BY TAYLOR HARRIS
PHOTOGRAPHER MENELIK PURYEAR
HAIR MARK ALAN
MAKEUP WALTER OBAL
The shows will go on.
It’s the decree of the IMG Alliance, an initiative banding together 11 American designers in a collective pledge to show at New York Fashion Week for the next three seasons. “We’re rebuilding the bedrock of New York Fashion Week,” Noah Kozlowski, director of designer relations for IMG, tells Grazia USA. “In partnering with these designers through 2022, we’re safely demonstrating the resilience and artistry of American fashion on a global stage.”
In exchange for their commitment, each of the participating designers will receive funding from IMG to help finance their shows. “The designers who are showing here are, for the most part, independent and don’t have the scale and level of support that some of their counterparts in Europe have,” Kozlowski continued. “So, this initiative came about very organically, out of countless conversations we’ve been having with designers over the past several months.”
Pre-pandemic, there were countless conversations of a different nature: regarding the relevance and ROI of the shows, the breakneck pace of the fashion calendar, the implications—environmental and otherwise—of a six-collections-per-year output, the sheer volume of stuff created in the name of newness. Then, the pandemic hit and an industry often pushed into hyperspeed was stopped dead in its tracks.
Nearly two years later, we’re picking up speed but how it resumes in earnest remains to be seen. For insight, we spoke with those who have their eyes on the horizon: six designers taking part in fashion’s great Reconstruction.
Grazia USA: Your showing at the Empire State Building was one of the highlights of NYFW. Tell me a little bit about that decision.
LAQUAN: As a native New Yorker, it’s always been a dream of mine to show at a historic New York landmark. The Empire State Building is so inspiring to me. When you enter the lobby, you are met with incredible Art Deco design, from the tiling on the floor to the elevator doors to the moldings. It heavily inspired the direction of this collection. It’s a celebration of New York and New York fashion.
GG: Tell me about the mechanics of putting together a collection in a pandemic—not just in terms of developing SS22, but you can speak more broadly, to the past couple of collections. Did the design studio meet over Zoom for a period of time? What was it like sourcing/working with overseas vendors?
LAQUAN: I’m very lucky that all of my manufacturing is based in New York, so when other brands couldn’t maintain production my team and I were still cranking out orders. The first few months of the pandemic were definitely a learning curve for us, with our team working from home and communicating over Zoom. It’s difficult. This is a very hands-on industry and I like to work very closely with my team, working side by side with them and ensuring every piece is made exactly how I would like it to be. That being said, the health and safety of my team has always been my top priority and luckily, we were able to make it work.
GG: How did solitude affect your design process?
LAQUAN: Initially when the pandemic hit, I found it hard to get into a creative state. I’m very visual and I find myself most inspired when I’m out in New York City, so being in isolation was definitely an obstacle.
GG: You haven’t shown on a runway in a few seasons. Why did now feel like the right time to do a show?
LAQUAN: Once the pandemic hit, I knew I wanted SS22 to be the next live runway collection. I would consider myself somewhat of a perfectionist and I knew I wanted the show to have the same energy and impact that my shows in the past have had. The only way of ensuring that was to wait until I could have a live audience again and a full model cast.
GG: Why do you think live, in-person shows are so important? What is it about that experience that can’t translate to Instagram or livestream?
LAQUAN: In-person shows are so important because a lot more goes into the collection than just the garments themselves. I like to think of the entire experience. From when you step foot in the space, I like to create a tone or mood. And I use so many different fabrics in my collections with textures and details, seeing them in a flat image is no comparison to seeing them live in person.
GG: Early on in lockdown, when we all really couldn’t leave our homes, most of us reached for sweatpants and slippers. What was the comfort item you found yourself reaching for again and again?
LAQUAN: I purchased so many pairs of designer slides it was getting out of hand. Slides through the pandemic were my go-to shoe between the design studio, the factory, the grocery store, and the bodega. I was living my entire life in slides.
GG: What are you wearing right now?
LAQUAN: A LaQuan Smith T-shirt, Prada shorts, and slides, of course.