Designers often turn to recent museum or gallery shows for collection inspiration. This season, Derek Lam’s starting point was an exhibit that’s been stuck in his mind for a while: Malevich and the American Legacy, a retrospective that was up at the Gagosian Gallery not quite three years ago. As Lam recalled at an appointment this afternoon, that show explored master minimalist Kazimir Malevich’s influence on American art in the mid-20th century. As he dove into work on Pre-Fall, the designer extrapolated the theme, thinking about mid-century American fashion’s turn toward a Malevich-ish, clean-lined functionality. Long story short, Lam went straight for his sweet spot—classic American sportswear, unfussy and luxe. The most obvious tips of the hat to Malevich were the circle eyelets on laced crepe tunics and tops, and the grid check that gave the collection its graphic dimension. There was also a great deal of Malevich-signature red, the color found on some of the standout pieces here, such as coats in red leather and refined bouclé, and a yoked midi skirt with a side-cinched apron front. Lam’s gently flared trousers, meanwhile, looked terrific in camel but got an extra expressive pop in the red. Equally great-looking were the dark denim shorts and a pair of skirt-like culottes that folded in front like a sarong. The outerwear was also canny. You got the sense that these were clothes a woman could rely on. Fun, meanwhile, was in somewhat shorter supply—though a white dress with black-fringe trim offered a taste of it, and Lam’s leggy over-the-knee boots seemed like they’d work well for going to the office or getting into major trouble. Must-haves, in other words.

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