In spite of the occasional yawn, Dolan seems happy to be immersed in clothes-making — and with good reason. This show may only be his second, but the Massachusetts-born, Australia-raised designer has been a cool kid of the fashion world since he earned his master’s from Parsons in 2014. It was around this time that his signature impractically oversize denim pieces caught the attention of Lady Gaga and Rihanna, who has continued to wear Dolan’s garments on the street, for photo shoots and in music videos.
The designer’s success may be attributed, in part, to how effectively his clothing articulates an essential “high-low-ness” in American style. Wearing a Dolan garment requires embracing an outfit that might not, on first glance, really fit you. “It’s about taking something you aspire to and making it your own,” he says. This makes it the perfect uniform for Rihanna, who has, in recent years, rewritten the rules for celebrities working in fashion.
The singer is responsible, in part, for the emphasis on tailoring that’s apparent in Dolan’s latest collection. “I had never made a full suit before the suit I made for Rih,” he says, referring to a much-photographed khaki suit that Rihanna wore to the 69th Parsons benefit last May.
“This season, I was looking at how to take that big silhouette and make it into something that felt a bit more constructed,” Dolan says. “It’s built into the garments — a flared coat and shaped tailored sleeves. It’s very purposeful, rather than something that’s just so big.”
Heading into the season, Dolan was reading a biography of Jackie Kennedy, and her influence is clear. “I went crazy with checks, and there are subtle references in the tailoring to ’60s couture,” he says. The collection includes cable-knit sweater sets in fuchsia, cobalt and Kelly green, and a cropped, double-breasted jacket that evokes the iconic image of John F. Kennedy Jr. at his father’s funeral (which Dolan has pinned to the back of the studio door).
These “staples of the American closet” are paired with the designer’s take on classic streetwear, like an extra-large Carhartt vest inspired by ’90s rap group Da Youngstas. “I’ve always been obsessed with the dualities that exist in the idea of American style,” Dolan says. “Elitism versus democracy.”
Denim, which Dolan returns to again this season, may the be the perfect expression of this contrast. “It represents so many different things,” he says, as he holds up a pair of wide-leg jeans. “It’s western, but it’s also hip-hop. It’s Dolly Parton and Aaliyah.”