If anyone could transform a drab office space into a vibrant stage, it would be Rachel Antonoff. Known for her innovative shows sans traditional runways — a prom-themed soiree, for instance — the designer exceeded expectations with a throwback musical number set to “A Secretary is Not a Toy” from “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
The show took place in an abandoned office in the Grace Building, where powder pink rotary photos atop cookie-cutter file cabinets defined the stage space in perfect rows. As guests filed in, a recording of a droll male voice intoning the benefits of the female office worker added some retrograde charm. With florescent-lit offices along Bryant Park glowing in the window, the blah mood was set.
Until, of course, the singing and dancing began. Like a "9 to 5" dream sequence, Antonoff's 2016 collection brought a much-needed burst of color and a sense of renewal to a blustery February evening.
The space became electric and bloomed with reds, blushes, and blues. Using their manila file folders and winding pink phone cords as props, the ensemble twirled with spunk and grace. The lead was played by Ali Stroker, the first actress in a wheelchair to be on Broadway (she’s known for her roles in the revival of “Spring Awakening” and as Artie’s love interest on “GLEE.”)
The lyrical choreography accentuated the collection’s flexibility and playfulness. A-line skirts paired with flowy tops, T-strap heels in cheerful colors, wide leg pants and the occasional hip-hugging jumpsuit that defined clean waistlines and curvy silhouettes made for an overall fanciful and unabashedly feminine effect. Antonoff’s collection played off the Mary Tyler Moore-esqe sassy efficiency of a woman who can dial her rotary phone with one hand and transcribe dictation in the other.
Lips were also a motif throughout. Fuschia and rose lip smacks printed on a silky blouse, lipstick tips around a high collar, even tiny puckered mouths on the perfectly manicured nails of dancer/model Mietta Gornall, who put a modern twist on smart casual in a long denim skirt and a fitted tee with “I’m right on top of that Rose!” (a classic line from “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead) printed across the front.
The show attracted a few fashion celebrities, including Rookie’s Tavi Gevinson, who rocked a chic pastel blue suit from the Rachel Antonoff x & Other Stories collection. Gevinson had nothing but praise for the looks.
“I always love Rachel’s collections because I can tell we have the same reference points from our childhood," says Gevinson. "Like I was obsessed with this musical [How to Succeed In Business] when I was little, and other musicals, Disney movies, whimsical things. It was just really cute. I loved it.”
One highlight was a cameo from the designer’s brother and "Fun" frontman Jack Antonoff, who played the sole male in the “office” and sported a boyish dark blue overall/romper hybrid with smart white squares. When asked what he thought of his outfit, Jack replied, “Anything Rachel makes I feel like my actual self in.”
That seems to sum up the collection’s ethos: looking professional and having pizazz are not mutually exclusive categories, and our clothing, aka our visual signature, should bring out the best in everyone.