Is 'Amish Couture' The Next Megatrend?
Graham Tyler's skillfully ascetic NYFW presentation suggests so.
Photo via Graham Tyler's Instagram.
Religious dressing has been played for high fashion camp, notably in Jean Paul Gaultier's 1993 Les Rabbins Chic (literally: “Chic Rabbis”; Manischewitz was served), or Galliano’s “Freud or Fetish” for Dior in 2000 (glitter-dipped pope), but fashion’s bout of asceticism is more recent. It’s manifested in a few shapes: Batsheva Hay's prairie modesty; monochromatic collections from Jil Sander and Craig Green last fall that flirted with a prescriptive zeal. Graham Tyler Baldwin’s Graham Tyler presentation last week fixed on a puritanical temperance that suggested the logical extension: Amish couture.
It was a tight vision: a dozen pieces that traveled along a narrow latitude both figurative (long-sleeve apron dresses and suit separates in a strict palette of charcoal and soot) and literal; the collection’s title is the precise coordinates for Interlaken, New York, home to both three generations of Baldwin’s family and a small Amish community.
Dressing for the fringes of society sounds like a slog, but garments like wool knit sweater dresses in grayscale and a double-face wool coat gleaned their power from a soberness that diverged in graceful notes, like trompe l’oeil corsets and scalloped edges. A handsome, half-boiled wool coat with raised nodules suggested both the homespun tenderness of a bed quilt and a prayer shawl, but its matted shearling collar brought it into the moment’s fetish for nubby textures. A pleated knee-length skirt cut from Italian cashmere threatened to out-abnegate Thom Browne, if not for its pleasingly asymmetrical hemline.
The most interesting were a series of engineered jacquard pieces — a jacket, skirt, and bodice dress — that looked cut from tapestry, but whose grisaille pattern was actually printed into the weave. Baldwin worked with a firm that digitized his pattern pieces and weaved them on a computerized loom. It’s a technological innovation made to look antiquary, and all the more affecting when you consider the pattern is Durand’s 1849 oil painting “Kindred Spirits,” which depicts the Hudson River School founder Thomas Cole and the editor and romantic poet William Cullen Bryant as they stand on a ledge of a gorge in the Catskills, gazing into unspoiled natural beauty. It’s a neat bit of historical collison. Bryant was a descendant of Puritan immigrants who didn’t fear dying because he knew in death he would return to nature. Now you can wear him on your back as you gaze into the void of an increasingly inhospitable planet.
Baldwin is only 24 and this was only his second-ever collection, but his technical skill and thoughtfulness kept it from veering too far into the funereal, or worse, novelty. Instead it was a deeply felt homage to both his personal history (jacket linings were printed with a handwritten transcription of an interview Baldwin conducted with his grandmother before she passed; a silk voile top with a free-edge scarf panel fused the Durand with a vernacular mural lifted from the church where Baldwin’s parents were wed), and a meditation on the usefulness of nostalgia and the limits of memory. It was all very Thomas Wolfe, but without Wolfe’s maudliness.
Much of the collections shown in New York this cycle were concerned with escapism—it was a week swimming in faux furs and lurid, pixel-optimized colors without much precision. Baldwin suggested the benefits of confronting your past over dodging it, and that you can tell your story without screaming. His was that you can go home again.