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On Tuesday afternoon, editors, buyers, and celebrity types braved the heat and trekked out to the Cedar Lake performance space on West 26th Street in Manhattan for Public School's "Collection 1" runway show.
Although other designers are presenting their resort collections this week, mostly in the form of low-key showroom appointments, this wasn't a cruise collection. For Public School, which announced in April that it would be combining its men's and women's collections into two annual runway shows held in December and June, it was the main line — comparable to a show that takes place during New York Fashion Week in September and February.
Public School isn't the only label that has decided to show outside of Fashion Week or mix menswear and womenswear in one's show. A number of brands are doing so, as part of a larger wave of changes to runway show formats that has swept the industry and set off numerous conversations (and think-pieces) on the murky future of Fashion Week.
Designers Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne certainly baked a sense of dystopia and dissatisfaction with fashion's status quo into their presentation. Unsettling, clanging music played overhead as guests ambled in, and a fleet of masked people in white jumpsuits and yellow gloves stood in rows at the front of the room. As the lights dimmed, they began striking small concrete blocks with hammers in unison. Some models walked the runway with their faces obscured by black mesh veils.
At the end, a man rushed out to spray paint the words "WE NEED LEADERS" across a white pillar. Commentary on the current election? (Chow and Osborne did design T-shirts for Hillary Clinton's merch site.) Or on breaking with the standards of the fashion system? Maybe a bit of both.
"[Chow and Osborne] talked about revolution," says Aveda hairstylist Frank Rizzieri, explaining the look he created for the show. "At first the hair was going to be really dirty, and then today we were like, nah, we're not sure about that... I don't think the hair needs to be so rebellious. I think they cast rebellious characters, so the hair could be whatever works for them."
Yet for all the show's dystopian elements — and despite the chatter about the changing face of Fashion Week — Public School's presentation was in many ways a perfectly normal fashion show. Anna Wintour sat front row, as did fashion's cool teen of the moment, Luka Sabbat. The clothes, some of which were slashed to reveal slices of skin, were a typically Public School ode to layering in shades of black, white, and yellow.
If anything felt different, it was the relaxed atmosphere backstage before the show — a far cry from the tightly packed scene you'll find during New York Fashion Week. Photographers had space to shoot models from a distance of ten feet, totally unobstructed. The models themselves didn't seem so exhausted, the hairstylists a little less harried.
While it remains to be seen how Public School's alternative show format shakes out with department store buyers, the team more than proved that it's possible to draw crowds for an off-season show and not have the earth crumble beneath their feet. And in the end, the experience was more enjoyable than it might have been during the frenzy of Fashion Week. In that respect, we'd call it a point in favor of rocking the fashion system.