Power to the Flower: Dennis Basso, Ulla Johnson, and LoveShackFancy imagine garden party clothes
A floral motif is a spring perennial but ebbs and flows in fashion. For Spring 2023, the tap was turned on the full spigot. Three New York collections, each shown in an iconic New York location, demonstrated how uniquely the enduring motif can be interpreted. Fur and eveningwear master Dennis Basso toasted his 40th-anniversary collection while Ulla Johnson and LoveShackFancy designer Rebecca Hessel Cohen aptly channeled their brand ethos through the collection presentation.
Backstage before his 40th-anniversary collection, Dennis Basso momentarily shifted his focus from the interview he was doing for FashionNetwork.com with this reporter to a jeans and T-shirt clad man and his pre-teen son in shorts and polo. The two show novices had wandered backstage instead of to the show venue. It's this same uncanny sense of knowing who and who doesn't belong in a space that Basso applies to his elegantly dressed women these past four decades. He knows what they should wear and where they should be wearing them.
In this case, he sees his woman wearing the clothes to spring and summer garden parties, explicitly calling out his lavish Watermill garden (front row guest Martha Stewart told FashionNetwork.com that her "garden is bigger, but Dennis' is fancier").
"Evening is my thing. How would they dress for these amazing evenings Newport, Palm Beach, Nantucket, or Watermill," said Basso.
He answered this question with the wispy, light-as-air creations, which featured hand-embroidered tulle, crystals and marabou, flirty chiffon numbers, and a dramatic pink satin strapless gown with a flowing train as a finale. Bright white ensembles in a slinky mini-dress or strong evening pants looked especially great on lovely dark-skinned models. And if that garden has a spring chill, a fur shrug, an intricate fur wrap, or bolero over a slip dress were the antidote.
Guest at the newly remodeled Pierre Ballroom was not only the legions of fans he's dressed over the year but famous ones along with Stewart, such as Kris Jenner, Candace Bushnell, 70s supermodel Carol Alt, Dee Ocleppo Hilfiger, Ashley Longshore, Rosanna Scotto, Star Jones, and shoe designer Brian Atwood. Prior to the show start, Jenner sidled up next to pal Ocleppo Hilfiger, copped to being dressed in Good American but there in solidarity regardless. "But listen, we're here," gesturing to Ocleppo dressed in Tommy Hilfiger, "we are going to support Dennis."
Women like those in the front row have been the designer's bread and butter out of the gate.
"I had no clue. I wanted to be in the fashion industry, so my father helped me set up a little company, and the next thing I knew, I was having a fashion show at the Regency Hotel. It was a new world. Ivana Trump came, and so did Leba Sedaka and Egon and DVF. The best thing was The New York Times gave me a great review and coverage, putting me on the map right out of the gate," he recalled.
He quipped when asked if the metaverse suited Dennis Basso's designs.
"I am still trying to figure out the universe, let alone the metaverse," adding, "I'm an old school guy with a ledger date book, but my designs are modern."
Creative director Rebecca Hessel Cohen of LoveShackFancy is a modern woman who revamps retro precious design tropes that channel one's inner Elle Woods, Stevie Nicks and Cinderella all at once into an infectious travel lifestyle brand stocked with fun, frothy party frocks ripe with bows, ruffles, and beading, plus signature cotton Victorian dresses are given a contemporary spin.
(Though this season, she pointed to a pink lightweight tweed and matching jacket and hot pink tailored suit and insisted her girl can go to the office too.)
One apt way to describe the brand launched in 2013 would be LoveShackFancy picks up where Gunne Sax (for those old enough to recall) and Betsey Johnson left off.
She staged her rollicking Spring 2023 presentation in what she calls her backyard, aka Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum grounds.
"I grew up across the street; I went to Nightingale, and my kids go there now, and the young generation inspired me," she said at a lavish garden party that she hosted for press, buyers but most importantly, her friends and fans of the brand. Safe to say, LoveShackFancy could boast the most guests dressed in the brand.
Given they've already opened 14 stores, 12 during the pandemic, and one more on the way in London in December, her first international boutique, it appears Hessel Cohen hit the zeitgeist, that was craving nostalgia once again, on the head.
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, for her Spring 2023 collection, the designer again explored how far her and her team can push the level of her contemporary dress-based collection. The outing proved multiple intricacies could be achieved this side of couture. It didn't hurt either that is was shown at the worth-the-trip Beaux-Arts Court at the Brooklyn Museum strewn with elaborate floral designs covering the floor.
Backstage, Johnson told reporters that she and her team were pleased with how far they took craft into the highly detailed collection this season.
“One look was entirely handknit from silk ribbon, another hand-crocheted, another hand-loomed by artisan cooperatives in Guatemala, women in Bangalore hand-printed Shibori silks. There was so much handwork in the collection, and keeping this work alive during the past few years has been challenging. It’s so exciting to start working with these communities we had trouble accessing in the past two years,” she explained, noting the hammered-brass jewelry was made by artisans in Kenya.
Some of the artisans were stateside, such as in Los Angeles, where artisans used antique chain stitch machinery on the denim style, was Johnson referred to as her tailored offerings. New York is home to three master crocheters. “It was a joint effort, and some of those pieces had five different people working on them,” she continued.
Of the themes and motifs, there were many. Johnson cited meditating about the connectedness to nature and the synergy with nature. (Hence, the floral-strewn runway and reclaimed wood stools for guests will be composted and reused, respectively.)
The work of artists such as Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois, and Bryan Lavelle was referenced in palette and patterns. Lattice-like work on knits, broderie anglaise, aforementioned crochet, fabric hand dyes, and more added to the complexity of the collection. Volume appeared in the form of pajama-like oversized shirts and pants looks and poof bubble-short gowns made from a utilitarian trench coat material.
“Taking something traditionally humble and weird and using it in that way was exciting for us,” she said of the bubble-shaped dresses. Accessories added drama and pragmatism in sturdy city sandals.
While overall, the effect of the clothes in the grand marble-floor space, the live melodic sound of singer Indigo Sparke, sculptor Emily Thompson’s floral design, and the rich, layered, textured creations that were viewed by Katie Holmes in the front row proved too much at one point. To achieve that calm runway Zen, a tighter edit of some repetitive ideas would have made a more succinct and targeted message.
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