There's no denying that lately, New York Fashion Week has been feeling a little bit sleepy—particularly since its resident life of the party, Alexander Wang, decided to do things on his own schedule. Thankfully, though, an influx of internet-breaking body modification isn't all that's here to spice up this season's shows, which kick off this week. The official spring 2019 calendar has not only further opened up to the underground, welcoming former up-and-comers like Lou Dallas and Gauntlett Cheng, but also found itself a small but mighty roster of names to cover bases ranging from the polished to the political. Jamall Osterholm is one of those in the latter camp; the 23-year-old may have only produced two collections to date before this season, but they were so promising to earn the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)'s backing, which is certainly good news when it comes to addressing last season's lack of progress with diversity.
At the same time, others who've made like Wang and jumped ship are coming back on their own terms, like (half of) Creatures of the Wind, as the brand's Chris Peters tries his hand at designing without Shane Gabier for the first time in more than a decade. From those who are in it for the long game, like CFDA Fashion Fund nominee Jonathan Cohen, to those so fresh that they only stumbled upon the industry a couple of years ago, like the lawyer-turned-prairie dress extraordinaire Batsheva Hay, get to know this season's most exciting designers, here.
Chris Peters was just 23 when he first started teamed up with Shane Gabier to launch their long beloved joint label, Creatures of the Wind. Last year, though, he realized that that meant he'd been working with his partner for over a decade. "I just wanted to see what I could do on my own," Peters, now 34, said of his decision to, alongside Creatures, run his own label, CDLM, which will debut this season on a cast of models that ranges in age from 18 to 83. The collection is "100 percent unisex," and showcases just how different Peters’s background is from Gabier; he not only grew up between Ireland and New Jersey, but also spent his post-graduation years working not in fashion, but with the artist Nick Cave. It was Cave who taught him firsthand how much of a difference extra time can make when it comes to transformation—something he'd almost forgotten after such a nonstop decade. CDLM, then, will show just two collections a year, not that Peters is exactly giving himself a break. He’ll still be working on Creatures, too, which he’s now rather looking forward to. "Actually, the biggest struggle I’ve had throughout this whole process is not having Shane with me," he said with a laugh. "I’m used to being with him 24/7."
Jamall Osterholm never expected he would design clothes, but at just 23, fresh from the Rhode Island School of Design, he’s already doing much more than that. Well aware that "especially in a country like America, which was founded on slavery," his blackness determines how he experiences life, Osterholm decided to found his brand on exploring it, as well as race, gender, and identity more generally. In the past, he’s done so by imagining an all-black alien race, and this season, with the CFDA’s backing, as part of its emerging designers partnership with LIFEWTR, he’s taken his futurism even further, challenging traditional ideas of masculinity and power with not just his usual over-the-top Elizabethan silhouettes, but also looks complex enough to carry no less than five hoop skirts. Osterholm is still based in Providence for the time being, and knows that achieving such early success, all without even moving to New York, is much more than a testament to the power of social media: "The exciting thing about fashion and creative industries in general right now is that we, people of color, queer people, are now being taken seriously," he said. "We're coming into a time where our opinions actually matter."
It’s hard to believe that Batsheva Hay, who was until recently a lawyer, has only been making her signature prairie dresses since 2016. What started out as her simply trying to make her own wardrobe has taken off at an almost alarming rate, thanks to Hay’s unmistakable penchant for long hemlines, florals, and frills—making clothing which, as Hay puts it, "demands a reaction." While even Hay isn’t immune to a "What kind of Little House on the Prairie production are you in?" every once in a while, though, lately, she’s noticed that everyone from youngins in sneakers to older ladies with Birkins are willing to give her silhouettes a try. They’re already stocked at Matches and Opening Ceremony, and, from the sound of Hay’s schedule, will no doubt be showing up more places soon, too, particularly since she made a point to expand her offerings this time around, incorporating denim and black and white, and even raising some hemlines to—gasp!—above the knee. It’s true that Hay draws inspiration from her family’s Orthodox Judaism, though she’s also as down for playtime as some of her more childlike dresses suggest: "Part of what I’m doing is being a little tongue-in-cheek," she said. "I’m support of playing with this idea of the oppressed woman, and reappropriating it to be like, 'f--- that.'"
Jonathan Cohen launched his namesake label back in 2011, and that’s precisely what’s made his brand one to slowly watch. Back when he was 25, Cohen, a former apprentice to Oscar de la Renta, made up his mind to focus on the long-term in the industry, conserving his energy rather than going all-out each season. Now that he’s 33, it’s safe to say his strategy has paid off—and not just because he’s one of this year’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists. How else could Cohen maintain his label’s signature appreciation of intimacy, which started off by naming pieces after women he knows personally, while dressing celebrities like Lupita Nyong’o and Gigi Hadid? "All I can say is I’ve really put a lot of attention the clothing and the women we’re dressing—that’s always been my priority," Cohen said, showcasing the confidence that led him to leave behind his usual private appointments in favor of his first-ever fashion show this season. (Fret not—he’s still making 90 percent of his beloved, mostly floral textiles in house.) Indeed, if there’s anyone who could pull off taking a brand built upon being personal global, it’s Cohen, who’s aiming to follow in the footsteps of artisan designers-turned-houses like Dries Van Noten. (Especially now that he and his business partner have finally conceded to hiring their first employee.)