When did you last look up from your smartphone and feel something? I don’t mean a joke about Leo DiCaprio from the Fat Jew that made you laugh. I mean something that feels so human it makes you want to cry. I’ve been to fashion shows that did that — one or two from McQueen, for example. But perhaps because we spend so much time viewing images of clothes on our phones — or, during an actual show, taking shots of them to share with followers — we don’t expect to have an emotional response, and we may not even be open to it.
Yet Sophie Theallet managed to break through this carapace of information with a sublime show Friday night near Wall Street. Theallet has been around for a while, always making lovely clothes with a French flair, but last season she decided that the commercial demands of the industry were really shackling her. She created a gorgeous, drum-pounding show on a West Side rooftop based on African themes and using custom fabrics. Who knew that Theallet was capable of so much creative juice? Well, I suspect that she did. And she was willing to risk a lot to bring it out. This season her ideas were even more buoyant, in part because they were hitched to Theallet’s French sensibility. And, again, her fabrics were particular — all couture silks, velvets, laces, cloques, and furs, or leather jackets that had a savage-chic feel.
“I wanted lightness,” said Theallet backstage, as cheers from her 48 models and the makeup artist Tom Pecheux erupted. “And something beautiful because” — she paused, laughing — “there’s so much shit out there. Excuse my French.”
It’s funny that the title of her show was "7 Billion Others / World Citizen." On the one hand, Theallet’s sophisticated cutting and draping (much of it offhand in attitude) expressed a very worldly view of dressing. One of my favorite looks was a slim gold skirt with a cream lace top simply crisscrossed over the breasts, as if the wearer, in haste, had created the top before leaving for a night out. It’s very hard to impart that sense of tossed-off glamour without it looking like a mess. Other beauties included a floor-length dress in cream charmeuse, flung with a feathery white stole, and a column in white cloque with peaked sleeves, the model’s face framed in black lace. Theallet’s clothes resist easy description, yet they’re hardly complicated. They beg to be worn by a flesh-and-blood screen siren at the Oscars. Cate Blanchett comes first to mind.
What also made Theallet’s show so moving was that you were aware not only of the extraordinary work involved, but the individual sacrifice, too. She doesn’t have a major backer. The pop queen Rihanna, on the other hand, has the global power of Puma behind her new Fenty line. Rihanna has developed a very free and distinctive personal look in the last few years, but this collection pursued a mass style — very slick but derivative and lacking in magic — that’s easy to read on a cell phone. Kanye’s clothes might be murky and muddy, but you do feel that they connect to his personality. Rihanna’s clothes felt like they came off an assembly line of designers.
It’s great to see a number of young American designers wanting to snip away at convention. In their second season, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia of Monse added much more refinement to their freestyle cutting and draping methods, based initially on a classic dress shirt transformed into other shapes. Low-slung pants in rose-pink velvet looked cool with a slightly oversize striped silk shirt; and their slim, deconstructed trousers — imagine the flap of sailor pants half unfurled — seem destined to be worn. Kim and Garcia, who spent many years working at Oscar de la Renta, also expanded their silhouettes this season, with fitted dresses cinched at one side and some handsome, sloppy coats in high-quality wool. If you’re wondering about the material of some billowy coats — a garbage bag? — it’s actually a laminated taffeta.
Adam Selman also had a terrific show, beginning with a dark-blue denim dress with overall-style straps and a tapered waist, worn over matching full trousers. I also loved his take on the oversize blouse — again, in dark denim marked with black bias tape. Selman’s show felt very clear and compact, as though he were saying to his audience, “Here’s my version of a parka, defined at the waist. Here’s an off-the-shoulder minidress in kittenish black chiffon.” In other words, Selman has found his narrow opening in the universe. He’s filling it with care and maybe a little love. And he’s not gonna waste our time.