Meet the New Faces of the American Wave of Grunge Designers

Mixed-media artist Carly Mark and designer Ayla Argentina, the duo behind the new label Puppets and Puppets, just had an unusually busy and exciting week. Showing for the first time at NYFW, it was also their debut runway and their first ever joint collection as designers. You’d expect a certain tension, some nervousness, and possibly a bit of drama considering the circumstances, and yet the overall mood in the room – before, during, and especially after the show – could not have been more relaxed, joyous and festive.

Carly Mark and Ayla Argentina at the Puppets and Puppets Fall/Winter 2019 show in New York. Photo: Mitchell Sams / Courtesy of PR.

Off the beaten path of NYFW's traditional venues, the show was hosted in a double parlor inside the Peterson House, a townhouse in Greenwich Village's Historic District with incredibly high ceilings and wooden floors. Interestingly, the building is also home of the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies, a humorous coincidence which I imagine became a repeated point of playful observation among those attending and organizing the event. It's the kind of observation that a close group of friends would end up turning into an inside joke, something that felt quite possible among the people present given the vibe of intimacy and complicity that permeated the room.

 

Mark, who has exhibited her art work at Frieze and Armory, began working with FIT graduate Argentina in 2016. Soon after, they began discussing the possibility of designing clothes and this evolved into the collaborative fashion venture Puppets and Puppets, which was named after Mark’s Chihuahua. Driven by non-traditional styling and sculptural construction, the duo, which aims to merge utility and fantasy into a cohesive vision, is already being affiliated with a contemporary wave of American grunge designers led by the likes of Vaquera, Eckhaus Latta, and Telfar. On the runway, this translated to a collection that oscillated between clothing – mostly composed of a few cut-and-sew pieces, a hoodie, and some vintage shirts featuring the brand’s logo in rhinestones – and costume, in the literal sense of the word. All of this added up to a unique and theatrical aesthetic. Some looks, by way of capes, specific prints or certain color palettes, also contributed a poetical and candid quality to the moment. By times, as the models slowly walked across the room to the live performance of cellist and composer Patrick Belaga, I would temporarily forget I was at a "fashion show." Instead, I felt like I was observing characters from a play.

The Puppets and Puppets show felt more like a family affair – where the majority of guests, including members of the designers’ families, were in attendance because they were emphatically interested and eager to support – than it did an event one attends to be seen, to mingle with vested interest, or to grab a free giveaway from the front row. As we waited for the show to begin, the likes of curator and writer Vere van Gool; photographer Logan Jackson; and models Paloma Elsesser, Ali Michael, and Hayett McCarthy were, like many others, engrossed in their respective lively conversations. Meanwhile, artist Chloe Wise, who had been trusted to document the event live on the brand's Instagram, walked around the room randomly interviewing people (although when I walked in, she was holding a microphone to designer Niki Takesh's puppy). In short, much like the collection they presented, the setting was an unexpected breath of fresh air – a welcome NYFW palette cleanser if you will.

Mark and Argentina kindly took some time after the show to chat with us about their disdain for fast fashion, why they chose to step into the world of fashion, and how art informs their work.

Puppets and Puppets Fall/Winter 2019 show in New York. Photos: Mitchell Sams / Courtesy of PR.

This is your 1st time at NYFW. What motivated you to show?

 

I've been involved in the art world the past few years. Ayla went to school for garment construction. We were making garments for my sculptures together and it felt very much like styling. We decided to take the leap after last fashion week. We're looking forward to season two.

 

Does your background as an artist inform how you envisioned or presented the show?

 

Yes, the collection is very sculptural; the shoes are all handmade resin platforms. The production felt similar to installing a gallery show.

 

Was there a specific eureka moment when you two decided on moving into making clothes, or was it more of conversation through time?

 

We've discussed moving into fashion many times over the past few years. It was last fashion week though that really put us into motion. New York fashion is really exciting right now. Telfar, Lou Dallas, Vaquera – the clothes feel like progress.

Tell us a bit more about the collection and the universe that you created this evening.

 

The playfulness of the collection was in its ability to combine many contrasting elements: textures, patterns, aesthetics, and ideas. We wanted to project that theme onto the space as well. We liked playing with these sterile corporate carpet swatches and arranging them to mimic and clash with some of the fabrics in the show. The music was the unifying force in that it was both traditional and experimental.

 

Puppets and Puppets Fall/Winter 2019 show in New York. Photos: Mitchell Sams / Courtesy of PR.

If you had to pick a single look that crystallizes the collection, which one would it be and why?

 

It would be Liz Ord's look – the faux fur leopard coat, maple leaf skirt, Christmas grid halter, and neon tights. The evolution of various classic silhouettes with contemporary fabrics.

 

There was an element of fantasy in the collection; can you tell me a bit about how that weaves into your design?

 

Fantasy is pretty all-encompassing in fashion. A fashion show is a fantasy. The fantasy genre is a blank slate where characters are free from reality and its norms. I think that creative freedom is why, specifically in costuming, there is such an inspiring rich visual and conceptual imagination.

 

We are part of a generation that is experiencing the backlash of consumerism and excess. Is that something you consider as designers?

 

Yes, a lot of our fabrics were salvaged, taken from vintage curtains, t-shirts, etc. All of the shoes are pre-owned and worn. Sustainability should be at the top of everyone’s list right now.

 

Ideally, where will your customer find Puppets and Puppets?

 

Puppets and Puppets can function in a gallery space or a store. Fashion and art are inter-sectional.

Many of the looks felt like moving art pieces; was a sculptural design approach intended?

 

It's how our brains work, given the years of art making we've done together in my studio. We wanted to construct things that move with a body, can be worn over and over, but with a sculptural structure.

 

Puppets and Puppets Fall/Winter 2019 show in New York. Photos: Mitchell Sams / Courtesy of PR.

Being an artist tends to involve being hands on, experimenting with mediums, and a freedom of expression which are not necessarily prevalent in fashion these days. As artists, why did you decide to dive into the fashion world?

We both have a disdain for fast fashion, given the times, what's going on in the world. We wanted to execute something handmade and considered. We want a Puppets and Puppets coat to still be hanging in your closet 10 years from now, not discarded after a season or two.

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