Dress Like Your Inner Animal

What is it with the animal world and fashion? Ever since man started wearing pelts, the two have been interconnected, flora and fauna used as a source of creativity, comfort, exploitation and politics. The results are sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrible, sometimes controversial. (Two weeks ago, during the couture shows in Paris, Schiaparelli set off a firestorm when the designer Daniel Roseberry put a lifelike lion head on a gown that had some people thinking Great White Hunter.) But on Friday, as the New York shows began, Collina Strada unveiled a collection that suggested the relationship could be something else entirely.

Fun! Of the smartly absurdist kind.

Entitled “Please Don’t Eat My Friends” and held in the still-under-construction House of Cannabis in SoHo, it was a … well, trip, featuring many of the designer Hillary Taymour’s (yes) friends, of all ages, sizes and physical abilities, strutting the runway in a room painted earthy green.

Or only partially strutting. The rest of the time they were crawling, hopping, prancing, sniffing the audience and otherwise giving in to their inner animals, all the while wearing deer ears, a pig’s snout, a dog’s head, a toucan’s beak and other assorted creature-feature prosthetics created by the makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench.

Imagine “Animal Farm” meets “The Wind and the Willows” meets a spirit retreat, and you’ll get the idea. Now instead of just making an animal avatar for your online self (which is, after all, an identity play), you can channel one IRL too.

Along with the critter accessories came white Vans with hooves printed on the upper, horse’s tails made from skeins of recycled yarn, prints that looked like fur and pastures of wildflowers, and shoulder appendages that resembled horns. The color scheme was like “My Little Pony” on acid. The soundtrack involved barks and roars.

Kathleen Engman, the mother of Collina’s art director, Charlie Engman, wore a quilted sequin bed jacket over a corset over a tee with a long, paw-print skirt that looked as if the classic Collina cargo pants had been split up the seams (in a D.I.Y. jeans-skirt kind of way) and lizard spikes on her bald head. One model was carrying Powie, Ms. Taymour’s actual dog, under one arm and wearing a matching Powie print T-shirt over a sheer puff-sleeve shirt, like a hipper version of a breastplate. At the end, the actor Tommy Dorfman appeared as the bride in bunny ears and a white satin slip dress, bopping along.

The point, Ms. Taymour wrote in her show notes, was to underscore the idea that “we’re all in this together.”

Collina Strada, fall 2023. Credit…Photographs by Charlie Engman

She has been swapping anthropomorphism for animorphism for a while now: She built her brand on an environmentally responsible base, using mostly biodegradable, deadstock, organic or recycled materials. In early 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic, she released a video in collaboration with the “Animorphs” artist David Mattingly that transformed her models into their more feral selves. But rather than hector or preach her position, Mr. Taymour has made its expression almost radically ridiculous, so it is impossible not to smile.(She once made a video game, “Collina Land,” that featured characters running across a collapsing baguette bridge. A baguette bridge!)

She is like the Mary Poppins of sustainability, except that instead of sugar she’s dosing everyone with a spoonful of something a little more … consciousness-altering.

Once upon a time, all of this put Ms. Taymour on the fringes of fashion week, a weirdo from the avocado set collaging her principles into cargo pants. Gradually, though, the rest of the world has come around to her point of view. Her work was included in the Met’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” exhibition, and Kim Petras wore Collina Strada to the Met Gala in September 2021. Aside from Vans, Ms. Taymour has collaborated with Levi’s and Melissa, a Brazilian shoe company; she has also been considered for a big-brand creative directorship.

In part, this is because she is doing all of the above in the form of increasingly polished clothes, plundering the romance of history (trains and peplums and bloomers and capes) and filtering it through a hipster thrift-store lens. Technically and philosophically, she knows what she is doing.

Buried amid this season’s barnyard mayhem was a sweeping power-plaid trench with narrow little shoulders, a bias-cut gown in bronze satin with a tantalizingly deep cowl framing the spine, and a swishy satin trouser suit with floral fretwork at the hem of the jacket and pants. They’d bring character and a bit of good-natured (pun intended) morality to any boardroom or cocktail soiree. As one T-shirt read: Woof.

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