If you’ve never heard of Jahnkoy, Maria Kakazova’s sui generis fashion line, I’d highly recommend finding time in your Fashion Week schedule for a visit to FIT, which is currently hosting a retrospective of the young designer’s work. The gallery charts Kakazova’s evolution from Moscow-based fashion student to aspiring designer and artist picking up on the eclectic, international style of the London street scene, to recent Parsons grad and LVMH prize finalist refining an aesthetic that’s as much mission as vision. Put simply, Kakazova wants to use fashion as a vehicle for solidarity.
We’ve been waiting for this. For ages now, the emphasis in the fashion world has been on an ideology of fashion as a form for self-expression—an uplifting conceit, but one that, like any ideology, can become suffocating over time. How self-expressive is it, really, to purchase an identity off-the-rack, from a corporation that profits by selling you stuff their marketing campaigns proclaim will make you you? Kakazova isn’t anti-corporate—she collaborates with Puma—but her athleisure gear, embellished with beading, weaving and graphics inspired by traditional costume from her native Siberia, argues in favor of accepting, and then elaborating, a global uniform, because the fights ahead for the world’s youth can’t be waged by any singular individual; they require an us.
All of which preamble is to say, Jahnkoy—this debut RTW collection itself, and the unconventional way Kakazova chose to present it, with dancers freestyling in the clothes before joining together in a choreographed jam a bit like a war dance—might tempt you to believe the woman behind it is kookoo-bananas. But there’s a dead seriousness at work here. To wit, as Kokazova explained after her show, she created the vinyl press-on graphics all over the collection because she wanted there to be an element of each garment that was handmade in Crown Heights, where she now resides. The beading on the Puma sneakers and intricate weaving on the clothes were done elsewhere, and that’s fine; as Kakazova sees it, such handwork is lingua franca, and her aim is to seek out artisans working in traditional ways throughout the world, and find ways to collaborate with them. Basically, she’s using athleisure as a jet on which heritage trades can hitch a ride out of history and into the future. And in so doing, she’s actually taking athleisure seriously as fashion. Rather than treating sporty looks as an accent, she has accepted them as a form durable, flexible and capacious enough to fold in other influences, e.g., traditional Siberian dress. The result, tonight, felt very new and very cool—a scrambled language of familiar signs. Every so often, it decoded itself to read: I want that long quilted jacket, or, those long sweatskirts with Slavic designs all over them are pretty dope. Mostly, though, this show felt less like a fashion statement than a paradigm shift.