Earlier this summer, I re-watched a video of Alexander McQueen’s spring 2004 collection “Deliverance” on YouTube. McQueen was inspired by the 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don't They? which was about Depression-era dance competitions where people would dance for cash prizes, sometimes until they died of exhaustion. McQueen’s models mimicked this desperate dancing. At first, they appeared in ball gowns, doing gleeful high kicks; later, they dragged their limbs down the runway in tailored patchwork blazers. I’ve watched the video countless times, and it always reminds me that the fashion world now doesn't contain nearly as much performance as it did during that era, when McQueen and John Galliano at Dior were giving audiences bonafide drama alongside fantastic clothes.
And then, this past New York Fashion Week, there was Wiederhoeft.
Designer Jackson Wiederhoeft has been known to stage exuberant shows that feel more like short-form experimental plays than runway. They’re inspired by fantastical things, like the fable of Orpheus and Eurydice or fairies dancing in a jewelry box. And while he always puts on a show, what he does reminds me less of the darkness of McQueen and more of the quirkiness of Thom Browne, a designer he worked under for five years after getting a start designing costumes for off-Broadway productions.
Wiederhoeft's Spring 2024 collection was titled “Night Terror at The Opera” and presented at La Mama, an experimental theater on East 4th Street in Manhattan. As guests took their seats, many could be seen snapping pictures of Julia Fox, a long-time fan of the brand who sat in the front row. In a corset mini dress with bows encircling her hips, she vaped under her veil, its thick white tulle gathering at her feet like ricotta on toast.
When the lights went down, a red spotlight revealed a row of folding chairs arranged in a semicircle at the center of the stage. Models emerged from backstage to take their seats, and a woman identified in the program as a leading lady materialized in a corseted plum double-faced silk satin dress, her skirt hand-embroidered with dark plum cut-glass beads matching those of her opera gloves and purse.
The looks that followed were equally dramatic: a long-sleeved column dress hand-embroidered with cut-glass beads and bicone crystal fringe spelling out, “Wonder Memories, Dreams of our Love, Together Forever,” for example, or a Victorian dress in white silk mikado with a large bow outline in black sequin and bead embroidery. There was even a poodle groom and poodle bride (there’s always a poodle somewhere at Wiederhoeft), their wedding attire lined with ruffled tulle pom-poms.
And yet, when the show was over, everyone kept mentioning something that was far more down-to-earth: the matching "Security" tanks worn by the muscled entourage of a "pop star" in a long peach bias-cut dress. The tanks were ribbed and black, with lace-trim spaghetti straps and the word “Security” embroidered in sparkling crystal.
Other very wearable Wiederhoeft pieces came in the form of a hand-embroidered trompe l’oeil corset top and a sequined skirt with bugle beads sketching out a garter belt and panties. During the runway segment, the designer also showed a white cotton rib knit with “Heiress” written out in italic using hotfix crystals that felt like something Anna Delvey would request for one of her rooftop photoshoots.
Of course, because of market forces, today's fashion can never look like the fashion that was happening as I learned to walk. These days it has to be commercial. If you're a new designer, you need one "it" piece that everyone buys that will help fund your creative vision, like Luar’s Ana bag or Collina Strada’s tie-dye sweatshirts. Wiederhoeft has an adoring New York community of fans who wear his looks to his shows, but these fun little security tanks feel like an easier way to let more people into his weird, wondrous world.
I can already see it now: A group of downtown girls sipping martinis at a New York haunt like Balthazar or The Odeon, the reflective light of the "Security" crystals bouncing off the frames of their wrap-around sunglasses. People who have never heard of Wiederhoeft will laugh at the playfulness of the top, whereas others will nod with IYKYK approval. And that kind of performance will likely come to define the era of fashion more acutely than anything that happens on a stage.
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