The moon was full and bright, beaming through the Brooklyn Bridge as seated guests on the East River Helipad snapped iPhone pics — a little pre-show content before Gauntlett Cheng’s return to New York Fashion Week after several years away. Two long rows of chairs lined the downtown Manhattan platform, where helicopters typically land and take off, with low LED lights creating a cinematic, seductive runway setting. “Almost Dead” by Jonah Almost and D3AD6OY blasted from the speakers, answering to the ravers in attendance, vaping away.
For designer duo Esther Gauntlett and Jenny Cheng, this location embodies a city in constant transition — the foundation with which they built their Spring 2023 collection upon. Titled “When It Feels Right, How Could It Be Wrong,” Gauntlett Cheng considered clothing that’s redefined as our life progresses forward and inevitably evolves — especially a wardrobe worn during “anxious moments in our lives.” These are the pieces we keep over years, jumping from closet to closet.
To that end, there were references to coats from our mothers that have lived past their initial intended purpose, and plenty of slinky party dresses that could be pulled from multiple timelines and occasions. A wedding dress had frayed hems all over, as if passed down through generations. They topped everything off with second-hand luxury shoes from The RealReal — accessories that previously had a different life and were introduced in an entirely new context at NYFW.
True to Gauntlett Cheng, this season continued with a heavy emphasis on knitwear, as well as the naked body. Sheer, shimmering skirts revealed underwear, with some dresses designed to resemble fabric cascading around models’ bare figures like wind or water skating across the skin. Behind them, the moon reflected on the river to similar effect. Ponytails were long and overly exaggerated, matching hair extensions that dangled from stockings and blew in the wind.
"As time waits for no one, luxury is being able to reach into your closet for the same pieces as you did then, as you do now," the brand so eloquently explains in a press release. "You’re standing on the edge, intuitively holding your own hand." Below, PAPER caught up with Gauntlett Cheng to talk about the ways sex and comfort are so closely related, and their brief time away from New York City's hectic fashion calendar.
How does Gauntlett Cheng define “sexy” this season?
Esther Gauntlett: We didn't necessarily think about "sexy" when designing, but rather feeling good in your body and in your clothes. I feel like there was an additional awareness of this as we entered our thirties and it felt important to not begin to tone things down. We feel better in our bodies than ever, we want to celebrate them.
Jenny Cheng: Sexy is being comfortable in your own skin.
And what about “comfort”?
Esther: Comfort and sexiness are intrinsically linked to us. The clothes have always had an element of support from the textiles and techniques we use (bandage knits, elastic shirring) and I think this is really important. We also made corsets and experimented with boning this season, which doesn't on the surface seem "comfortable" but you feel very supported. It's like these clothes are holding you.
Jenny: Comfort is feeling at home with yourself.
This season, you focused on ideas surrounding “anxiety.” Why now?
Esther: I'd like to think there's not a focus on anxiety, but rather an acknowledgement of it and maybe a push back. There’s all sorts of feelings that come with growing up, looking at your life and looking at the world. We wanted to make clothes that said, “It’s ok to feel good even if things are a little off.” There’s a moodiness in the clothes that sort of toes the line between celebration and darkness.
Jenny: I think time and anxiety are always linked. And growing up and growing older is about losing time, but in another sense about grasping it more confidently.
What was the intention behind all your hair detailing?
Jenny: We collaborated with artist Obadiah Russon for the hair stockings. We loved the idea of the hair being overgrown with the roots showing, blowing in the wind on the helipad.
Esther: That texture began to bleed into the clothes also. Everything was fringed, fluffy and hairy, and the movement of it all was really important. Seeing the way Obadiah cared for the stockings also was amazing, brushing everyone's legs backstage. They became a part of the body in a way that was a little odd, but also so beautiful.
How did sheerness play into your larger concept?
Jenny: I think there's a quietness about sheer pieces, them being almost non-existent and evaporating. That feeling was important in the collection.
What did you learn from your NYFW break?
Jenny: We didn’t do a runway show for the past three years because it didn’t feel right. We didn’t want to add to the anxiety of the pandemic and it wasn’t the time to bring masses of people together. Instead, we worked on exclusive capsule collections with SSENSE, which helped us focus on what our customers want to buy from us. We learned that it’s okay to do things at our own pace.
Esther: The SSENSE collections were definitely educational, but I feel like we pushed back against it in this collection. Everything was complicated, huge and labor intensive. We definitely leaned into the fantasy of the runway this season.
Photography: Sarah Schecker
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