Few designers can touch Duro Olowu when it comes to a knowledge of art history, but more than that, his painterly references always manage to speak to the moment. For fall Olowu was looking at the work of Barkley L. Hendricks whose portraits of Black Americans from the 1960s and 1970s captured the radical style of the era with an unparalleled sense of intimacy. As Olowu noted over Zoom in a preview of his collection yesterday, the artist would “give as much attention to the other elements in the room as he would to the subject.” In this way, the beautifully dressed men and women who inhabited Hendricks’s world stood out while also blending in. “They used style as a weapon to feel good about themselves and the future, but in a way that was still empathetic to their surroundings. It wasn’t about showing off,” said Olowu.
As we emerge from this global crisis, ostentatious displays of fashion hardly feel in step with the times And yet to Olowu’s point, it would be just as foolhardy to dismiss the power of clothes to uplift and inspire. With his new collection, Olowu elegantly toes that line, making a case for dressing up that’s grounded in our new reality.
Along with the omnipresent sweatsuit, sweater dressing has made a big impression in the last year with designers leaning into the cozy possibilities of knitwear. Olowu incorporated several such all-enveloping styles, including an eye-catching belted house dress, though his most striking knits came with a tailored line, the neat black-and-white blazer that was paired with a sarong-style skirt in a matching graphic daisy motif being a good example. Even Olowu’s sharpest frock coats were cut with a reassuringly tactile hand; his matching high-waisted velvet pants are almost as forgiving as sweatpants, slightly tapered through the leg with adjustable buttons on either side.
Even still, there’s no denying the standalone power of a great dress—and Olowu understands that better than most. Finished with a smorgasbord of clashing prints, the new silk and rayon long-sleeve day dresses are Olowu at his best, hitting the sweet spot between exquisite and easy; his ruffled spaghetti strap number in an abstracted marble print ushering that idea into cocktail hour nicely too.
Those ready to take optimism to the next level in their wardrobe will no doubt be totally charmed by the collection’s showstopper: a gorgeous A-line brocade dress threaded with silver and covered in an explosive floral print. Accompanied by a matching jacket with billowing sleeves, the look literally turns the definition of a wallflower upside down.