Future and Past Femininity Are Forced to Collide, but the Results Fall Flat
By Mark Wittmer
Maisie Wilen’s highly anticipated runway debut saw the brand reach for new conceptual territory by mining specific feminine aesthetic codes of the past. A Yeezy-adjacent brand led by creative director Maisie Schloss, the label has generated buzz through its youthful and futuristic sportswear-like pieces and penchant for playful-yet-edgy graphics – but the Spring 2022 collection didn’t offer the creativity or vision the buzz seems to indicate.
Slightly fewer than half of the pieces charted familiar territory for Maisie: snug, form-fitting party dresses with flirty cutouts, sportswear-inspired tops and dresses with psychedelic, cyber-graffiti abstracted floral patterns. The unique, vaguely Y2K-reminiscent graphic work and deconstructed sportswear vibe of the latter of these two signatures especially has helped the brand come to be recognized as an exciting and idiosyncratic young voice in womenswear, with one eye on contemporary youth style and one eye on its future.
Handbags were a result of the brand’s first bag collaboration with Korean-British accessories brand Danse Lente, and illuminated some small and simple shapes with the aforementioned signature graphics.
But the other half of the pieces instead formed a regression to stereotypically dainty and young-ladylike design tropes of yore, infused with a nod to lingerie: lacy panties and skirts worn over lacy tights, petite silk jackets and bunchy silk tops with scrolling ribbon prints (and actual ribbons), floppy, oversized derby hats, long silk gloves.
Though these two aesthetics were consistently styled together in look after look, they never came together from a design perspective. The frilly, dainty, ladylike pieces never really became more than a reference to the bygone style of swooning in the boudoir; they didn’t have a reason to be here today. Meanwhile, the more interesting pieces that kept in line with Maisie’s usual style didn’t evolve that style at all or serve up anything we hadn’t seen from the label before. The two styles were simply forced on top of each other.
The show notes (printed on silk gloves that my not-exactly-dainty hands can’t fit into) seemed to suggest that the ideas of performatively delicate and powerless femininity were subverted through contrast with the dark sensuality of Maisie’s typical style – but is styling stereotypically feminine pieces badly really subverting feminine tropes? It would have been much more interesting for the designer to deconstruct these codes and guide them toward something genuinely progressive, rather than pasting together a hodgepodge.
Easier said than done, to be sure; this is the designer’s runway debut after all. But if she wants to stay relevant and make an impact on the runway, she should refocus on her strengths and find a way to say something meaningful in her own voice.