Women’s anger is a touchy subject, one that unexpectedly surfaced, in completely different ways, at Elena Velez and at Bach Mai’s Cave of the Sirens presentation. Usually three makes a trend, but as “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” let’s say the intensity fills in for the volume.
Mai, still new on the scene, is developing in public, and as with last season, he didn’t play it safe. For fall, he set aside his signature volante silhouette in favor of something new, “a very undulating siren shape as opposed to the cupcake for so long,” as the designer put it. Mai emphasized this shift to the more sensual and womanly by showing his clothes on models in the size 4-12 range, making him one of the few designers to commit to body diversity in New York this season.
You could see this choice as an extension of the premise for the show; Mai imagined shafts of light penetrating a sea cave, “Darkness pierced. Sirens’… wrath veiled in fragility” as he put it in the show notes. This wasn’t exactly mermaid core; as the designer noted, sirens lure sailors to their death. Still, shimmery moirés and sequins in turquoise were printed with a sea-themed print, and contrasted with black. Though Mai was playing with transparencies and overlays, the moodiness of the palette created a feeling of heaviness, or dampness as the case may be. Among the more buoyant looks was the finale gown with two “fins” framing an opening that exposed the inner corsetry. Mai attributed this interest in showing constriction to his training at Maison Margiela. “Obviously it’s something that John Galliano does all the time, so it’s kind of built into my own DNA a bit,” he said. The motive behind doing so is unique to his brand, part of “our journey to exalt craftsmanship, especially American craftsmanship,” said Mai. The workmanship here was beautiful, precocious even. The beading on a sleeveless jacket had a coral-like intricacy. What looked like devoré fabrics were jacquards with abstract geometric lines of transparency.
The sunken treasure in this collection was an homage to Karl Lagerfeld. It was found in the LBDs and the strapless bell shaped tunics over long, stem-like skirts. “I grew up loving Karl Lagerfeld and what he was doing for couture and at Chanel was so impactful,” said Mai, a keen student of fashion history. “So this collection really is a study in this nostalgia of Lagerfeldian things filtered through my creative universe.” Consider this a heads-up for Costume Institute invitees.