Keanan Duffty thanks the Fashion Week El Paseo audience during the March 22 show in Palm Desert.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ROGER MORALES
When an award-winning fashion designer, musician, Parsons educator, and author brings his posse to the runway, you can be sure he’s not there to orchestrate a one-note show.
A night under the big white tent with Keanan Duffty was, for those at Fashion Week El Paseo on Tuesday evening, a music-fueled stage show and retro, feel-good event, just as the multi-gifted British designer intended.
• Coming March 23: Christopher Bates
“Turn and face the strange” – the apt lyric to “Changes” by David Bowie – kicked off this fashion party, which opened with video clips from many of Duffty’s New York fashion shows. Bowie’s music and creativity shaped the designer from the time he was a tot. Two stars aligned in 2007 when they collaborated on a collection for Target. Duffty has worked with John Varvatos, Dr. Martens, and Ben Sherman, in addition to helming his own line and dressing musical legends like Bowie, the Sex Pistols and Steven Tyler.
Duffty’s own personal brand of strange – hand-embellished streetwear dropped into a week of resort wear, gowns, diamonds, and couture – is a bright, refreshing twist, like lime in scotch whiskey. Neat.
Music revved the show’s engine and music drove it. Covers and remixes of “Like a Virgin,” “Wonderwall” by Oasis, “The Boys are Back in Town,” “We Will Rock You,” and “Riders on the Storm” blended with Duffty’s own music and videos, from his band, Slinky Vagabond. The on-screen images of his prolific past collections kept time with the beats.
For Duffty, and for the record books, music and fashion are inseparable. “Fashion likes to think it’s leading trends, but the industry takes so much from music,” he recently told Palm Springs Life.
Motifs filed out like timeless Polaroids from the rock-and-roll hall of fashion fame. Skulls, stars, Jolly Rogers, Union Jacks, and a coat of arms all had spotlight moments on garments that took influence from military uniforms, pirate lore, and the vintage garb that Duffty upcycled them from.
Patterns ranged from red tartan to muted plaids, stripes and windowpane checks to animal prints with details like embroidery, patches, and denim distressed to create a design.
The 40 looks were culled from collections created throughout his career, yet read like one cohesive story with a splash of red as the main character.
Mostly fitted, some with a mod sensibility, and a few one-offs (like a corset-cut faux-fur jacket and a tux jacket with a glittery lapel) emerged on models who criss-crossed the stage from two angles before winding through the audience on floor-level runways. Their figure-eight configuration added another layer of non-conformity to the down-and-back routine of the runway world.
The men dominated in volume, showing us that slim-fit pants are forever a staple (from floods to ankle lengths) and there’s no reason on earth why an incredible edgy jacket should be so elusive. Other stand-outs were a brown hooded sweater with a red Swiss Army cross, a red tee silkscreened with a skinny tie on the front, and a pair of camo pants with a red skull and cross bones slapped on the backside.
Women introduced us to another side of the street. A strapless floral dress paired with white fishnet stockings. A wide, red belt swished along thanks to floor-length fringe on one hip. Joggers joined with knicker-joggers, a flight suit, and one cheeky pair of hot pants.
There is a name for all of this, which Duffty elaborated on in the book he co-authored in 2009: Rebel, Rebel: Anti-Style.
These models in their rebel style could have been heading to a concert (no, not Coachella). Sneakers were un-archived from a co-branded collab with Reebok (still a hot and collectible commodity). The men didn’t skimp on the eye shadow, and some wore boy bouffants with an Aqua Net hold. The runway moods, whether expressed in a subtle scowl or a cocky head tilt, whether slightly bemused or rather vacant, represented a real city street scene from a rebellious decade sometime between then and now.
For 40 minutes, guests embraced their own inner rebels, immersed in a rocked-out Tuesday night trip down a memory lane like no other.
Dufty’s show primed the pump for us to keep our posh fancies in the back of the closet a while longer. And with perfect timing. He has a new line of irreverent streetwear just waiting to hatch.
Until then, thank you, Keanan Duffty. We really needed that.