Women’s anger is a sensitive topic that unexpectedly surfaces in quite different ways in Elena Velez and Bach Mai’s Cave of the Sirens presentation. Usually three makes for a trend, but as in “There’s No Fury in Hell Like Women’s Scorn,” let’s just say the intensity fills the volume.
Mai, still a newcomer on the scene, is developing in public, and like last season, he’s not playing it safe. For fall, he shelved his signature volante silhouette in favor of something new that, as the designer puts it, “a very undulating siren shape rather than the long-standing cupcake.” Mai underscored this shift to a sexier and more feminine look by presenting his garments on models in the 4-12 size range, making him one of the few body-dedicated outfits in New York this season. One of the designers of diversity.
You can think of this choice as an extension of the show’s premise; Mai imagines beams of light piercing the sea cave, “Darkness pierces through. Sirens’… rage hidden in vulnerability ’, as he put it in his show notes. It’s not exactly mermaid core; sirens, as the designers say, lure sailors to their deaths. Still, shiny moiré and turquoise sequins were printed in a marine-themed print and contrasted with black. Although Mai was playing with transparencies and overlays, the moodiness of the palette created a feeling of heaviness, or dampness as the case may be. In a more racy look, the finale gown has two “fins” that create an opening that reveals the inner bodice. Mai attributes this interest in showing contractions to his training at Maison Margiela. “Obviously, it’s something that John Galliano has been doing, so it’s kind of woven into my own DNA,” he said. The motivation behind doing so is unique to his brand, and it’s “part of our journey to elevate craftsmanship, especially American craftsmanship,” Mai said. The craftsmanship here is beautiful, precocious even. Beading on sleeveless jackets is intricate as coral. What looks like a decal is a jacquard with sheer abstract geometric lines.
The Sunken Treasure in this series is a tribute to Karl Lagerfeld. It appeared on LBDs and strapless bell tunics worn with long, stemmed skirts. “I grew up loving Karl Lagerfeld, everything he did for couture and Chanel was very influential,” says Mai, an avid student of fashion history. “So this collection is really a study in the nostalgia of the Lagerfeldian things that filter out of my creative world.” Consider this a reminder for Costume Institute invitees.