When the fashion crowd sprinted from their Ubers into Cedar Lake for the Phelan Spring 2017 runway show Thursday night, they were greeted with a hushed atmosphere. Under dim lights, a group of all-female dancers dressed in silk, neural-colored frocks, slumped, slid, and waned on wooden chairs in the center of the room. It was so quiet, the only sounds you could hear were the chairs creaking under each slight movement and the collective inhale and exhale of both dancers and stressed-out guests.
Many audience-members were coming from Thakoon's show, which took place right before Phelan in Brooklyn. With each season, it seems, shows are starting later and later with the addition of celebrity guests and designers trying to one-up each other with their further, and further far flung locations. On Tuesday, Kanye West took the prize with his Yeezy Season 4 show on Roosevelt Island, which might have been the nail in the coffin for shows of this nature and scale. But designer Amanda Phelan, however, demonstrated how to do runway performance art right.
Phelan started her namesake label only three seasons ago, and yet in in this short period of time she's managed to leave her stamp on New York Fashion Week with the help of friend Shannon Gillen, who choreographs a dance performance on the runway each season. For Fall 2016, the dancers performed high-energy stunts on ramps installed on stage, but for Spring 2017, the movements were easy and elegant, reinforcing how her modern, wearable knits work with every twist and turn of the body.
“The idea of standing and sitting; stacking and un-stacking; folding and un-folding is seen throughout a lot of the techniques and stitches," said Phelan after the show. As she mentioned earlier this week, the clothes this season were inspired by — and also incorporated — the paintings of Caitlin MacBride, which explore the look of folded fabric. "I was looking at a lot of traditional arts and crafts techniques that are regarded as female domain," she continued. "Like basketweaving and Ottoman, for example."
Phelan comes from a dance background herself, and knew from the start that she wanted her shows to take a different format from the traditional runway rollout. When asked if she meant for the "musical chairs" aspect of the show to reflect the scramble for front row seats at Fashion Week, however, she tilted her head back and let out a laugh — perhaps the loudest exclamation of the evening. "No! That wasn't the idea."