Photo: Filippo Fior / Gorunway.com

Let’s start with last things first: Carly Mark came out for her bow sporting a new short haircut and working the no-pants (tights instead) look. It was as if she were a modern incarnation of Edie Sedgwick, in the sense that she’s at the center of, and inspiring, a creative scene in the city. In lieu of Andy Warhol’s Factory and his silkscreened banana, people can wear a silver sequined Puppets and Puppets frock or accessorize an outfit with a crossbody banana sling—or a spoon-handle bag or a spider, for that matter. Oh, the webs Marks weaves….

The spring show was presented in a gymnasium at the Immaculate Conception Church in the East Village. The first thing one saw when entering the room was a cadre of dancing animatronic cats—some carrying the brand’s miniature cookie bags. These were actually part of the so-called dance troupe that performs with subway saxophonist Jazz Ajilo, who played against a soundtrack of sappy favorites like “Never Gonna Dance Again” and “Lady in Red,” evoking, perhaps, ghosts of proms past.

This was somewhat of a haunted collection, theme-wise. The season’s movie reference (there is always one) was a Japanese film from 1964 (the year Sedgwick moved to New York, coincidentally) called Kwaidan (or Ghost Stories). “I went through a really challenging year,” said Mark in a preshow interview, “so the idea of ghosts really resonated with me emotionally in terms of feelings and being haunted by them and how difficult that is but how beautiful it is too, because feelings are things that you experience and we’re here to experience the world.” One result of this was clothes that were “really romantic but also a bit goth,” said the designer. There was a ghostly white dress with Victorian sleeves, a photograph of an anonymous woman on a bed, and deep side drapes on pants and skirts that could be seen as the deflated ghosts of Mark’s signature panniers.

She explained that the models who had the front trains of their dresses in their mouths, and the idea of a bag being worn under a sheer dress, were references to turn-of-the-century séance photos, specifically ones that had people depicting ectoplasm. “There were fake happenings, and people would use cotton and have it dragging out of their mouths and claim that it was ghosts or connecting with parallel universes—beyond-the-veil type of things,” said Mark. (This imagery was sourced by Chris Peters, who recently joined Puppets and whom Mark described as her “crystal ball.”)

As to the act of haunting, in a sense the collection could be described as a reaction against the unrealistic expectations placed on the so-called fairer sex. “As women in the world, we are told to be certain things, and the only thing we can really do sometimes to escape that is to lash out—but then that could be held over our heads,” mused Mark postshow. “I’m constantly thinking about the balance between expressing myself and being poised. And so maybe I show up to an event and I’m put together, but I’m going to put whatever I want down the runway. That’s my release—maybe that’s me throwing a fit.”

This collection was full of ’fits from hoodies to polos to haute-ish couture. Mark and Peters wanted to revisit volume, which was so prevalent in the early Puppets collections, and the result was a number of beautifully proportioned tent-back jackets paired with taffeta takes on JNCO jeans. This conflation of Cristóbal Balenciaga and mall rats was, you might say, right on the mark.

This season Ajilo’s dancers (which is how the musician refers to his cats) took on some of the kitsch that in the past was sometimes heavy-handed in the collection. Not that it was excised: That collage print on mesh, called Metal Friends, came from a series of AI prompts. Mark, a female entrepreneur, is a strong person, by choice and necessity. Those beautiful volumes are also protective in the sense that they keep people at a distance. The metallics in the collection are certain to attract more than magpies; they seemed to augur good times. Reflecting back on her recent experiences, a kind of journey through darkness to light, Mark said, “The silver lining of it is when you go through things that emotionally feel very difficult, you come out stronger on the other side.” In this case, hard-core.

This article was originally published on Vogue Runway.

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