NEW YORK — Designer Maria Cornejo is sitting in an open loft space in the Standard hotel on a chair cozied up with a mocha-colored sheepskin throw. She is wearing a black blazer encircled with a belt, black velvet trousers and a pair of sneakers. She looks comfortable but chic — and appealingly calm — in the middle of one of the most hectic weeks for this city’s fashion industry. Cornejo decided to forgo a show for fall 2019 after marking the 20th anniversary of her brand Zero +Maria Cornejo last year.
Skipping a show does not necessarily mean less work — although it does mean fewer expenses. It allows her to reap different rewards. A fashion show, she says, is an opportunity to create a community around her work — one that is composed of editors, retailers, models and the members of her atelier. It gins up energy and excitement. Sitting in a chair across from one other person, and with her collection hanging on racks around her, gives the designer an opportunity to explain her work. All of the extraneous distractions disappear. The focus returns to the clothes.
Cornejo wanted the first moment of contact with her clothes — by an editor, retailer or stylist — to be a more intimate, calmer one. “I wanted to focus on reawakening the senses when everything seems so planned and noisy,” Cornejo says. “I think everyone is feeling numb.”
“Clothing is emotion," she adds. "It’s not just a picture.”
That’s not an argument against e-commerce or Instagram. It’s quiet encouragement to remember that the best clothes — the ones most likely to bring wearers lasting satisfaction — are those that speak to us in a personal way. Clothes should not feel dutiful.
Fashion pushes a lot of things on consumers and tries mightily to convince them that a certain new style is essential to looking and feeling relevant. And shoppers feel bullied into complying. All those split-sleeve blouses come to mind. How many women really felt passionately attracted to those weird deconstructed concoctions? How many women really believed that they looked their best in them? And how many simply thought, “Oh, well. I guess that’s just what blouses look like now.”
Cornejo is not trying to sell her customers on oddball notions. “These are things you want to wear everyday, but in better fabric and better cut shapes,” says Cornejo, who was born in Chile, raised in London and is now based here. Cornejo’s fall collection included an overcoat in caramel-colored corduroy as well as a roomy leather jacket with her signature curved sleeves that follow the natural lines of the arms, a blush-colored shearling jacket, a robe-like jacket worn over velvet trousers and a host of easy skirts and dresses that trace the shape of the body without hugging it.
She wants to dress as many women as possible. Not all women, because that’s not possible. If a designer has a point of view — and certainly Cornejo does — it won’t appeal to every single person. But her shows typically include older models as well as the usual 20-year-olds. Her collection also is available on the 11 Honore e-commerce site, which caters to sizes 10 to 20 and just mounted its first runway show, which featured actress Laverne Cox twirling like a dervish in a cloud of red tulle for the finale.
Cornejo’s are not loud clothes, but they are favored by women who have powerful voices, such as former first lady Michelle Obama. Much of Cornejo’s collection is produced locally and from sustainable fabrics. They are designed to retain their relevance. And in the middle of a hectic world, provide a little peace.
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