Melitta Baumeister Spring 2023 Ready-to-Wear Collection

Exploration of form, rather than narrative, is what drives Melitta Baumeister. It also keeps a steady stream of interns knocking on her door in Washington Heights. They always say, “I want to know how you make these shapes,” says the designer with a laugh.

There’s not a single answer to that question. The shoulder points of a witchy dress in the spring collection are formed by a wooden harness. What I’m calling the chair dress makes use of an inflatable, rather than foam, which the designer has employed in the past. Soft boning is used for 3D frills, and one way volume is created is by using pleating on the crossgrain. Pleating, says Baumeister, also replicates the “bounciness” and “wobbliness” of knits.

Baumeister is a wizard with lines and circles and squiggles, which she applied for spring with various degrees of intensity. There are plenty of options on the tamer end of the spectrum. Among them are a shirtdress in an exaggerated A-line shape, tent dresses with bubbled hems, an especially smart oversize parka, and generously tailored jackets with extra long and extra skinny sleeves worn with shorts-pants, which can be detached at mid thigh.

Some of the pieces in Baumeister’s spring collection place her work in line with what Satoshi Kondo and Yusuke Takahashi are doing at Issey Miyake and CFCL respectively, but her world is her own. It’s one of circus mirror exaggeration and exacting techniques. Wallflowers be warned: There is nothing “safe” about this designer’s work. “I like the extreme points of something,” says Baumeister. “Whether it’s extremely round or extremely pointy, I like to see where the edge of something still being wearable is.” As the writer Louis de Bernières once noted: “The human heart likes a little disorder in its geometry.” Baumeister delivers this in spades in her more dramatic pieces, like a black vinyl dress with what look like pillowy, inflated sleeves, or a sleeveless pink dress that resembles an upside-down wedding cake. Some of the shapes, like that of a golden dress with a crinoline-like fullness in the skirt seem to reference historical garments. Baumsister says she’s not looking at the past, however, but pushing the boundaries of what she can do with volume, and she works in the round, making things on a form and trying them on herself, rather than starting from a two dimensional drawing.

The sense of Ma, or the space in between, is strong in Baumeister’s work. “It’s actually never about the body,” she says. “You don’t need to come to the brand with a certain body and show your body, it’s more like you come as you are. You just need to bring that attitude.” This might seem like a revolutionary approach to fashion at a time when the world is in thrall to Y2K and its show-some-skin aesthetic, but actually it’s similar to how Cristóbal Balenciaga created masterful silhouettes that were at the same time “forgiving” for his clients.

Baumeister is all for boldness. “I always get surprised when these types of garments are too much for a woman… for me, that is like the minimum there should be,” she says. Her designs, which take up space, are meant to endow the wearer with strength: “It’s not that easy sometimes to be a woman and to have a voice, so I try to give the wearer some sort of confidence.”

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