Entering Stacey Bendet’s vision of spring/summer 2020 is to be transported into a world where women lounge casually on clouds of bright Technicolor, leggy blondes laze languidly on hills of lavender surrounding a picnic basket of Glenlivet bottles, girls pose around intricately painted pouffes by Murder Bravado’s designer Everard Best, models in black and white stripes stand against an orange background of teddy bears, and pastel-draped ladies gather in a kitchen painted entirely in ice-cream-mint green. There are large colourful skirts of tulle, with plenty of ruching and puffy shoulders vying for attention alongside tiered gowns – and all with the saturation dialled up to the max.
“Spring 2020 started with solids and colour,” says Bendet, who’s arrived at the alice + olivia press presentation wearing sky-high platforms and her signature thick black eyeliner, with her curls held back by a bandana. “The theme was Field of Dreams,” she says, “and it was the inverse of how I usually start collections, which is with prints, because I wanted fresh new silhouettes – changes in proportion and bold colour-blocking with a bohemian twist!”
Although the production is mammoth, taking over an entire warehouse space in Root Studios in Chelsea, New York, Bendet’s alice + olivia brand started out more modestly – with a pair of trousers. “The first pair came at a moment when the world was filled with denim and I wanted trousers,” Bendet explains. “Retro ’70s-style bell bottoms in beautiful bold striped fabrics – I began making them for myself. The cut of a jean with the beautiful novelty fabric of a custom pant – it was the beginning of the contemporary world and they became known as the contemporary pant.”
Once word got out that alice + olivia was the source of well-fitting trousers, the brand grew a cult following, and soon its CEO and creative director decided to expand beyond bottoms – “We began to outfit our pants! Sweaters, jackets and then dresses,” says Bendet with gusto.
The petite Bendet attributes her drive and energy to her family. Even as a child, she was determined to strive and succeed: at school she could do more pull-ups than any of the boys in her class. “I grew up in a very female-dominated home,” she explains. “My dad raised us to be fiercely competitive, to be proud of that competitive spirit, and to believe that we could do anything a boy could do and we could do it better. I’ve never felt like a man in the room was more powerful than I am, I’ve never felt like a man in the room was smarter and I’ve never felt that there was something a man could do that I couldn’t.”
It comes as no surprise then that Bendet was one of the front-runners of the contemporary fashion category in 2002 and it’s a testament to her savvy that the brand denim style had girls dressed in white jumpsuits with rainbow tie-dye splashed across the garment, as well as white distressed jeans and denim jackets with slogans such as “Who Decides War” printed on the front.
“Colour uplifts,” says Bendet. Even when styling, she believes that a good rocker T-shirt can be paired with a big, bright coloured skirt to make a blah day into a better one.
If nothing else, look at the windows of her stores. “Our windows are designed to tell a story,” says Bendet. “Sometimes these are fairy tales, sometimes these are messages that the world needs to hear. No matter what, I always want our windows to make people smile!”
Optimism is something the world sorely needs and it’s something Bendet definitely delivered this New York Fashion Week, which, whether she was aware of it or not, was the last one of the current decade. The fantasy dreamscape she built at Root Studios certainly rounded off the past 10 years with a bang and set things up for a decade to come that’s full of hope. In the words of Bendet herself, “I’ve always believed in the power of colour to tell a story, to change a mood and to make people smile.”