The Joy and Exuberance of Puppets and Puppets

The label brought a Sci-Fi spectacle to New York Fashion Week

Amid the closures of Barney’s New York and Opening Ceremony, much conversation has been had this season around nurturing young American talent and the relevancy of New York Fashion Week. This has left many wondering, what is the path forward? For some this has meant re-strategizing and sitting out of the schedule. For others, this has transpired to nontraditional show formats like Susan Alexandra’s musical and Vaquera’s impromptu show at Dover Street Market. For Puppets and Puppets, their approach was void of commerciality, focusing on a theatrical, joyous approach to fashion.

On a rainy Monday night in NoMad, designers Carly Mark and Ayla Argentina, of Puppets and Puppets, presented a show inspired by French illustrator Moebius. The show unfolded like a Sci-Fi fantasy intertwined with present day New York, with a casting that included the likes of chef Danny Bowien, artist Richie Shazam, and musician Caroline Polachek. Here, Mark further details the design process behind their third collection, which was “heavily character based” and “a real challenge.”

How are you feeling today?
I feel good! I am exhausted and happy. We did what we set out to do this season, and it was a real challenge; this season felt harder than the first two.

What did you and Ayla set out to achieve with this collection?
This season, the theme was based on Moebius, who was a French graphic novel illustrator. All of his graphic novels were Sci-Fi, very pop looking, and heavily character based. He himself did very beautiful costuming on his characters. My introduction to him was through the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune. We knew we wanted to [have the collection] based on the graphic novel’s characters, and that it wasn’t going to be as wearable as previous seasons, which was fine because we really love costuming.
We decided to be really personal and cast the “models” before we did the rest of development work. We started the casting process a month after the last show [in September]. We are so personal about this brand and the collections are so personal to us; we wanted to include people that we’re inspired by or people we are close with. We wanted [the show] to have a sense of community. We showed [the cast] the storyboards and basically said to everyone, chose your player. Every person [who walked in the show] chose a Moebius character from our storyboard. We cut all the muslins specifically to everyone’s individual body-type. We had 19 models and 19 different body types. So for that reason, this season was a lot more difficult.

Has it felt more rewarding as well?
It definitely feels rewarding. I am really proud to be a part of New York Fashion Week, but I will say that this season was a little bit dry. I am very proud to have done something that wasn’t. Take it or leave it, whether you like it or not, we did something [different].
Going off of that thought, how do you see the New York fashion landscape?
I moved here when I was 18, and I’m 31 now. I feel like the city raised me. I think this season was a little sad because a lot of young designers didn’t show. And that’s because I think financially it’s been very difficult for everyone to sustain the practice when this city doesn’t foster young creatives the way it should, or even can. With that being said, I really love New York and there are things this season that excited me. There are things still happening and I think because it’s so hard here, people are pushing to make it work.

You mentioned community earlier. How would you describe the Puppets and Puppets community?
People that we’re friends with, people we are inspired by whose work we love. We always have Danny Bowien [Mission Chinese owner] walk in our shows. The dinner after the show is always at Mission Chinese. It’s nice to have Danny in the show and have Danny cooking the dinner as well. Artist Precious Okoyomon was in the show, and they helped Danny make two beautiful ducks [for dinner]. [Actor] Bobbi Salvör Menuez was in the show. I really love Bobbi and everything Bobbi does. Michael Bailey Gates is always in the show. He’s the most talented photographer. I work with him a lot, and he shoots me a lot. [Musician] Caroline Polachek [closed the show]. I’ve been a huge fan of hers for years. We’re both Gemini’s, so we’ve always related to one another. She came to the show last season, and was so sweet and said, “I’d love to be a part of it.” I was like, “You would? I’d love for you to be a part of it.” We have a lot of mutual love for each other.

Tell me a bit more about the character development process. Were there any fun moments with the cast?
Absolutely. Michael Bailey Gates was a fun one. I really love his look and in the Moebius illustration, the boy has a beautiful ombré onesie, and was balancing on this orb. I said to Michael, “I think you’re partly attracted to this character due to the orb. Do you want me to get you an orb?” He goes, “Yes!” I showed him glass orbs, and he says, “No, I need them to glow.” So I told him, “You find me orbs and I’ll buy you them.” And I bought him the orbs and he walked the runway with them. That was because he felt so strongly about the illustration.

What was the direction behind the music?
The song was “Ava Maria” by Alessandro Moreschi, who was the last Castrato. I’ve always been fascinated by Alessandro because he was the last famous Castrato. I’m attracted to things that are a bit morbid. It also turns you on your head; his voice sounds like a beautiful woman’s voice It’s not what you’d expect. I really like things to have a strange edge to them. I knew I wanted that eerie song playing over and over again throughout the runway show, but I also love Italo disco. I love ending on a high note; I wanted everyone to have a good time. And although you were in this time warp for the runway show, there’s nothing better to snap you out of it than a great Italo disco song, [like “Dolce Vita” by Ryan Paris]. It reminds you that fashion is serious, but fashion is also fun.

Coco Campbell
Caroline Polachek
Caroline Polachek
Carly Mark, Michael Bailey Gates, Bobbi Salvör Menuez
Richie Shazam
Richie Shazam
Michael Bailey Gates
Jane Moseley, Michael Bailey Gates
Natsumi Takahashi
Precious Okoyomon
Laine Bolte
Laine Bolte
Bobbi Salvör Menuez
Serena Tea
Danny Bowien
Alexandra Marzella
Raffaella Hanley
Stella Greenspan, Carly Mark, Richie Shazam

Ayla Argentina, Carly Mark
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