There are responsibilities laid before fashion designers like 32-year-old Joseph Altuzarra, the chief of which is the pressure to capture the times in the form of clothes. This season, one of the instincts which is being thrust to the fore is escapism, or at least a resistance to the troubling forces at work in the world. Altuzarra’s answer to that was a Spring collection he described in his studio as “Very serene, about the beauty of materials which are close to nature, like linen, cotton and burlap; things which are not fussy, and meant to look wrinkled.”
The search for authentic emotion led him to research the Spanish side of his identity—the heritage of his father’s upbringing in the rugged Basque region of northern Spain, home to self-reliant mountain-dwelling and sea-faring people. On the other hand, Altuzarra’s own reality is very much attuned to a certain modern urban woman’s demands, or at least his interpretation of them: It’s all very well yearning for the wild and free, but what does that look like when walking on the streets of New York?
Altuzarra’s creative compromise could be read in the details: high-heeled espadrilles (partly made by a Spanish craftsman), braided jute shoulder straps on skimpy linen camisole dresses, and rope frogging on navy nautical blazers and jumpsuits. He had worked hard on injecting a sense of the handmade into his textiles, with lots of pleating derived—at some distance—from folkloric costume; hand-painted prints in greens, blues, and sunrise orange; and some beautiful micro beaded embroideries on broderie anglaise at the end.
It made for a collection which was at its most appealing in the hand and on a rail, where the minutiae and the weightlessness of the fabrics—and their rare luxurious qualities—could be felt. One could also see Altuzarra’s pragmatic understanding of clothes that can perform in the midst of urban heat (as well as the close-up chic of such things as the tan leather saddle-stitched clip-on earrings).
On the runway, though, the presentation somehow lacked the sense of joie de vivre women look for in summer, even in baking cities, and on their way to work. Maybe that had to do with Altuzarra’s choice of uniformly ultra-slim models, whose unsmiling neutrality failed to bring his stated aim of carefree believably to life. Whether it’s summer, winter, or anything in between, Altuzarra’s work, with its man-attracting slit skirts and dresses, would look a whole lot sexier on a knowing woman’s curves. Customers would see that in a changing room, doubtless, but it would be a healthy, humanizing step forward if Altuzarra could bring himself to show it on the runway too.