-gray nylon T-shirts that crinkled like candy wrappers. Mike Eckhaus, Zoe Latta and a male model wore a black wool coat, a dark sweater, and pants. The show was followed by pieces in wax-coated nylon and laminated organza and caveman-style vests in shearling, with jeans, and then a piece in laminated nylon. Lang, who in the ’90s once showed sleeveless tops in a brown furry material, was famous for creating a sexual tension that was hard to pinpoint. Eckhaus Latta has experienced the same in recent years.

Eckhaus Latta.
Madison Vellkel.

Lang, who retired in 2005 from fashion, is a man many designers owe. When he created the rubber dress, it was to offer a new kind of glamour — away from the bombastic variety of Mugler and Gaultier and the bourgeois refinement of Saint Laurent. One of the first designers to present men’s and women’s fashion together, and to include friends who weren’t models, like the artist Elfie Semotan, Lang had a knack for making his clothes hover between the everyday — mainly through tailoring — and the erotic. Designers today have the ability to create ideas for a new generation with radically different views about the body, thanks to more open and flexible notions of gender, sexuality, and improved techniques.

Eckhaus Latta.
Madison Vellkel.

Eckhaus and Latta have been part of that vanguard, often using knits to their medium. This season they were slit, or severely cropped and partially unfinished and exposing a breast, or a blotchy composite of muted color, as with the green pullover on the actor Jon Gries, who caused a mild stir when he came out— “Look, Greg from White Lotus!” (As Zoe Latta admitted, “Celebrity models are not really our deal. He’s a friend’s boyfriend and he asked us if he could do the show.”)

The collection’s harder, more direct sexiness is what struck me the most. The striking features were the man in the black overcoat with chiseled features, and the girl in the boyish-looking linen trousers and black bustier that sit low on her thin frame. But also: the shearling vests with wide-legged jeans, including one pair in hand-painted stripes; an iodine-colored top and skirt in laminated organza that showed the body underneath; and an austere apron dress in cement gray made of wax-coated nylon. Eckhaus characterized the sexy difference as “more confident.” Either way, it ushers in a fresh change at the label.

Proenza Schouler.
Photo: Jonas Gustavsson

Proenza designers described their collection as their most personal to date. Given Hernandez and McCollough’s two-decade-old business, this might seem strange. But they haven’t always stuck to a clear path. They showed fiesta sleeves and bubble skirts last season, for example. “Not us,” as Hernandez conceded. They tried something different this time. They decided to focus on individual pieces rather than designing entire outfits. This was based on the tastes and lifestyles of their friends, many of whom are older and have children. Sevigny was joined by Olympia Scarry and Meghan Colison, an ex-Proenza model. Collison wore a black leather wrap dress with a white sweater and Scarry wore a white suit with matching boots.

Proenza Schouler.
Photo: Jonas Gustavsson

In a way, though, the star of this adult vision was the chameleon model Julia Nobis, who appeared twice — first in a black trouser suit, probably the defining statement of the collection, with a white crinkled silk blouse with French cuffs left undone, and, at the end of the show, in the same jacket and shirt but now with a black boucle mid-length skirt with deep vents. The pantsuits and the coats were chic, almost nothing — that is, not overdesigned. The sweaters were strong, as they look wonky when placed flat on a table, but can be twisted around the body. Also, the V-neck dresses in black and white with soft panels made of silk from an old Proenza Schouler collection were strong.

Photo: Hanna Tveite

It is difficult to imagine what the new language for dress and glamour looks like in a postLang world. It is certainly not the stilted, overly stylized expression of Khaite on Sunday night in Soho, with models in straight-line skirts, shag-fur maxi coats and shag-covered pumps and sandals (after Phoebe Philo at Céline), and big capes walking at a silly tortoise pace. The designer, Catherine Holstein, is great at doing leather and trim-looking nylon blouson jackets with skirts, but the collection suffered from too-muchness, and a lot of her tailoring — which veered from classic to oversize and slightly hourglass — was not as precise as this stuff needs to be.

Photo by Area

Piotrek Panszczyk from Area made a very important point about fashion and art in a funny and original show at the United Nations. It can come from what’s around us — just as the Warhol soup can or indeed his peel-off banana on the cover of the 1967 “Velvet Underground & Nico” album did. Panszczyk’s entire collection was based on fruit — bananas and watermelon — and the notion of freshness and decay, with an accompanying soundtrack of buzzing flies. “Fruit seems so mundane, but actually when you look at it culturally it’s quite provocative,” he said.

He delivered with artfully constructed dresses based on bunches of bananas, skimpy beaded tops and miniskirts that evoked the fruit’s smiling curve, and some magical and near-naked black gowns and bodysuits with clusters of tiny black feather or wired beads that suggested, in his fruit-and-decay context, a swarm of flies — but which in real life would just look amazing.

The reference to Josephine Baker’s banana costume in 1920s Paris was no accident. I mentioned the fact that Dior had in January made reference to Baker, but had avoided her most famous outfit, possibly out of fear of offending anyone. Panszczyk shrugged and said, “They didn’t go there.” Of his own approach, he said, “For me, it’s honesty. And cultural things that connect to each other can also break down certain stereotypes.”

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