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A rising fashion star who sees no future in New York

A rising fashion star who sees no future in New York
A rising fashion star who sees no future in New York


During a phone call in October, Carly Mark first brought up the idea: She needed to leave New York.

There comes a time in every creative New Yorker's life when this can happen where the city that once seemed to vibrate just for you now seems to be pushing you out, like an organ transplant gone wrong.

But there was more: Ms. Mark said she could no longer sell clothes.

This was and was not surprising. A few weeks earlier, in September, Ms. Mark hosted a fashion show for her five-year-old fashion brand, Puppets and Puppets. The show was well received. Vogue called it a mix of Cristbal Balenciaga and mall rats that hit the nail on the head. Womens Wear Daily praised its strong eveningwear and its balance between creative and commercial, which is what critics say when they think a collection might sell well in stores, even if it's a little odd.

Puppets and marionettes may not be widely known, but Ms. Mark can attract an audience: spunky celebrities, wealthy writers, artists with modeling gigs. Last February, she lined up her podium with sculptures of dirty dishes and food scattered among books; in September, she borrowed dancing robotic cats from a subway artist. (She met him after attending a Limp Bizkit concert at Madison Square Garden.) The installations tangoed with the clothes: sleek and zany, sexy and gothic, covered in cinematic references.

Its leather bags were particularly successfulwith 3D chocolate chip cookies, roses, fried eggs or spiders placed in place of a designer logo.

The cookie bag has become more recognizable than the brand name, said Ms. Mark, 35, who named the label after her little dog, Puppet, and a character in the Japanese franchise Ghost in the Shell, the Puppet Master.

Still, business can be bleak for founders of young brands. This is not news. Clothing manufacturing is expensive, especially in the United States, where producing a single dress sample can cost $1,000. Organizing a parade is Dear, costing between $50,000 and $500,000 twice a year. Living and working in New York is Dearmuch more than in the European fashion capitals of London, Milan or Paris.

To finance their brands, creators can rely on personal loans, industry awards, money from family or (sometimes) investors or (if they're lucky) wealthy customers who regularly order products. pieces. You hope for the best, Ms. Mark said. But if you don't put money into the brand and you also don't increase your sales, even if your sales approach a million dollars, you still can't make it work.

Being well-received isn't enough when stores refuse to place large orders. Last summer, Ms. Marks' financial advisor told her that Puppets and Puppets had about eight months of operating funds remaining.

I panicked, she said. I don't want to stop making clothes. I don't want to stop doing shows. It's my life. When you're growing a brand, you put so much time, so much energy, so much effort into it. And I just couldn't imagine not doing that anymore.

I kept thinking: I'm going to find a solution, Ms. Mark said. I'm going to find out.

Here's what she figured out: Puppets and Puppets will continue as an accessories brand headquartered in London, where Ms. Mark already works with Katie Hillier, an accessories designer and former creative director of Marc by Marc Jacobs. Ms. Mark plans to move in the spring.

I don't feel inspired by my New York community, but I go to London and I'm very inspired, said Ms. Mark, who counts filmmaker Lena Dunham among her London community members. They met in 2018 when Ms. Mark was nursing a baby squirrel that turned out to be a rat, Ms. Dunham said in an email.

Mrs. Dunham, who carried several puppets and puppet pieces while promoting her film Catherine Called Birdy portrayed Ms. Mark as having the mind of Dal and the look of Morticia. (Ms. Mark often wears black clothing and an inscrutable sunken-cheeked expression.)

“I’ve lived in New York for 18 years now and I’m at a point where I feel like I can’t breathe,” Ms. Mark said. There are people everywhere, human bodies everywhere.

We were eating olives and cheese in Midtown Manhattan. The previous week, Ms. Mark had lost the Emerging Designer of the Year award at the American Fashion Academy Awards. It was his second consecutive nomination and defeat. It stung but seemed like a sign that she was making the right decision.

Hit the refresh button, Carl, it's time, she told herself.

Ms. Mark moved to New York from suburban Detroit when she was 18. sleazy indie the era was just beginning. She interned at Marc by Marc Jacobs and graduated from the School of Visual Arts, where she studied painting, sculpture and video.

His first personal art exhibition in 2016, a commentary on commercial packaging through the lens of Haribo Goldbears candy included a video of his friend, comedian Eric Wareheim, in a nightmarish gummy bear costume.

I'm a pretty sarcastic person, and I think she is too, Mr. Wareheim said. But what we share is the love of beauty. This is how his art and his fashion work: a sense of irony, a sense of comedy, but above all a sense of what is beautiful.

In 2018, she founded Puppets and Puppets with Ayla Argentina, a friend who knew how to make clothes that Ms. Mark did not know and who left the brand after her first collections. At first, nothing was for sale. The puppets took on great theatrical movements: the cheese Hatshoop skirt sleevesscience fiction fantasy prom dresses.

At the time, Ms. Mark hadn't thought about creating a shift dress. She started by thinking, “I like wizards” or “This is going to be a David Lynch collection.”

Gradually, she learned to pay more attention to individual pieces rather than the theme of collections. It's about merchandising, putting things on a medium, and I couldn't understand that, she said. She figured it out by asking herself, over and over again: Would I wear that?

The result smelled fresh, said Julie Gilhart of the Tomorrow Group, a fashion consultant known for her work with emerging designers, including at Barneys New York.

There's a certain energy that you can't really put into the business plan, Ms. Gilhart said. You just feel it. It has this kind of unpolished polish.

This is how Ms. Mark became her own muse.

It's really about making her more like herself, said Chris Peters, Puppets' lead designer, who knew when he joined last spring that the company's prospects were shaky. She wanted it to be much sexier. She wanted it to be less silly by keeping a sense of humor without being silly.

Last year, Ms. Mark was lying on her office floor, joking with her design team that she had a fictional boyfriend who lived in her parents' basement in New Jersey. He listened to metal music and owned a printing press. His assistant, Matthew Biggs, used the AI ​​program Midjourney to generate images of this boyfriend. They made a few pieces using this print, including a stretch knit dress.

That's how a lot of things happen in the office, Ms. Mark said. It's really just me telling a stupid joke and everyone listening, as they should, and either writing it down, running it through the AI, or asking me if I want to turn it into a bag.

As the company transitions, three members of its team will be laid off; the other three will be offered part-time or independent work. Breaking the news was very painful, Ms Mark said.

But that’s the reality of the industry. Stores told Ms. Mark that her prices were too high or the clothes were a little too strange for our customer, she said. The investment conversations never came to fruition.

I don't do things to make them easy to digest, she said. I'm not sure an ordinary investor would know what to make of me.

The bags have thrived because they are inexpensive to produce and more user-friendly. People are more interested in carrying a strange handbag with a very normal outfit, Ms. Mark said.

Ironically, her latest collection may be her most wearable yet. It will be presented on the catwalk on Monday, during New York Fashion Week, and will never be put into production. It’s a costly gesture. She struggled to keep the show's budget below $100,000, financing it with sales from last season's collection.

However, it seems important to him. Saying goodbye to New York, saying goodbye to ready-to-wear for now, that means so much to me, she said.

Ms Mark also wanted to pay tribute to her grandmother Florine Mark, who died in October at the age of 90. Florine was a alpha businesswoman, said Ms. Mark. The matriarch of the family, she was once a major shareholder in Weight Watchers International, and she modeled for Puppets and Puppets. look at a book Last June. Models at Ms. Marks' show next week will wear hoop earrings recreated from a pair that belonged to Florine.

This collection will be the most complete and honest version of Carls Puppets that has ever existed, Ms. Mark said. Pure Carl.

There are sheer dresses, bike shorts, jackets, and fur tights that somehow connect to a hood. The clothes are made with lingerie fabrics and medieval prints, inspired by Ms. Marks referring to her West Village basement apartment as a dungeon. There are large T-shirts printed with blurry images of movie posters she likes.

The sad thing is that American fashion is losing one of its most interesting designers, Mr. Peters said. There is no one who will take this place.

When Ms. Gilhart heard the news, I was really sad, she said. Her last show was so good every show, she's moving forward and her clothes had this cool, youthful elegance.

The biggest misstep, she says, is that no one is really investing aggressively in young designers.




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