Is New York fashion getting its grit back? Thursday night, a bar on a prime stretch of St. Marks Place — the East Village thoroughfare known for its tattoo parlors and late-night eateries — was the location for a party thrown by Moda Operandi in honor of the CFDA Awards’ emerging designer nominees.
“There is a generational gap, half of the people know this street as Café Mogador and the other people know it as St. Marks, ‘This is the place where I get my Mac fixed,’” Moda cofounder Lauren Santo Domingo said of the evening’s location. “What we like to do at Moda is let designers be themselves and so where else is self-expression and community more prolific than in the crevices of New York?”
The emerging designer category’s five nominees — Bode, Khaite, Heron Preston, Foundrae and Staud — have encountered success for exploring business models, aesthetics and consumer bases that tip-toe outside the lines of fashion industry convention. For this, most of the labels had never expected to be nominated, let alone acknowledged by fashion’s establishment.
“I have always felt like an outsider in this industry, to be recognized is a bit shocking,” said Preston, whose luxury streetwear brand references communities that are typically overlooked by the style set, such as a collaboration with New York City’s Department of Sanitation.
“I definitely never thought I’d be nominated for a CFDA Award,” echoed Staud cofounder Sarah Staudinger, whose Los Angeles-based label primarily operates with a direct-to-consumer model, selling fashion-forward product at under $400.
“I didn’t think the price point and the fact that we are direct-to-consumer and affordable [would resonate with the industry]. It’s just a total shock. I think they realize there is a shift happening. People are speaking, the fashion community is speaking about what’s working and how what hasn’t been working needs to change — everyone needs to take part,” Staudinger added.
Through its use of vintage motifs and upcycled textiles, Emily Bode’s namesake brand meditates on notions of sustainability, nostalgia and heritage. Her view of the nominees’ success has to do with their personal edicts: “I think because consumer culture is changing, the emerging designers in this pool are very specific to how we reacted to consumer culture growing up and how we reflect on it. A lot of my brand is related to the way I shopped as a kid. That’s why we are so different, it’s because it’s so personal — I think people are really responding to that more intimate relationship with us as designers,” she said.
Beth Bugdaycay, the jeweler behind memento-based brand Foundrae, concurred, noting: “For the entire fashion industry, it’s important to be super connected to your consumer. When you start to not respect the customer and see them as like, pigeons, is when we get the kind of product the fashion industry is not proud of. You have to really know the customer and see them for their depth and honor that.”
Preston summarized of the importance in recognizing outsider perspectives: “Fashion speaks to so many people around the world in so many ways and all those voices and opinions are important, that’s what shapes the culture and what shapes the industry.”
On June 3 at the CFDA Awards, one label will be named a winner. In the meantime, Moda Operandi presented each nominee with a towering, personalized trophy — considering the whole fleet as winners, particularly in a commercial vein: Moda has heavily promoted the nominees’ wares for sale on its site, hoping to grow their businesses.