Lu Chen is a recent Parsons graduate who made a double debut last season in a gallery in SoHo. Upstairs there were intricate and truly couture-like pieces on mannequins. (Jordan Roth has worn several pieces from that collection, including a printed look with a built-in video component.) Downstairs there was smaller offering of ready-to-wear that was considerably less fanciful and, to my eye, informed by the Belgian school.
It’s off-the-rack clothing that Chen decided to focus on for her first runway show at the Daryl Roth Theater yesterday. “I feel like last season was more like a continuation from my thesis, really driven from concept,” she noted. As for the live aspect, Chen was interested in building narratives. “I feel like an exhibition is more about observing; the show is more about experiencing. Doing a show is more about a whole story, a feeling,” she said.
It wasn’t just garments that helped get the mood across—the cast was made up of creatives in different fields, some of whom were planted in the audience. A fellow sitting in the front row with a big camera on his shoulder also had a moment on the catwalk. For the finale, one model pushed another draped across a bed, symbolizing the body and the spirit, respectively.
The seen and unseen, the material and the abstract—these are the dichotomies that drive Chen’s work. At this very early point in her career, her mission seems to be to bring the inside out, specifically by manifesting feelings and moods in fabric. This exposing of the inner self, as it were, takes the form of exposed construction and stitching. Embroideries that continue past the hem and clothes that half wrap or are encased in sheer tulle speak to dualities.
Like Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester, whose work Chen’s fall collection paid partial homage to, Chen wants to take things apart and put them back together in new ways, so a suit might feature half a skirt, say, or a dress might come in a seemingly unfinished form, with the model carrying the tube of fabric it could’ve been made from. That unfinished look is particularly demanding of the wearer, and as such, not so much in the off-the-rack vein. A tailored dress and jacket with red trimming was more in the spirit.
Pink and black coats constructed of layer-upon-layer of chiffon that fluttered a bit as the wearer moved caught my eye, as did a voluminous sweater that was sheer and finely knit on top with a bottom half made of chunky black yarns. The latter was perhaps the most ready-to-wear look of all in its balance of edge and ease.
It takes a while to shed the idealism of school days for the harsher realities of the fashion industry. Chen, who is bravely wading into the commercial aspects of the market, gifted her guests a key festooned with flies (a nice surrealistic touch). The way I read it, Chen’s talent is the key to her future, which is still in the process of being unlocked.