"It could be a paint splatter," said Maki Oh, describing one of her adire prints after her show today. "Or it could also be a splatter of blood, from murdering men." Welcome to New York, Maki Oh! The designer would be a welcome addition to our fair city's fashion week based simply on the fact that she makes absolutely lovely clothes. She would be an exciting new name on the calendar merely because she's based in Nigeria, and those absolutely lovely clothes mash up African and Western references in sui generis ways. But as it happens, Oh may be necessary in New York: It's hard to think of another designer here who is using fashion, as Oh does, to evoke and interrogate female experience.
This season, her collection told the story of, in her words, "women's confusion about their place in society." And the clothes marked a journey from demurely femme to boy drag. En route, there were looks that paid sidelong homage to the domestic realm, with apron shapes and gourd embellishment (gourds being a traditional kitchen utensil in Nigeria, Oh explained). And there were layered looks—some of the standouts here, in fact—that found Oh literally squishing extra fabric underneath fitted silhouettes, a metaphor for the ways women find themselves constrained. And then there were the reinterpretations of workwear and sports jerseys, the feminization of the masculine world, and yes, prints meant to look like spattered man blood. A heady mix of elements, for sure, but Oh handled it all with finesse.
The clothes didn't seem overdetermined, and they had at least as much aesthetic as intellectual appeal. The ruffled tops and cutaway fringe dresses were particularly effective at sparking that feral I want that in my closet now kind of need. And Oh's fitted dot and sheer-paneled dresses were so pretty, they short-circuited brain activity entirely.