When it comes to an atypical New York Fashion Week event, Lithuanian designer Vilma Mare brought her own flair with her “Creating Beauty That Protects” show. Operating as more of a gallery installation than a runway show, Mare displayed her creations in a square-shaped room at the Consulate of Lithuania on Fifth Avenue and 37th Street. In each corner was a live model, with mannequins strung from the ceiling with fishing twine. What made the garments, constructed almost exclusively out of sturdy boiled wool, immediately stand out was the fact that the seams were on the outside.
“As long as I keep the edge nice and sharp, that fabric looks done after cutting and the edge is so beautiful that I turned it out,” Mare said at the event’s closing party on Feb. 13.
Mare has spent time rediscovering the Baltic culture that was suppressed when Christianity came to Lithuania. The strength of her ancestors is what she hopes will come across in her designs.
“Studying, I found out lots of things,” Mare said. “When women would be beautifying themselves, not to be pretty, not to be outstanding, but to work on their success, to work on their protection, that was a very strong message.”
The clothing, using an earth-toned palette, featured high collars and strong, fitted lines. The models wore large headpieces, sturdy boots and wrist cuffs, emphasizing the message of empowered female protectors. In addition, it was a message that Mare wanted to put across in a sustainable way.
“As I realized the importance of nature to our overall health and security, I find myself feeling deeply about the current ecological crisis that our planet is facing and the fashion world’s impact on it,” Mare said.
Behind the models and mannequins hung floor-to-ceiling tapestries of trees, and branches fixed to the wall and ceiling draped with traditional flags.
“Trees are our protectors,” Mare said. “Baltic temples were in the forest so people would go and talk their sorrows to the trees. That was another interesting message to learn when I was turning 50.”
Corey Aldrich, owner of Electric City Couture, which produced the show, echoed Mare’s sentiments, emphasizing the importance of supporting smaller designers, as opposed to mass-produced brands.
“There’s a strong message that we’re interested in promoting and that is sustainable fashion is about scale, and sustainable fashion is about supporting the makers directly,” Aldrich said. “I think the industry is kind of trending towards people wanting to find more meaning in what they’re purchasing, and what we wear is a very intimate part of what we communicate to the world around us.”
Claudia Marzotta, owner of Moda Lab, a fashion development studio in Miami, came to Mare’s event precisely so she could see the collection and interact with the designer one-on-one. “I like the intimate type of event,” she said.
In the center of the room was a long wooden table covered with feathers and tree bark. The table, Mare said, was her homage to the people at Standing Rock, to whom she dedicated the event. “They have lost so much and yet they continue to strive to protect us all,” Mare said. “These are indigenous people here who also don’t want to lose their identity and the table is devoted to them because they still feed us, the fertile ground that we stand on.”
Aldrich explained Mare’s wish to have a legacy of leaving the world a better place than she found it through her designs.
“Fashion is political and when fashion can make a statement that’s positive, that empowers people, that changes things,” he said. “Fashion is powerful.”