Designer Fashions Grrrl Power Statement for Spring

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Designer Whitney Pozgay poses in front of her Spring 2015 collection during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York.

Credit: Jan Paschal

Designer Whitney Pozgay poses in front of her Spring 2015 collection during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York.

(WOMENSENEWS) — Of all the shows in New York Fashion Week wrapping up today, one stands out for its feminist take: “Girls to the Front.”

New York-based designer Whitney Pozgay used that rallying cry from the girl power movement of the 1990s to name her Spring 2015 presentation for WHIT, the label she launched five years ago.

She offered styles that are feminine but not sickly sweet – most for day or for play – though some dresses and even the jumpsuit could easily go out at night. Freedom of movement ruled the WHIT line of clothes and shoes for spring and summer: No fashion victims here. In a break from the monotone of most runway casting, Pozgay showed her collection on an unusually diverse cast of about a dozen models.

Even the shoes in the WHIT + Jacques Levine Spring 2015 line combined style and comfort – a refreshing departure from the vertigo-inducing stilettos that cause some models to fall on the runways every season. Sam Calvanio of Jacques Levine, the fourth generation to run his family’s New York-based shoe business, designed the footwear for the line.

“My favorites are the sneakers and the Chuck Taylors,” Calvanio said, showing the slip-on silver metallic sneakers and the high-top sneakers in synthetic leather with a zigzag stripe. Espadrilles played a big part in the collection, some in silver metallic with a Mary Jane strap.

The WHIT collection was among more than 100 shows presented by designers during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which took place from Sept. 4 to 11 at Lincoln Center and other venues around New York City.

It was among the few that broke with the norms of New York fashion collections by showing that some designers and retailers realize that real women need clothes – and not just the model-thin waifs of the world.

Desigual Celebrates Curves

One of the biggest surprises came from Desigual, the Spanish retailer, which sent Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima out to open and close its Spring 2015 show at Lincoln Center in colorful styles that showed off her curves.

The sight of a woman’s breasts and hips moving freely under flattering clothes seemed almost subversive on New York’s fashion runways, where most models are still twig thin.

Photographers went into a frenzy when Lima danced down the catwalk. The soundtrack included a loop of Chad and Jeremy singing about “soft kisses on a summer’s day.”

But Pozgay’s show offered the biggest standout, starting with relatively low prices. A top or a skirt will run about $200 to $300 while a dress or a jumpsuit could cost up to $600 at or boutiques in Brooklyn and elsewhere. These prices are high for those of us on a budget, focused on paying off a student loan or making the next 401(k) contribution, but they are low for the fashion world where dress prices run into the thousands.

Pozgay got her start in fashion by working for her aunt, Kate Spade, whose classic handbags still have a loyal fan base 18 years after she burst onto the accessories scene as a “New Talent” award winner from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

New York-based model Maria Durruthy strikes a pose in a WHIT slip dress at the Spring 2015 presentation during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

Credit: Jan Paschal

New York-based model Maria Durruthy strikes a pose in a WHIT slip dress at the Spring 2015 presentation during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

A Kathleen Hanna Fan

“In my teens, I loved Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill,” Pozgay said in an interview during her Spring 2015 presentation at the Onishi Gallery downtown. As a DJ played tunes from Rihanna and other girly rockers, handsome young waiters delivered cocktails and swarms of photographers angled to get shots of the clothes.

She wore black pants and a tailored shirt with the words “Girls to the Front” worked into the yellow, black and white print.

Her teen idol, Hanna, was a college student in Olympia, Wash., when she decided to form the feminist punk band Bikini Kill after working in a domestic violence shelter, according to “Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution” by Sara Marcus. Published in 2010, “Girls to the Front” also covers Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy and other bands at the forefront of the Riot Grrrl scene. (Yes, almost 20 years before Pussy Riot, there was a band called Bikini Kill.)

Rebelling against patriarchy and creating community through music – and do-it-yourself publishing of fanzines – ranked among the major ideals celebrated in Riot Grrrl music. For instance: “Bikini Kill believed that if all girls started bands, the world would change. They actively encouraged women and girls to start bands as a means of cultural resistance,” according to the band’s website.

“It’s the desire to be feminine and tough, thoughtful and reckless, womanly and girly – all at the same time – the dichotomies of adolescence,” Pozgay, now in her early 30s, said of the themes that linked her teen years and Riot Grrrl music to her collection.

Clean Lines, Custom Prints

In her collection, Pozgay played with clean lines, custom prints, textures and shapes to create clothes for spring and summer that looked like they would be fun to wear: A short sheath dress popped in a splatter print of turquoise, black and yellow on a white background. A maxi shirtdress caught the eye with its bold floral print splashed on a dark background. Mid-calf slip dresses – one in a print with a handkerchief hem and another in eyelet embossed with daisies – offered flirty options for what to wear on a hot and humid summer day.

The print fabrics were designed and cut so that flowers, for example, fall in the right spots on a woman’s body and not, say, in the center of the breasts or in a suggestive way below the belt. Pozgay credited her creative director, Parker Argote, who is also her husband, with the craftsmanship behind the prints.

The most striking piece in this collection was “the amazing daisy dress,” as WHIT intern Mallory Atkins, 24, described it in an interview during the show. The V-neck sleeveless shift features a daisy print on silk voile, said Atkins, a 2014 graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, in Savannah, Ga.

Pozgay, who grew up in Phoenix, spent her teens listening to Riot Grrrl music and soaking up its message: Girls up front; make your voices heard.

She earned a degree in theater from the University of Texas at Austin, concentrating on costume design.

“Once the show is over, the costumes go away,” Pozgay said, explaining that this reality influenced her switch to a fashion career to design clothes that people could wear in real life.

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