During my career, one of the biggest joys of covering fashion has been the opportunity to attend runway shows in spectacular settings. Tom Ford for Yves Saint Laurent at the Rodin Museum in Paris was one, John Galliano for Christian Dior Couture at the Palace of Versailles was another. Then there were those Chanel icebergs under the glass roof of the Grand Palais. Unforgettable.
For many European luxury brands, creating a memorable experience has always been part of the show because it’s key to the perception of the brand. That matters especially to the Chanels and Diors of the world, which sell more perfume than clothing. It’s about emotion, and what better way to stir up emotion than with a blockbuster set and setting, particularly now that photos and video of runway shows are live-streamed around the world in real time?
But in New York, the shows have always been more straightforward. Models, a runway, maybe some live music, but mostly business as usual.
But that may be starting to change.
There’s a lot of discussion this Fashion Week about designers abandoning the event’s Lincoln Center hub, which has become a cluster of crowds and sponsor pitches, and decamping to more intimate but far-flung venues across the city. Alexander Wang, one of the week’s biggest draws, is showing in Brooklyn at the Navy Yard, and Donna Karan is showing on Wall Street. Even Diane von Furstenberg, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and as such usually a cheerleader for Lincoln Center, is showing at Spring Studios.
It’s a gamble to be sure. And so the big question has been, will they come?
The answer was “yes” on Wednesday night, when guests trekked to Red Hook, Brooklyn, for a show and seated dinner hosted by indie-cool designer Rachel Comey.
This was Comey’s second season showing at Pioneer Works, the three-story ironworks-turned-arts-complex purchased in 2011 by artist Dustin Yellin, one of Comey’s friends.
And everything about the experience was memorable, including the dimly lit gallery space, with the image of a roaring fire projected on the wall, and the tiny red roses the waitresses had pinned to the top buttons of their collared shirts.
“I always like an interesting venue,” said Comey, dressed in a swingy emerald green blouse with a thin ribbon of black tinsel across the top. “When we showed in Manhattan for 10 years, we kind of settled. But there came a time when I wanted to do it my own way. And it felt real to put the collection in a context that felt meaningful, over dinner at a table with people you may or may not know but you have a shared interest with. It’s an experience rather than this flash, done and gone emptiness.”
Comey sells to a lot of independent boutiques, including Creatures of Comfort and Ten Over Six in the L.A. area, and she describes her customer as “confident, creative, not dictated by media and celebrity.”
She showed the collection in three interludes, during the first, main and dessert courses of dinner, which included wild boar, radish salad, beet chocolate tart and after-dinner Scotch drinks prepared by chef Julia Ziegler-Haynes from the Dinner Bell, a secret Brooklyn supper club.
Guests, including Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard, watched as models walked around the dinner tables and listened to “Witch Camp” cabaret performers Amber Martin and Nath Ann Carrera croon about covens. Even the flower arrangements were interesting -- a mixture of live and dead blooms from the florist Saipua.
As for the clothing, key pieces included a mint-green mohair fur jacket layered over a sage twill jacket-dress and pants; washed denim overalls; a “conversational chatter” print keyhole dress with just the right amount of hand beading; wavy stripe print sweat pants worn with a navy silk georgette swing top; and a leopard fur car coat.
It was all wonderfully weird and an evening that no one will soon forget, which was just the point.