Fashion’s New World: The Pandemic Couldn’t Stop Innovative Designers From Debuting at NYFW

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Taofeek Abijako, the founder of Head of State. Courtesy Head of State

The Covid-19 pandemic has not put a pause on the return of in-person events at New York Fashion Week, currently running through September 12. While the usual overwhelming glamour and bustle feels minimized amid ongoing concerns about the Delta variant, in-person events—runway shows, afterparties and the like—have returned following more than 18 months of virtual gathering. Guests who are invited to attend in-person are required to provide proof of vaccination and wearing masks remains strongly advised (with some brands even including them in aftershow gift bags).

Veteran brands of New York Fashion Week have had minimal roadblocks in generating buzz and excitement around their returns, finding new ways to inject the usual energy of fashion week alongside needed precautions against the virus. Fashion shows like the rooftop garden, intergenerational runway show by Collina Strada emphasized the role of community and nature needed to survive the pandemic, despite placing needed strict capacities on the show’s guest list.

But even for designers making their debut at New York Fashion Week (including brands born during the pandemic), anticipation still follows as many labels have strategically used social media and digital releases to garner buzz and create online communities. Young designers especially have embraced the challenges of mounting in-person fashion week events with the same spirit, energy and enthusiasm as in the pre-pandemic days (remember those?). While the pandemic remains an ever present challenge for fashion brands, here are four designers who are debuting collections at New York Fashion Week despite the obstacles:

Deity New York

Created by model, stylist, and, now, designer Renee Bishop, Deity New York launched the womenswear label in 2020, during the pandemic. Described as clothing “derived [from] European tradition and influences of city life,” the Manhattan-based label creates luxury, utilitarian pieces such as corset jumpsuits and wrap tuxedo blouses meant to bring empowerment and elegance to women everywhere. Deity New York’s runway debut is slated for September 11.

Saint Sintra

Boasting celebrity clientele like Olivia Rodrigo, Emma Chamberlain, and Tinashe, Saint Sintra, the design label launched in 2019 by recent Parsons graduate Sintra Martins has gained popularity for her wholehearted embrace of fantasy, color, and chaos.Saint Sintra has been a culmination of all my whacky interests and findings. I’m sort of a magpie for references and ideas,” said Martins to Observer.

Despite launching the label before the pandemic, Covid-19 did impact the 25-year old’s creative process. “The pandemic has been quite difficult! I miss having the network of friends that give me feedback and tell me when my work sucks. It’s hard to be objective,” said Martins. Regardless, Martins delivered a stunning debut including whimsical pieces like a floor-length dress clad with multicolored feathers and a soft pink corset with a matching sheet skirt, accented with pink bows. Promising guests “a technicolor hyperpop dystopia,” Martins delivered with a September 7 New York Fashion Week debut.

Connor McKnight

Connor McKnight, a luxury brand based in Brooklyn, NY, launched in 2020 during the coronavirus and the global surge of Black Lives Matter protests. Amidst unemployment and concern for violence against Black communities, MckNight, an alum of Kith and Bode, created the brand, designing and handcrafting his first collection of classic pieces during lockdown in his Bushwick apartment. Informed by his Washington D.C. metropolitan area upbringing, McKnight has created a line of durable, well-made items made for everyday wear, including staples like top coats tailored with nylon and wool batting and high-waisted trousers made with sports wool. As the very first winner of the Season Zero design contest, a contest for emerging fashion designers by Fred Segal and Black in Fashion Council, McKnight, who is also stocked in Nordstrom and ssense, has been one to watch. McKnight made his New York Fashion Week debut on September 10.

Head of State

While Head of State, the fashion label founded by young designer Taofeek Abijako, has had previous showings at New York Fashion Week, the brand, self-described as a “representation of postcolonial youth today,” is using the return of in-person fashion week to launch its first womenswear collection. “[The pandemic] made me slow down and appreciate the process more, which was needed. Now, I feel like I’m at a stage where I can do things at a moderate pace, leaving no room for burnout,” Abijako told Observer.

Started when Abijako was only 17, Head of State creates casual streetwear anchored by Abijako’s Nigerian upbringing and West African fashion at large. The new womenswear collection entitled Homecoming is inspired by Abijako’s interpretation of the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, a 1977 showcase that brought an estimated 16,000 participants from 56 African nations to Lagos, Nigeria in celebration of African culture and arts; Abijako also used interviews from family members in attendance at the festival to create this collection.

Head of State’s mission of empowering and being in community, noted through their commitment to using the brand’s proceeds to aid underserved communities, hasn’t stopped with the pandemic. “We recently did a curbside pop-up to engage the community, while amplifying other businesses/creative work that takes place in [south] Albany. Continuing with the brand’s sustainability ethos, the aim of the pop-up was to provide an alternate experience to the traditional retail space, while adhering to the guidelines in place due to the global pandemic.” Head of State’s womenswear collection debuts September 10.