“I think this is a really commercial piece,” says Beckett Fogg, one half of the team behind Area, holding up a stiff metal cage wrought of rainbow-hued crystal. To which I respond, with astonishment, “Commercial?” But Fogg insists. “It’s really commercial because of the many ways you can wear it! Look—you can just put it over a white button-down shirt. You just have to have that emotional connection. Our embellishments, our crystals, our trims really draw you into the fantasy.”
Though Area’s gender-nonspecific extravaganzas may be a truly postmodern fantasy, Piotrek Panszczyk, Fogg’s codesigner of the New York–based line, says the creations have deep roots. “We love classic things, but we want to recontextualize them,” he explains. “Glamour can be rhinestones, but it can also be an Hermès double-face cashmere coat. We look at old references—’60s Balenciaga, Lanvin couture—and try to strip things down, make it in a new way.”
A visit to the Area atelier on Manhattan’s Canal Street, where the spring 2020 collection is on resplendent display, offers compelling evidence of just how far you can twist and stretch the notion of classic. Here are examples of the kind of high-gloss elegance that hasn’t been seen lately—an unabashed tribute to the notion that you can be a literal shining star. The eye lingers on crystal streamers welded into 3-D panels; an extraordinary black gown, made of what could be gigantic spaghetti tubes, pretty much defies description. (Okay, here’s a try—is it the gorgeous offspring of an octopus and a Venus flytrap?) But there are also catsuits in blown-out herringbone checks and peach satin frocks with balloon sleeves that happily acknowledge their couture heritage. If you are still tempted to dismiss the collection as fundamentally rock-and-roll—and yes, Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Ariana Grande are all fans—no less a grown-up than Michelle Obama has sported Area’s strict black suit (albeit dripping in crystal fringe) on her book tour. “We added long sleeves for her,” Fogg confides.
And suddenly you think, Maybe this is what commercial means now? Could the secret to seducing the customer lie in the breaking down of boundaries, of throwing out assumptions and offering something that is meant to impress with craftsmanship—to sparkle and spark joy? There’s a spirit of liberation infusing these clothes: Despite their sheer—in both senses of the word—audacity, nothing is intended to elicit a stereotypical male gaze. Women will don these body-positive celebrations strictly for themselves. (Men can, of course, wear a stringy-fringy gown if they’re feeling it—lines are meant to be crossed!) Case in point: A keynote accessory this season is a metal mesh “beard” that clips on—a sexy sleeper hit that provokes and delights.
Fogg, 31, and Panszczyk, 33, met in a graduate program at Parsons, drawn to each other by a shared desire to manipulate and transform fabric. Fogg recalls that at the time, “I was taking leather to a place in New Jersey and embossing it, making it 3-D.” Fogg hails from Kentucky and has a degree in architecture; Panszczyk—born in Poland, raised in Holland, and having worked for Chloé in Paris—came here on a scholarship eight years ago. (They both now live in Brooklyn, Panszczyk with his husband in Clinton Hill, Fogg in Brooklyn Heights, where she and her husband will welcome their first child this month.)
“I walked up to her and said, ‘This is cool—tell me what you’re doing,’ ” Panszczyk remembers. “We became friends, and we started talking about doing something together, and I said, ‘You’re crazy.’ ”
But sometimes the craziest ideas are the best ideas. In 2013 the pair sold a gazillion gleaming T-shirts at Opening Ceremony; in 2015 they made their first formal presentation, and the marriage of exquisite metallurgy with the nerviness of the silhouettes has turned out to be a big hit; in 2016 they were CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists. And no one was more shocked than the designers themselves when they learned that they ranked third at Coachella—right after Revolve and Fashion Nova—in earned media value, a financial calculation that measures social-media engagement.
“Neither of us are exactly from fashion capitals,” Fogg says, laughing. “I mean, I’m from Lexington, Kentucky, and he’s from Poland!” Could this be why they have such a deep understanding of the transformative power of clothes, the desire to become another person—more confident! bolder! louder!—just by slipping into something fabulous? As Fogg puts it, “It’s definitely occasion dressing—but the occasion could be you in your room posting on social media.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue