“The message is chaos, total chaos,” the designer Sintra Martins said of her spring 2022 Saint Sintra collection, which she showed Tuesday in a relatively nondescript building called The Stranger in Hell’s Kitchen. The steel and concrete foyer at 303 West 57th Street belied the fantasy world inside, behind a pair of orange velvet curtains. The room was carpeted with astroturf and filled with folding lawn chairs and a floor-to-ceiling dollhouse. One corner had a tiki-esque waterfall, another was decorated with a lit-up scoreboard—next to that, a DJ booth with a disco ball. An animatronic elephant wearing a gold collar moved its head around. The place looked like a garden party on psychedelics.
This was the venue for Saint Sintra’s second collection, the first at New York Fashion Week. Since its launch in February, the brand has become a cult favorite of Kali Uchis, Japanese Breakfast, and Kim Petras—whose latest album cover features a head-to-toe Saint Sintra look, including a giant pink bow in her hair. Martins’s whimsical, romantic wares have made it onto Sydney Sweeney, as well as Olivia Rodrigo, who wore a Saint Sintra plaid tube-top dress and pleated skirt in her “Brutal” music video. It’s easy to see why the label has become so popular. Saint Sintra’s brand codes are distinctly of the now—tapping into trends of corsetry, escapism, and fantasy—but still hark back to things Millennials might have seen in childhood. Last season, Martins’s collection was inspired by clowns, uniform dressing, and “an acid trip to Barnum & Bailey.” This time around, the associations remained—especially in that room full of curiosities.
But as Sintra told it after the show, spring 2022 was inspired by the cartoons she’d spent most of her quarantine watching. She ticked off The Pink Panther before identifying Star Trek as another source of inspiration. “I was really into the retro future fantasy of the 1960s,” she said. “I felt like it tied well with this climate we’re living in, the uncertain future.”
The looks for spring certainly transported attendees away from any thoughts of the pandemic. Riotous colors, a way for Sintra to convey her inclination toward “radical optimism,” made sure of that. Sheer maxi skirts done in hot pink were studded with diamanté starbursts, while one model wore a multicolor feathered dress in the style of Josephine Baker, a teacup puppy nestled underneath her arm. A pink corseted dress with a tulle skirt and tiny attached bows drew audible gasps from the crowd, whose faces indicated their deepest fantasies were being lived out right on the astroturf.
Martins grew up in Los Angeles, where she got her start in fashion—she worked in her high school theater’s costume department before moving to New York and interning at Thom Browne and Wiederhoeft. At 24 years old, she was raised firmly in the 2010s emo era, which she aimed to channel through the beauty looks at her runway show. “I’m really interested in the cusp of where things become uncanny, where they’re no longer familiar but they’re still comfortable,” she said. That translated to drips of glittering, colorful paint on the models’ foreheads, and feathers in their hair and on their fingernails. “I love fairy tales,” Martins added. “I love all things magical, sparkly—the more fantastical, the more real it is to me.”
The designer said this collection was an exploration of themes from last season that pertained to femininity. She took court jester stripes and woven dresses and expanded upon their silhouettes, then broadened her range of colors. “I was really interested in working with colors that I wasn’t particularly comforted by,” she said. “They’re so contradictory, the colors are obnoxious, they’re loud. I wanted to find a way to make them pretty.”
Martins’s infectious enthusiasm can be felt in the clothes she makes. To take a bow after the show, the designer bounded through the orange velvet curtains with a burst of energy, wearing a pink feathered skirt, a grey crewneck, and a pair of Coke-bottle eye glasses with lockets and hoops attached to them.
“This season, I learned how to allow myself the opportunity and the freedom to explore,” she told me later. It was January when she began working on the collection, still during a particularly scary time of the pandemic. But Martins saw it as an opening for inspiration. “I always try to turn my misfortunes into good tidings,” she said brightly.