How Peter Do’s debut at Helmut Lang stole the show at NYFW – Lifotravel

Helmut Lang by Peter Do during New York Fashion Week. (Jonas Gustavsson for The Washington Post)

NEW YORK — A sense of blind superiority is one of the great American qualities. We believe we are the best and deserve the best, and in New York, where it is very difficult and laughably expensive to get the best, the hubris breeds a hustler mentality.

This is on glorious display during New York Fashion Week, which began officially on Friday but was in full swing by Tuesday afternoon with shows by designers who opted to stage events outside of the confines of the official calendar overseen by the organizers at the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) — young or independent designers for whom things came together at the last minute.

Most of what makes New York fashion interesting right now is coming from people under 35, living in Bushwick and Queens and good old Dimes Square, with that hustler mind-set — naked dressing, gender-fluid style, low-slung pants and vintage mania are all shoestring budget ideas with a direct line to the culture wars and identity politics.

Industry insiders groan that there aren’t enough jazzy names on the calendar — Ralph Lauren and Peter Do’s debut at Helmut Lang were the marquee events, and both happened Friday — but it’s also the case that interesting stuff is happening elsewhere. (The calendar placement is important because it helps a designer get sponsorship opportunities and ensures the press knows your show is happening.)

Rachel Comey’s Tuesday show, staged in a NoHo alley, was a collaboration with performance artist Joan Jonas, who has a retrospective coming to the Museum of Modern Art in March.

Comey, who also collaborated with the New York Review of Books earlier this year, has carefully carved out her place as the thinking woman’s thinking woman (she spent the evening after her show cavorting on Instagram with Cindy Sherman and author Alex Auder, daughter of Warhol muse Viva).

Her gray sweater dress with a roped neckline that appears to wink at grandma’s pearls, or a backward denim jacket with a purplish denim skirt are clothes that make you look intelligent — that’s rare and cool.

Also on the docket was Batsheva Hay, who has graduated from her role as the dorky it-girl’s Prairie Home Companion to make wackadoo dresses inspired by 1950s couture. Her models — “Bottoms” director Emma Seligman, author and International Best Dressed List poobah Amy Fine Collins — swanned around a sushi bar in Hudson Yards as the designer described the dresses. Writer Lynn Yaeger heckled from the back — “Oh that’s really commercial!”

She decided to show about two weeks ago and forgo the industry route. “Like a lot of people, I thought, ‘I’m not doing Fashion Week, I’m going to kind of veer from this whole system,’” said Hay, who was a 2021 finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.

“The whole system, I feel, has let everyone down,” she said. “I don’t want to feel in any competition with anyone.”

Terrence Zhou’s Bad Binch TongTong — you might have seen his stuff on Jennifer Coolidge on the March cover of W — was also a last-minute affair, he said after a ridiculous and touching performance of dancers slung with huge boas shaped like abstracted lobster claws or giraffe heads.

His pieces aren’t polished, but they say something. They remind you that one — fashion is funny. Fashion is camp! It’s okay to laugh! And two: it’s also what Zhou called, “a release.” For many people — and as Gen Z continue to grow up and lawmakers continue to target queer people and women, this will be truer and truer — fashion is a refuge from an antagonistic world.

A young designer who’s taken the expected route is 32-year-old Peter Do, whose debut at Helmut Lang was the most anticipated show of the week.

A lot of people see Do as a great hope: A real designer, who worked for Phoebe Philo and knows how to tailor and wears a mask all the time (very Martin Margiela mystique). Other designers love him too. Christopher John Rogers, Eli Russell Linnetz and Thakoon Panichgul were all in the front row.

When I met with Do a few days before his show, he told me that he wanted to make something really New York. I had passed a woman on the way into his downtown studio wearing a tank top (no bra) tucked into big Margiela pants with flip-flops, a cigarette in one hand and an Hermès Picotin in the other — that mix of laziness, luxury and a bit of degradation is what feels like New York to me.

And there’s great potential with Helmut Lang, whose eponymous founder ruled the 1990s and early 2000s with his erotic minimalism and introducing a new language of queer style. He retired in 2005, and the brand has been in something like the fashion equivalent of development hell since then.

A lot of people will hem and haw over how dutifully Do is reinterpreting the codes of Helmut Lang (blah!). That sort of talk in fashion is too overrated, I think — young designers should just do their thing. What is interesting in the Lang lingua franca is that sense of comfort and cool pride in your body, whatever it looks like — that’s very contemporary.

Do’s collection was a mix of suits with seat-belt sashes, bubble shapes with couture-y tails and lots of denim. Do had poet Ocean Vuong, a friend, write a prose that appeared on the runway and across tank tops and shirting. (It was a nice update to Lang’s collaborations with artist Jenny Holzer). He used a juicy hot pink (another Langism, but it will read like funky Barbiecore to most people), and there was a pair of white trousers paneled with that pink and yellow that everybody online will want. You’ll be able to get a whole suit for less than $1000; designer fashion at that price is a rarity.

The best looks — the ones that you could picture stylish people of Do’s generation wearing on the street — were the ones that looked rawer and even less refined, but still precise. A model in a tank top and leather pants and high heel boots, and a model with long red hair wearing a brown button-up with rolled up sleeves and very stiff jeans.

Ultimately, the question is whether minimalism has become so corporate and so anodyne — the look of Everlane, WeWork and cheap and trendy furniture — that it’s impossible to make it feel gristly and genuinely weird.

Many more people will be interested in what Do is churning out than, say, the inflatable tentacles of Bad Binch TongTong. But, when we’re all headed back to the office but still wanting to dress for our sofa, Do could say even more with very little. You can do a lot of corrupting with just a tank top and a low-slung pair of black pants.

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