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  • Writer's pictureSavannah Bradley

At Puppets and Puppets, the End of All Things

And solid offerings from Coach and Altuzarra.


Five years ago, during the last pre-pandemic season, Carly Mark staged the very first Puppets and Puppets runway show. An oddball macédoine of references to American Psycho, Fabergé eggs, and whether or not Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia was murdered by the Bolsheviks, the consensus was even: Mark was a young artist who was witty and talented but a little wet behind the ears. It was assumed, as it is with many new designers, that following collections would focus more on sell-ability and popular taste, rather than individual vision.

That, of course, didn’t happen. Her co-founder, Ayla Argentina, left the label; Mark was criticized, often, for not focusing on growth and instead designing garments that were beautiful but acutely unwearable. In an interview with Nicolaia Rips for Air Mail last December, she said: “I don’t think fashion designers should be fashion designers their whole lives. I think you have to be deeply enmeshed in the Zeitgeist in order to do this.” It’s saddening, but unsurprising, then, that the Puppets and Puppets FW24 show is Mark’s last; she announced earlier this year that she is moving to London and focusing on accessory design, rather than ready-to-wear, for the time being. To Vogue, Mark said: “At this point in fashion, as a young designer, thriving is just surviving.”

What is possibly the most saddening of all, though, is that this collection is finally Mark’s best. No more veneers of irony (save for “Nothing Compares 2 U” on the show soundtrack). See: cloaked models in veils and wimples; dark velvet capri leggings; half-dresses revealing ridged nylons, like bones popping out of sockets. Instead of spelling it all out, like usual, Mark is making use of symbol. There’s a lot being said about repentance, here, along with spirality and onus. The best look by far — and a clear reason as to why Mark is pivoting to accessory — is a pair of stretchy red socks that morph into tights, which pull out from behind the ankle, up the back, and over the shoulder. The commentary on responsibility and misconception isn’t exactly subtle, but it is refreshing seeing Mark have something to say and doing so with tact. I don’t want this to be the end of her career, and, frankly, I don’t think it will be.

The Coach show was staged at the former chateau of tobacco magnate James Buchanan Duke and volunteered a pastiche of midcentury America: rumpled raincoats, “Moon River” on the aux, oversized sweaters slapped with poodle-skirt style bow appliqués. That contrast — a stately American home housing models, like children, in candy-colored clothing a size too big — felt distinctly Annie, Richie Rich, and even Eloise at the Plaza. These are not bad garments, though, not at all; the taffeta skirts, swung low on the hip, feel distinctly fun. And, as always, designer Stuart Vevers knows how to make a damn good coat. 

The logic of the collection, though, leaves much to be desired. On the one hand, I’m glad that the balmy cleanness of every other show this season isn’t present, here, and that these looks have a distinct identity. On the other hand, the presentation was erroneously front-loaded. By the end, models walked out in high-waisted, crumpled denim tucked under wrinkled satin camisoles. These are just-OK, inoffensive outfits, but they don’t make sense as a closing number. (Overheard on the street outside: “Did they lose a bet?”)

Finally, there was Altuzarra, who sent out personal invitations to his show and didn’t allow a single celebrity or influencer into the room. At a studio preview, he purred: “It wasn’t as much about stories and much more about pieces that I felt interested in developing.” It’s a perfectly simple, unpretentious statement, but is also very radical at a time when every other designer’s collection seems to need a theme or a journey or God forbid an aesthetic. The closest trend Altuzarra approaches is a pair of red tights — but he gelds them by subtly alluding to Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy.

With the exception of the particularly modern bodysuit-contra-stockings closing look, there were clear beatific, historical references: Pierrot clown ruffles; Harlequin printed chiffon fit for a court jester; Kandinsky watercolors; Weimar Republic design rules. It reminded me, in a circular way, of Kate Bush’s The Sensual World — a record that, for the first time in a long time in her career, was not a concept album, but merely a collection of very good, playful songs. This is merely a collection of very good, playful garments, and reminds me just how lucky I am be alive at the same time as Joseph Altuzarra. 🌀


Savannah Eden Bradley is a writer, fashion editor, gallerina, Gnostic scholar, reformed It Girl, and future beautiful ghost from the Carolina coast. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the fashion magazine HALOSCOPE. You can stalk her everywhere online @savbrads.


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