NEW YORK - The audience was assembled around the basketball court in the private gymnasium of a fancy new apartment building on the city's West Side. The room was surprisingly silent considering the crowd. But it had been waiting a long time. Forty-five minutes to be precise, with no more small talk to spare. The Monse show had not started because the producers were waiting, waiting, waiting for the arrival of someone who was, apparently, worth waiting for.
It was not a sports star that they hoped would highlight the sporty thematics of the spring 2018 collection. Nor a celebrity known for wearing the brand, like Selena Gomez or Sarah Jessica Parker. Nor even an early devotee such as Amal Clooney.
It was rapper Nicki Minaj. Oh, Nicki. Why so tardy? Never mind. We know: the traffic, the hair, the makeup, the this, the that. You have arrived. That's all that matters.
And it does matter because it reveals a little something about this brand, founded in 2015 by Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia. The designers met while working at Oscar de la Renta and recently returned there to helm that line as well as their own.
Monse is not a brand obviously simpatico with Minaj's hyper-sexy public image. It has an aesthetic rooted in sportswear, particular shirting, but takes those classic silhouettes and twists them, deconstructs them or otherwise turns them upside down. The collection exudes ease but not sloppiness. It is casual but elegant, sensual but not overtly sexy.
Minaj came as a fan - a woman attracted to the Monse look, an artist intrigued by the designers' vision. Designers get buzz when celebrities wear their clothes, but celebrities get something. They can use a brand's sensibility and reputation to transform their own. But for that to happen, the brand has to have a voice that is at least as strong as that of the performer.
Monse has a potent, undiluted, quirky voice - one that draws people closer instead of pushing them away. The spring 2018 collection was filled with sports references, from sparkly basketball jerseys and deconstructed baseball jackets, to track pants and billowing oversize shirts.
The collection was filled with riffs on the flag and the rah-rah team spirit of sports. But those notions were blown up and reassembled in a way that gave them more depth, a different rhythm and mood.
Few things are utterly new. But an old song can surprise and delight when expressed by a distinctive new voice.
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