In fashion, at least, the pandemic has precipitated a lot of talk, but not enough action. Early on, designers and retailers rallied around change, pledging to realign seasonal deliveries and delay sales periods, but neither initiative has taken off in a satisfying way. Fashion week dates have remained more or less the same—there’s still months between show time and clothes’ arrival in shops—and big stores still went on sale ahead of Christmas, forcing littler ones to follow suit or go out of business. (RIP Jennifer Mankins’s Brooklyn Bird boutiques.)
But if 2020 was a year of stasis, 2021 is setting up to be a year of change. Beckett Fogg and Piotrek Panszcyzk, the designers behind New York’s influential indie label Area, who’ve done more for crystals than anybody since Bob Mackie, are leading the way. To start, they’re moving to a see-now, buy-now cadence for their ready-to-wear collections and amping up their direct-to-consumer e-commerce offering. Even bigger news: they’re launching couture and showing alongside the official schedule that’s managed by the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode.
“Retailers all work backward from these markdown dates. It wasn’t working for so many brands for so long, but I don’t think there was an opportunity to stop and change anything,” Fogg explains. “This time gave us the confidence to realize we could take control of the situation and dictate our schedule and our structure on our own terms.” Panszcyzk elaborates: “It’s so scary to say ‘no, I don’t stand for this, I want to do it differently.’ But stores, they only look at data. They say if you sell 30% that’s great. So why are we making 100% product?” Their new DTC focus is good for more than just their mental state; this way they’ll be able to satisfy customers who have long asked for the more directional runway pieces that the stores have sometimes shied away from. Crystal hair wigs included.
In the end, it’s not a surprise that Area is out in front with its restructuring. Though they were among last year’s LVMH Prize finalists and have enjoyed celebrity credits ranging from Michelle Obama to Kendall Jenner, they’ve never aspired to establishment credibility. To promote Ready-to-Wear 01—an offering that they would’ve called resort in the old times—they hired the Wonder Woman of Vogue, Leiomy Maldonado, a transgender Afro-Puerto Rican dancer, choreographer, and activist to star in a video, launching here. But the collection got its first air time on New Year’s Eve when Alicia Keys wore one of their suits on a BBC special.
As for couture, while there aren’t IRL fittings in their Canal Street studio, they do take measurements and build dress forms for each of their clients, Mrs. Obama and Beyoncé included. “I’m quite confident in saying that if you look at a Parisian brand, I feel we’re operating on the same level of craft,” Panszcyzk says. “But it’s a more modern approach.” Fogg adds: “For us, we feel it’s an opportunity to offer a new way of working with couture, where you don’t absolutely have to fly a thousand times for a lot of different fittings.” Mid-pandemic that’s a smart tactic, but even in its aftermath it’s hard to imagine women hopping on a plane again to try on a dress.
Watch this space for Area’s couture debut on Thursday, January 28. Shop Ready-To-Wear 01 at Area.nyc.