At NYFW, Designers Found Inspiration—and Collaborators—in the Art World

Among them: runways at the Whitney and Phillips Auction House, prints attributed to Joan Jonas and Shara Hughes, and Tiler Peck’s fashion week debut.

Tiler Peck performs at Adeam. Credit: Zach Hilty/BFA

It’s an oft-repeated “ism” that, in most design disciplines, there is nothing new under the sun. At its worst, that manifests as knocking off and copycatting to make a quick buck everywhere from the high street to the highest price points. At its very best, however, it can be the indescribable giddiness that arises from decoding the influences at play in a designer’s newest collection. Industry folks will always have an eye for the muses, mentors, and biggest runway wins that designers and their teams revisit and reinterpret. For audience members whose reference points are steeped more in the city’s museums, galleries, artists, and performers, the runways of Adeam, Carolina Herrera, Proenza Schouler, Rachel Comey, and Ulla Johnson offered a glimpse into the cultural touchpoints that bring joy to the people behind the brands.

For Adeam’s Spring/Summer 2024 collection, CEO and creative director Hanako Maeda channeled the brutal athleticism of ballet. As the costume designer of New York City Ballet’s 2015 Fall Fashion Gala, Maeda is well-versed in the discipline’s balance between structure, fluidity, romanticism, and precision. While there were a few wrap sweaters and tulle skirts, the collection largely avoided the pitfalls and stereotypes of balletcore. “I like playing with opposites,” Maeda says. “This collection had that femininity, but it also had that punk mood from last season with the jewelry, the piercings, and also the styling.” Indeed, the show’s strongest looks gave silk satin, organza, and tulle evening-wear an edge by styling it with punk-inflected piercings and Doc Martens. “As a younger designer, it’s very important to create something that feels like it’s innovative, and new to the eye,” she says. 

Credit: Courtesy of Adeam

Maeda also hosted Tiler Peck’s New York Fashion Week debut, commissioning a mid-show performance choreographed entirely by the New York City Ballet principal dancer. Those who frequent David H. Koch theater more often than fashion week were given a unique opportunity to see Peck nod to the company’s founding choreographers Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine in a composition entirely her own. 

Come October 5, Carolina Herrera’s creative director Wes Gordon will debut new costumes for New York City Ballet’s 2023 Fall Fashion Gala. On Tuesday, however, his mind was on another of the city’s cultural institutions: the Whitney Museum of American Art, which he chose as a backdrop for a spring runway show and collection inspired by Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s “casual glamour.” But Gordon had a second muse this season: the museum itself. “It’s the space, to be honest,” Gordon said in an interview with Surface. “It’s this beautiful Renzo Piano building with light and these high ceilings looking out onto the river. It just really fit that aesthetic of clean elegance, not to mention it’s the premier American art museum. It’s an honor they let us show here.” 

Credit: Justin Leveritt for Rachel Comey

Direct artist tributes came in the form of runway looks at Rachel Comey and Ulla Johnson. In the collection notes for her first runway show in two years, Comey described the Spring/Summer collection in its entirety as a “celebration” of the cross-disciplinary New York–based artist Joan Jonas. Comey mined the archives of Gladstone Gallery and visited the artist’s Soho studio to inform the collection, which features prints made from stills of Jonas’s performance, video, and poster art. Much of the artist’s work, created just blocks away from Comey’s own home and studio, will be on display at an upcoming MoMA retrospective

Ulla Johnson, meanwhile, welcomed the Brooklyn-based landscape painter Shara Hughes into her world of romantic ensembles. Johnson is known for her expert eye for color and pattern, and with Hughes’ electric color palettes as inspiration, the clothes feel like a more bold and commanding version of the dreamy bohemia that characterizes her previous collections. Three of Hughes’ paintings, Tuck (2021), Ignoring the Present (2018), and Cherry in Lace (2022), are encapsulated in the collection’s literal fabric as prints. 

Credit: Courtesy of Ulla Johnson.

Ultimately, it was Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler who made the biggest statement this season. True to form, they tapped Natalie Laura Mering, a friend and musician who performs as Weyes Blood, to score the show and wear its opening look. Less expected was the link to their new monogram, sent via attendees’ runway show confirmations. The designers teased the monogram—a “mark,” they call it— by linking to an edition listed at Phillips Auction House, where it has been appraised for $10,000 to $15,000. Two days later, the duo staged their show at the Park Avenue auction house. 

“Where’s the line between art and commerce?” Hernandez mused to Surface after the show. “This is the place where artists’ work comes to be judged and valued,” continued McCollough. “What’s the commercial viability of a piece? All those things happen in this space, so we thought it was an interesting metaphor for what we do— not that we’re calling ourselves artists by any means. We’re designers. It’s different. But we’re creatives and we’re grappling, I think, with very similar issues that artists grappled with.”

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