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5 Cult NYC Designers Have Put Their Cultiest Items on Sale

Photo: Courtesy Retailers

It is not a good time to be an independent designer. In fact, it is perhaps never a great time: Even without an economic catastrophe, the margins can be razor thin. “So many of us depend on wholesale dollars, and these companies are the first ones to pull out when times get tough,” designer Susan Alexandra told me. Orders are pulled at the last minute, cash flow grinds to a halt, and designers who have taken big risks to pay their vendors can be left holding the bag. Launching a label must be up there with starting a restaurant in the category of “financially near-impossible tasks that people do for the sheer love of it.” But I am so happy they do!

Because, look, on a purely aesthetic level, I would not be upset if certain fast-fashion chains bit the dust as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. I have never encountered a garment at these trend-driven retailers that elevated my mood or altered my conception of what clothing can do. The same is decidedly not true of my favorite cult designers, all of whom are currently offering their best goods at a discount.

Photo: Jenna Saraco

Ever wanted to dress exactly like Christian Slater in True Romance but didn’t know where to begin? Start with this silky Hawaiian-inspired shirt, whipped up in designer Lyndsey Butler’s downtown studio. The crepe top is rendered in the colors of supermarket sherbet (the best kind, even if there’s a little fringe of freezer burn). You can button whatever percentage of the buttons feels most appropriate to your lifestyle. I like 50 percent but will go up to 75 percent if I’m feeling “formal.”

Photo: Jenna Saraco

“Nature never hurries, yet somehow everything is accomplished.” That’s the Tao Te Ching. I have been finding a lot of quarantine comfort in staring out my window at the early buds and blossomings of the season. Now more than ever we are forced to go with the flow, so you might as well literalize this mandate by wearing a silky dress that flutters and dips even when there’s no breeze because you are stuck indoors. Also, it has pockets.

One thing that reliably delights me when I look at clothing (or fine art, for that matter) is to encounter a color combination that I have never before seen in my life. Here is one such combination, by the designer Nikki Chasin, in a style I can only describe as “LSD pilgrim, but make it Pierrot.” This also satisfies my No. 1 “mood hack” for working from home, which is to wear tops with incredibly elaborate cuffs, since I end up staring at my wrists all day.

This is both a merry pant and an economical one, since it will easily transition from quarantine life to post–quarantine life. Its quarantine bona fides include an elastic waist (crucial) and side pockets, while the slim cut and high waist provide an eccentric “drunk octogenarian in Palm Springs” ambience that will liven any social gathering … when, at some point in the future, we’re allowed to have them.

From a little studio in Chinatown, designer Hillary Taymour spins out fairy-tale clothes for true weirdos. How has the pandemic affected her biz? “Overall, it’s a day-by-day situation,” she told me. “We have had over 35 percent of our spring production returned or unable to ship.” This particular dress strikes me as the ideal costume for an avant-garde production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or for wafting around your apartment like a ghost.

Like the gown above, this hand-dyed number is made of eco-friendly biodegradable “rose sylk,” which is created from rose petals broken down into cellulose fiber and woven like silk. According to Taymour, “it is one of the best fabrics you can actually produce these days ethically.”

Olivia Cheng started Dauphinette in 2018 with $2,000 and, like many small designers, has grown the business entirely from sales — not investors. As the virus came down (and, with it, a flurry of canceled orders from wholesalers), she focused on creating a “joyful, peaceful, neutral environment for our audience; in my mind, I call it “springtime from a screen.” On the weekends, Cheng works on watercolor paintings whose proceeds are donated to food-rescue organizations such as City Harvest and Feeding America. This sacklette lined in (real!) pressed flowers is ripe for toting on your social-distanced walks or just plopping on your desk as an objet.

Here, I’ll coin a phrase: “When the going gets tough, the tough get fluff.” Why not self-administer a dose of marabou to liven up your days? Adjectives like “soft” and “rainbow” and “Cher Horowitz–y” are not a curative, but they do help to counteract adjectives like “anguished” and “queasy.”

“My line launched when Trump came into office and people were craving a joyful antidote to a very bleak time,” Alexandra told me. “Here we are, four years later, facing another entirely frightening situation, and again, people are craving comfort. I aim to create focaccia bread in accessory form.” This particular slice of focaccia is a sparkly handmade tote large enough to carry everything you need to get through the quarantine: hand sanitizer, one good book, and ten mini bottles of tequila.

For many of us, a daily walk (with careful distancing) is the key to managing fear and tedium. A card holder allows you to stuff your keys in one pocket and leave the house without a bag, since it holds the essentials. Plus, this card holder offers a loving message rendered in teensy beads — a vitamin injection of cheer when you need it most.

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5 Cult NYC Designers Have Put Their Cultiest Items on Sale