It's a rare sight to see the designs of Maria Cornejo (Zero + Maria Cornejo), Phillip Lim (3.1 Phillip Lim), Naeem Khan (Naeem Khan), and David Neville and Marcus Wainwright (rag and bone), modeled on the same stage together. These 5 designers were chosen to be part of a fashion panel discussion with Judith Thurman entitled Fashion Forward: The New Guard, as part of the 11th annual New Yorker Festival this past weekend.
When I heard who was going to be on the panel I was eager to attend! Each of these designers is changing the face of American fashion and have achieved a great level of success in the past few years, but their styles and the markets for their labels run the gamut. On one side of the stage there was Naeem Khan, with his glamorous beaded and sequined mini-dresses that take 300 hours of work by hand to complete, while on the other side there was Rag and Bone, with their exquisitely-tailored tweed blazers and leather-patch wool carpenter pants, inspired by mountaineering. Interestingly, although each designer's styles varied greatly, they have much more in common than meets the eye. Although each designer is foreign-born, they have all very consciously made New York City their base. They all feel a greater openness to working in New York, where the culture for fashion is more enthusiastic and welcoming for designers than say in London or Paris. They also all feel that New York offers everything they need, which is a great testament to the worth of the Garment District. Even though the recent economic times have been very challenging to each designer, they have been able to weather through as independently-owned businesses due to a conscious awareness of the balance needed between "art and commerce" as Mr. Lim said. They try to eschew designing for a "type" of person and age group, have an unwavering demand for quality, a sensitivity to craft and tradition, and draw from very personal influences that inspire their eclectic designs. Ms. Cornejo is constantly snapping photos with her iphone which tends to inspire her prints; Mr. Lim finds himself bringing equal amounts of "assertion and humility" to his clothes, which comes from his split Eastern/Western upbringing in a traditional Chinese family that settled in California; and both Mr. Khan and the boys from Rag and Bone are heavily influenced by their familial traditions in India and Britain, respectively. It was lovely to hear about the personal narratives behind the collections. Mr. Wainwright said that the stories and skill behind the clothes are what sets them apart and makes them special; it is what makes customers stand at their clothes racks "for an extra 20 seconds" to consider a purchase. I couldn't agree more. In a time of fast-fashion and fickle trends in America, it is encouraging to see designers pushing back at these tendencies, and succeeding. All photography by Tom Kane.