A word of warning: Don’t look at Michael Huang’s ’09 collection. Stare, because it will take more than a glance to absorb the show’s layers and complexities.
The collection, which debuts this Friday, could hardly be equated with the two-dimensional advertisements in Vogue that readers flip past without hesitation. In fact, viewers will not even be standing in three dimensions when viewing the display, but maybe 10, 12 or 15 dimensions amidst clothes that speak intensely for disparate opposites — humans and buildings, men and women, luxury and comfort, starkness and softness, cleanliness and decay, the public and the personal, reduction and complexity.
With a background in architecture and sculpture, Huang describes his pieces as created “in the round,” so that they are pleasing from every angle, and he infuses his artistic perspective in every element of his pieces, from skyscraper-fetishized pleats to cinched bubble forms. That’s what makes this collection so delightful — it’s not just about a girl who has some fun. It’s about a larger artistic landscape with ideals, questions and substance.
“Honestly, art is about technique, and anyone can learn technique,” Huang said. “But if you don’t have substance to back up a technique, there’s really no point in doing it because art is meant as a form of communication. And if you have nothing to say, why say anything at all?”
Inspired by the city skyline with its rhythmic, alternating alleyway recessions and subsequent building obtrusions, Huang based his everyday-wear line around solid colors, detailed pleating and bias cuts that allowed for vertical flows of fabric. The black and white photos on display at the show, taken by Nadja Spiegelman ’09 and Diana Mellon ’09, further this cityscape parallel with Huang girls displayed in hard, urban settings on rooftops and next to fire escapes and fences.
But despite the volume of some of the pieces, they all manage to drape across the wearer in a contained fashion, thanks to Huang’s intricate interior construction, which allows for the pieces to maintain their grip on girls of any shape. This flow, along with the pieces’ simple embellishments, gives way to sheer cuteness, if not confidence.
Huang supporters say his everyday work collection is a rarity within Yale’s fashion scene, which tends to produce evening wear and lingerie, rather than separates. Mellon photographed Huang’s models with a 35 mm camera and explained that during the photo shoot, Huang strove for a self-assurance that straddled the gray areas between lady-like chic and aggression.
“We were shooting, and one of the models was worried, saying ‘Oh I’m not wearing make up, I haven’t straightened my hair, do you want me to do that?’ and Michael said to her, ‘The girl who is wearing my clothes wouldn’t really care what her hair looks like,’ ” Mellon said. “I think you kind of get that in the show.”
Grace, Huang demonstrates, appears most clearly in the most casual moments. More phenomenal than the particulars of Huang’s craft, however, is his ability to cleanly delineate his artistic ideas into dichotomous units between girl and clothing, clothing and setting, fabric and fit, look and feel.
In fact, the Huang collection deconstructs into separate units that are never in conflict, but cohabitation. And amidst the many dichotomies, one crucial end-all emerges: balance.
“There are no crazy lights, no disco balls, no surprises,” show producer Mona Elsayed ’08 said. “It’s about a really, really coherent, solid collection, very solid, specific elements of a set that will stand out, a really clean presentation and a really clean transition from runway to gallery.”
Viewers can expect the Elm Street show to foil the intensity of Huang’s clothing, which comes in blacks, whites, and a few off-whites and browns. The chosen models look somewhat soft and cute, and to counteract the removed walkway fashion of the show’s first 10 minutes, the majority of the show will appear like an art gallery, with models standing on pedestals scattered around the room next to Mellon and Spiegelman’s photographs. Spectators may come up to the clothes and touch them, and they must, for Huang’s detailed inner constructions would otherwise go unnoticed on the runway or in photos. And in this photo-editorial exhibit, the juxtaposition of Huang’s fashions with the raw, unrefined and empty Elm Street complex evoke a contrast between rough architecture and human personality.
But this isn’t the only place where he subtly mixes opposites. Huang puts exposed metal zippers and accentuated shoulders on his women’s jackets and references baggy wife beaters within his flowy, white dresses, resulting in a sexy-girl-wearing-boyfriend’s-shirt vibe. His fascination with male and female conceptions plays out in his subtle reversals of gendered fashions, which, rather than confusing our intuitions, twist them around within an over-arching female form.
Playing upon his college audience’s desires for both high fashion and wearability, Huang’s fusion of luxury and comfort emerges with clothes that have enough inner construction to be comfortable, but enough all-over construction to be complicated and beautiful. One of his two black jackets, for example, required a minimum of six panels of fabric; Huang used 56.
And according to Elsayed, this textile balance translates into the show.
“The atmosphere is trying to bridge editorial and more commercial accessible stuff, so it’s not crazy artsy, there’s no bizarre experimental techno,” Elsayed said. “For example, there are elements of the set that are very editorial and dramatic and nonsensical, but they also appeal to you because they aren’t too edgy in the extreme.”
In fact, Elsayed and Huang plan for an indie tone, with music playing that girls wearing his clothes “would play in their iPods.”
But nowhere is Huang’s urban edginess more acutely felt than in the Mellon and Spiegelman photos, which speak of large, public city settings as well as private humans. The girls don’t look like they were told to do anything, nor are they in constant motion. They wander and wait, their clean forms and smooth fabric contrasting with peeling walls, hard chains and fading paint, no doubt accentuated by the black and white filter.
But forget the camera filters and play with the zoom lens: Whether your focus is on an individual seam or on Huang’s aggregate presentation, unity in discord emerges, familiar to the point of subtlety, but innovative and substantial to the point of radiance.
Michael Huang Debut/Winter 2006 Collection
Friday 8 & 9:30 p.m.
296 Elm St.