Puppets and Puppets Has Its Last Fashion Week Show

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On Monday, Puppets and Puppets, the six-year-old New York fashion brand/art project, had its last show.

Its founder and designer, Carly Mark, had decided it was too hard and too expensive to keep making clothes and trying to build a business in this city, despite being known as “downtown N.Y. gold,” as Highsnobiety called her, and despite developing the sort of culty following that is supposed to be an indicator of success. She is pulling up stakes and moving to London, she told The New York Times last week. She will keep her more lucrative and successful handbag business going from there. But no more runway and no more clothes.

Does it matter?

Practically, probably not. Fashion history is littered with the corpses of once promising brands that never quite worked out (Miguel Adrover, anyone?), so it’s not as if this is a new story. And even though Ms. Mark was nominated for a CFDA award as emerging designer of the year, the clothes were never all that good.

They often fit weirdly or couldn’t really be called clothes, or didn’t seem entirely finished. (She has a fondness for Edie Sedgwick tights and not much else.) They seemed more like works in progress. The material could look sort of flimsy. Ms. Mark was trained as a fine artist, not a designer, and she was essentially learning in real time and in front of the world. But she was getting better.

This season her work actually looked more like real garments than it has in the past, though sometimes only portions of real garments. A big fake fur coat turned out to be a false front; a peplos dress was entirely open on one side, save for a tiny tie at the waist. The hems of some draped jersey skirts and lacy little tops looped back up on themselves to form a veil, creating a sort of portable backdrop. That had potential, as did the holey sweats belted over lace skirts, like a corroded cocktail frock.

But whether or not you could ever imagine wearing these clothes, or buying them (or even liking them), Puppets and Puppets represented a kind of mythic creative optimism — a belief in possibility — that is quintessentially New York.

Which is to say: the idea that you can come to this city and have a big idea and some self-belief and make some wackadoodle stuff and see where it takes you. That you can define your own path and find a community and recognition. No matter how messy.

It’s the Gatsby promise, the fashion version, and it’s particularly potent in this city, where newness as opposed to heritage has its own distinct currency. Especially now, as the big brands that once defined New York style are disappearing and there’s a palpable desire for something next to emerge. But what happens when the somethings next, like Puppets and Puppets, throw in the towel?

Sure, more are waiting in the wings. The promising new names to watch this season include Colleen Allen, a former men’s wear designer whose first woman’s collection was a study in unexpected juxtapositions. (See a tailored riding jacket straight out of “Bridgerton” down to the hook-and-eye closures but rendered in … fleece.) Also, Diotima by Rachel Scott, a young Jamaican designer who manages to make seeming oxymorons — chic crochets, elegant macramés — entirely convincing.

And sure, fashion is a business and you’ve got to make the numbers work. But the thing that powers it forward, that keeps everyone coming back, that is at the heart of its allure, is the sometimes irrational faith in reinvention: of style, identity, career. If we stop believing in that, everyone loses.



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