A relaxed Superbowl Sunday set the stage for Ulla Johnson, Jason Wu, and Hanako Maeda of Adeam to envision their women for Fall 2023.
How does a maximalist haute bobo brand do minimal? For Ulla Johnson, it does, and it doesn’t. Speaking to reporters backstage at her runway show Sunday morning—65 floors atop Manhattan in a glass-walled vast space in the skyscraper that houses Pfizer’s new headquarters—the native New Yorker and designer explained the collection’s streamlined direction.
“We started stripping away some things and added reductive silhouettes, emphasizing the body. Even this choice of venue of just the open skyline is different. I’ve been having long moments honoring New York City through Covid with elaborate sets at cultural institutions, and this vista felt like the ultimate moment of that,” she offered.
A paired back vibe was most evidenced with looks built around a new tulip skirt shape in shiny solid chintz fabrics or shiny wax leathers as an oversized jacket slash dress with hand-painted floral or blouson 80s pleated pants. The design exercise was also seen in the monochromatic and tonal color stories, especially in rust or terracotta. Signs of the cleaner approach were seen in a sage green gently structured pantsuit and denim looks that relied on silhouette versus prints.
Johnson works with artisans generally in Africa, such as Madagascar, where she produces her signature crochets which also took on a cleaner graphic approach as several pieces have a concentric circles pattern. The designer said knitwear was super important though traditional knits were scarce on the runway, save some mohair and ribbed knit on a few items.
Outerwear was a fresh emphasis with slick puffers, intarsia knit wools, and a shearling on parade. Johnson referenced dissected military coat interior details as her starting point though the result was not evident as a uniform. Accessories such as fringe-trimmed kitten heels, stitch stack heel pumps, and multi-color suede satchels continue to develop. They will nicely round out the selection in the designer’s flagship stores, including the upcoming third location in Los Angeles.
However, more graphic, there were plenty of Johnson’s usual feminine frills and ruffles to go around, especially gowns performing well at retail, according to the designer. The show lingered on as items came in different colorways or patterns; editing is a tricky precipice to navigate. Johnson’s eagerness to show everything risks diluting her distinct POV.
What didn’t last too long was Black Belt Eagle Scout, a First Nations band that performed a soulful transformative tune throughout the show. Aside from their music, Johnson may have chosen the band to acknowledge Lenapehoking, the homeland of the Lenape lived, present-day Manhattan. Whether richly detailed or clean and simple, Johnson’s multi-faceted collections celebrate not only the people who wear them but those who make them and even those who came before.
Similarly, Jason Wu took a less-is-more approach for his Fall show though the method and result drastically differed. Wu also started with the location, which was the Peter B Lewis theater at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed and UNESCO heritage site, the Guggenheim Museum. The space allowed for a cozier, more intimate viewing versus the sleek minimal spaces the designer typically prefers.
Post-show, the designer explained it had to do with experiencing a New York cultural moment. “I have an appreciation for architecture; I love it. I am an NYC designer, so it’s nice to show in a landmark building which hasn’t done this here before,” Wu told FashionNetwork.com backstage.
It also lent itself to the emphasis Wu was looking to convey. Much like slowly perusing a museum and taking time to absorb what you are looking at, the designer utilized the round theater space to allow models to encircle the crowd, walking slowly.
“Why are we pushing the girls out every two seconds? Can we look at the clothes? That is what we are here for. It’s a reevaluation of why I got into fashion— to make beautiful clothes. I want that to take center stage more than anything else,” he continued remarking it was still just an eight-minute show compared to six.
The staging gave guests a moment to take the subtle shift in Wu’s direction. Most notable was the tailoring, often embroidered on sculpted jackets and overcoats.
“I turned 40, and I am feeling good, more confident. I wanted to show a different side and more of myself and always be evolving. Most people don’t know, but I went to school for menswear,” he explained.
He also toyed with imperfection, something he avoided when he was younger.
“Today you see things a bit more deconstructed – of course, in my way but letting the fabric tatter,” he said, referring, for instance, to a hem on an embellished split leg skirt and matching tank top ensemble or a delicate sheer organza trim on a voluminous strapless gown.
Pops of color interspersed throughout; purple as a trench-inspired topper, red as a stunning bustier-style gown; yellow in a shiny finish on another strapless gown; light tan on semi-opaque fringe skirts and dresses, and white for the botanical print silks inspired by 20th-century artist Karl Blossfeldt.
Black, a New York go-to, prevailed throughout and played upon shape when shown in sheer, translucent tulles and laces that revealed the body in an upscale manner; Wu is never vulgar. He is also never trendy.
“I don’t need to be an Instagram favorite. The collection is about letting go a bit because, in a Photoshop, filter-heavy world, we need to see real. It’s a fast world, and I wanted to give an experience almost like a performance,” he added. With that, Wu deserves to take a bow.
Another designer is expanding her collection to be more inclusive. Reaching her ten years in business in 2022, Hanako Maeda is looking toward the next decade by increasing her offerings—which earn a hybrid moniker—to include a new unisex line that debuted at the show.
“I have two stand-alone stores in Tokyo, and I saw that many of my clients came shopping with their male partners and friends, plus a lot of men wear my knitwear already, so that was the starting point. I wanted to make a collection that speaks to different types of people that feels fluid, so that was the starting point for the collection,” Maeda told FashionNetwork.com backstage.
But first, there was the women’s collection. With a dramatic staging by Thierry Dreyfus—who lists brands such as Comme des Garçons, Jil Sander, Chloè, and Ann Demeulemeester, among others, as clients—the show opened with the French lighting designers’ laser-beam lights with a lone model, cropped hair model appearing center stage. That and the music gave it a Stranger Things vibe (and a black jumper and white shirt look later channeled Wednesday Adams), but Maeda had nineties pop-punk (think Green Day and Blink 182) on her mind plus influences plucked from Tokyo manga characters. To that end, there were tartan plaids, chunky shoes, and chain belts.
Moreover, there were plenty of gowns with exaggerated puff sleeves, ruffled train skirts, and tulle baby dolls layered over longer skirts. Evening wear touches were also mixed into great daytime dressing pieces; Maeda’s fall wardrobe offers tailored jackets in off-the-shoulder and belted styles, pleated skirts and light chiffon day dresses, and peek-a-bow shoulder pussy bow dresses.
It seemed like the show might end until another model-slash-musician Japanese rocker Miyavi took center stage for more of Dreyfus’ light antics while he played a riveting guitar solo. He signaled the Adeam ICHI gender-neutral collection, taking a page from the Grunge playbook. It featured plenty of outwear such as boxy anoraks, vests, and five-pocket styles; staples like plaid shirts, oversized cargo shorts, and distressed knits assembled in a mash-up layered look that will appeal to the broader audience Maeda is seeking.
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