Three days before his second runway show, Conner Ives was feeling impressively cool-headed. “The last show was a bit of a lesson in what a type A control freak I can be with my own work,” Ives said. “But I know that at some point in the process, I’ll have to accept that this is what we’re showing—and then a lot of those jitters and stress and feelings of impostor syndrome will go.” Ives’s self-possession is partly the result of his decision—made firmly before his inaugural show last year—to show only every second season. The impetus for doing so was partly financial, partly to allow him time to recharge his creative batteries. “It might sound a little crass, but if we’re going to throw all this cash at it, then let’s make it a show,” he added.
While last season’s eclectic ’90s extravaganza proved Ives can do more than just the spliced T-shirt dresses that earned him a following while still a student at Central Saint Martins, the 26-year-old designer explained that he wanted to mature things with this collection. (Just a little.) Titled “Magnolia” after Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling 1999 film charting the lives and loves of a disparate group of Angelenos, it contained all of the greatest hits of Ives’s collections thus far: slinky fringed skirts made from upcycled piano scarves; diaphanous Lilith Fair slip dresses with sheer ruffles; and yes, those vintage T-shirts, here transformed into a bias-cut camisole dress trimmed with black lace. To Ives’s point, there were a few more grown-up tricks in the mix too, including a handful of retro silk button-downs and tailored trousers, along with Ally McBeal-core minimalist tailoring in muted shades of green and gray. “I love the pieces that keep my lights on, but I wanted to show a little more of what I can do,” he said.
There was also fun to be had: not least in the dizzying soundtrack, which cycled relentlessly through everything from Lil Mama’s “Lip Gloss” to the opening theme of Psycho. And as with last season’s smorgasbord of winking references to everything from reality TV to film history, part of the thrill was engaging with Ives’s Guess Who? game of pop culture icons from across the decades. The second look was a Kate Moss-inspired “Glasto girl” trudging through the mud in a fur gilet and Hunter wellies, while other looks paid homage to the “shiny set” of New York society women who would descend on the Paris couture shows each season, such as C.Z. Guest and Nan Kempner. Most bonkers of all was the bridal look at the end: a tongue-in-cheek nod to a wedding dress from the Lindsay Lohan remake of The Parent Trap (as well as the highly questionable top hat-veil hybrid that remains seared onto the retinas of all who have seen it). “That was really something where I was like: This is so fucking ridiculous,” Ives added, with a grin.
Ives may have a winning sense of humor, but between all those granola girls and Coyote Ugly bartenders and new-age mystics with agate pendants swinging over their jeans, there was a method in the madness. Notably, a series of looks that was plumbed from the depths of Ives’s encyclopedic knowledge of ’90s and ’00s fashion: the bulbous trapeze coats, horse-riding hats, and platform Mary Janes of Nicolas Ghesquière’s influential fall 2006 collection for Balenciaga. “I remember being a 10-year-old kid looking at that collection, having stolen a magazine from my mom’s bathroom,” Ives said.
Indeed, the real fun of Ives’s collections lies not just in their evident party-ready nature, but in the infectious enthusiasm behind them. Ives is, above all else, a true fashion fanboy (it’s becoming rarer than you think) and it translates palpably through the clothes. “I want to emphasize that same guttural feeling I felt when I was 10 years old looking at that magazine,” he said. “I’m aware of how schlocky that sounds, but it feels messy and human and real, and I think that’s more interesting than painting some pristine picture of what fashion should be like.”
Some may blanch at his magpie mash-ups of style codes from decades past, but as the small army of party girls on the front row made clear, Ives’s nods to these different corners of fashion history couldn’t be more current if he tried. As the quote from Magnolia in Ives’s show notes read, even if it probably wasn’t referring to a look inspired by Britney Spears’s Overprotected music video: “We may be through with the past, but the past is never through with us.”
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This story was originally published on Vogue.com.