Maryam Nassir Zadeh is obsessed with a towel. It’s not a specific towel, but the idea of a towel, something textural, positive, warm, sun-bleached. She’s found favorites at Air BnBs in Kenya and Formentera, occasionally smuggling others out from her favorite hotels around the globe.
For the first time, she has made her own towel, worn on the runway by Cole Mohr in an outfit that almost resembles pajamas—saves the beautiful leather boots. “He really pulls it off,” says Zadeh backstage.
To outsiders, this kind of dialogue and obsession over a towel might sound like something from an Ottessa Moshfegh story. It’s not—but Moshfegh did walk Zadeh’s runway today in a slate rib-knit slitted miniskirt, and black leather scarf. Both women have a shared affinity for character building and quirk; nothing normal happens on an MNZ runway or in a Moshfegh novel.
Or maybe both women are able to pick up on the very strange circumstances of a seemingly normal life. Zadeh’s garments are proud of the anti-fashion movement—something Laird Borelli-Persson has been tracking the re-emergence of for months—and her garments are more about reflecting the vast interior lives of the people who wear them.
Trying to understand the nuance, to an MNZ first-timer, can be like cracking a code. Here is Susan Cianciolo, the godmother of all Lower East Side style, in a plaid scarf wrapped around her head (“very Susan,” approves Zadeh), and a leather, boxy skirt set (“not Susan at all,” she contrasts). To her and her community, that awkwardness is everything. Putting Drake Burnette in a slender ringer tee and charismatic long pencil skirt means something.
Lexie Smith’s sheer butter-colored trousers under a sort of uncanny work dress are intentional; layering coats for Angel Prost mimics Prost’s own magpie style. On the whole, these clothes come with a gentle hand feel, lent by shell buttons on a lichen short sleeve shirt and the Sharpie-drawn logo on a tee.
So you see that handing Cole Mohr that towel really matters because it suggests that Mohr, just like the other dozens of people on the MNZ runway, has a life off of it. Amidst a wonky New York season, Zadeh is the rare—and getting rarer!—designer that makes clothing for a legitimate New York City life.
(Another candidate, Mike Eckhaus, was in her front-row today.) Does it make telling the difference between her models and her audience a little difficult? Yes. But what a great problem for a designer to have.