NYFW Day 1: Bella's Surprise Return, Elena Velez's Runway Debut and More

NYFW Day 1: Bella's Surprise Return, Elena Velez's Runway Debut and More

Remember how last fashion month all anyone could ask was, "Where's Bella Hadid?" In fact, her absence on the runway was so conspicuous that theories started floating around as to why she skipped out (mostly the alleged anti-vax kind).

So it will please many of the model's fans to know that she made her Fashion Week return last night at Proenza Schouler's show, likely the first of many this month. (Her last runway outing was for the Jacquemus show way back last summer.)

Anyway, there was already buzz around the Proenza show with or without Bella's appearance. The brand's designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez graduated from Parsons 20 years ago (19 years in business, having officially launched their company in 2003) and were coming off a high-profile feature in the Business of Fashion that chronicled their many ups and downs.

Proenza Schouler Fall 2022 (Courtesy of Proenza Schouler)

They were also one of two brands to hold two time slots on the NYFW calendar this season (the other being Peter Do), and you could see why because the boxy venue — inside The Brant Foundation on the Lower East Side — was tiny! The intimate vibe was fitting though; no props or gimmicks, just a violin quintet by Eartheater for the soundtrack.

The clothes were largely defined by exaggerated bias-cut shapes and twists that hug and sculpt the body. Waists were cinched while hips and skirts were full. Some looks had an almost monastic quality to them, something the teams at The Row and Loewe experiment with often. In a nutshell, it was an exercise in "control and release," as the show notes stated, but which could also be used to describe their journey two decades in.

The vibe was almost a complete 180 at Christian Cowan's show afterward, held all the way up top the One World Trade building in what was billed as the highest fashion show to ever take place during NYFW. With stunning views of the city landscape, it was a fitting venue for the designer who is often associated with dressing the party girls and glamorous downtown crowd.

Christian Cowan Fall 2022 (Photos via Getty)

After almost an hour past start time, his models stormed out in electrifying cadence with old-school runway turns and exaggerated gestures. '80s sparkly jumpsuits, feathered minidresses and candy-colored separates ruled the roost. There were also more "grown-up" ball gowns than we're used to seeing. Dorinda Medley, sitting front row, was eating it up.

Less glamorous were the constant wobbling and tumbles the models took in their impossible-to-walk-in shoes. Many simply had enough and kicked them off, and at one point the runway was a graveyard of discarded heels.

Closing out the night was Elena Velez, the designer from Milwaukee who showed via presentation last season but made her runway debut on the official NYFW schedule this time around. Her "aggressively delicate" and deconstructed clothes, most of which utilize artisanal techniques from the American midwest, caught the attention of fashion critic Cathy Horyn last year who hailed her work as "gutsy," "new" and "evolving."

Elena Velez Fall 2022 (Photos via Getty)

Once again, she worked with collaborators from her hometown on some of the textiles, surface treatments and source materials. A couple of Milwaukee models were flown in, and her family also came out for the big reveal. As the only child of a single mother who worked as a ship captain on a Great Lake, she had formative ideas about beauty and femininity in her youth, and this tension is still something she explores in her work today.

"This collection is a little bit more conceptual storytelling about our woman and her relationship with femininity, motherhood and obligation," she told me prior to the show. Her casting reflected that concept: There was the "American Gothic" woman, the "Belle Epoque harlot" and the "forklift-certified girl" who's more equestrian and industrial. But tying them all together is that feminine tension, which came to a crescendo as the final model walked out with a baby in one arm — a harkening back to Velez's own journey no doubt.