Markarian
Alexandra O’Neill wears Markarian dress, $1,495, markarian.com; Shoes, her own; Ama Elsesser holds Markarian dress, $1,975, markarian.com; Shoes, her own.

BY TAYLOR HARRIS  
PHOTOGRAPHER MENELIK PURYEAR
STYLING DAVID THIELEBEULE
HAIR DHAIRIUS THOMAS 
MAKEUP CHRISTYNA KAY 
PROP STYLING SHANE KLEIN

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 Gazette: So how is everything going?  

ALEXANDRA: Very well, actually! We’ll have a completed collection hopefully by Friday, so we’re in a good place right now. We’re doing our lookbook shoot either this weekend or Monday, so we’re in the midst of planning that right now—a lot of craziness but all exciting things. This is our first runway show, so this is all especially exciting. 

GG: Why did right now feel like the right time to do your first show?  

ALEXANDRA: We partnered with IMG this season, and having their support behind us has been crucial. It also felt like a natural trajectory to take. It’s been a very exciting year. 

GG: When did you start initially conceptualizing this collection? 

ALEXANDRA: I usually start designing right after I finish the previous collection, so we’ve been working on this since February. I find it hard to focus on more than one collection at a time. 

GG: Producing a collection during a pandemic presents some unique challenges. What has been the most difficult aspect in that regard? 

ALEXANDRA: It’s definitely difficult, but it’s a bit easier this year than obviously it was last [year]. We’ve learned how to do things differently. We did a lot of remote fittings. 

GG: Meaning you send a look and a tailor to a fit model, and she Zooms you in? 

ALEXANDRA: I was actually fitting looks on myself and Zooming with our pattern maker. Really a group effort here!  

GG: Have you found it difficult to find inspiration or incite creativity? 

ALEXANDRA: Not really. I mean, I do draw a lot of inspiration from traveling and obviously that hasn’t happened but I’ve always been inspired by the arts, books…. I love a good period piece. My grandmother was living with me, actually, when I started designing this collection and we were watching a lot of old movies together, so I was able to draw from that. 

GG: What is it about the experience of going to a live, in-person show that doesn’t translate to Instagram or livestream? 

ALEXANDRA: I mean, purely from a buying perspective, there’s definitely challenges in terms of really seeing what the clothing looks like: seeing how things fit on the body, how the fabric moves, what the print looks like in real life, how much something really sparkles, the texture of all the fabrics…. And a show gives you a sense of the mood of the season, too, that I don’t think you can capture in a photograph or a Zoom call. 

Markarian
Ama Elsesser wears Markarian dress, shop similar at markarian.com; Belt, her own. Hair, Dhairius Thomas. Makeup, Christyna Kay. Prop Styling, Shane Klein.

GG: Much has been made of women wanting to get dressed up and a post-pandemic return to glamour. Is this something that you’re finding resonates with your customers? 

ALEXANDRA: We are. We’re very much so an occasion-wear company, so during the pandemic when there were no occasions happening, we weren’t seeing a desire for this beautiful event-wear. But I would say over the past couple of months, there’s been a huge shift and people have been coming to us more and more for those special dresses. Women are looking forward to dressing up again and that’s definitely been reflected in our business. 

GG: Have you found that with yourself personally? Are you dressing up more?  

ALEXANDRA: I’ve always been like an all-or-nothing girl. I’m either in jeans and a T-shirt, or I’m going all out in sequins. When the pandemic first started, I made an effort to put real clothing on every day and then I got a little bit lazy. My favorite thing to wear were these cute little Doen nightgowns. I love a flowy nightgown. The more grandma, the better. 

GG: We recently shot you with Ama Elsesser, Paloma Elsesser’s younger sister who just began modeling and is about to do her first NYFW. What about her do you find so inspiring? 

ALEXANDRA: I loved working with Ama on this. She’s gorgeous and brought such fresh energy to the shoot. 

GG: Complete the sentence: The future of American fashion is… 

ALEXANDRA: That’s hard but I really think it’s a slower and more intentional approach. We’re very much so a slow fashion brand, the opposite of fast fashion. We make beautifully crafted pieces that are meant to last and are made to order, and that works for us. But I really try to be thoughtful about what we’re putting out there and I think that this slower approach is really important to the future of fashion. 

thoughts?