Peter Do, New York’s First Designer to Present Spring 2021

Emilee Geist

Last season Peter Do’s inspiration was the final girl in horror films — the last survivor who perseveres through adversity and somehow manages to come out of it looking strong and sleek. Shortly after, by happenstance, a global pandemic forced everyone to adapt and survive a frightening new reality. With […]

Last season Peter Do’s inspiration was the final girl in horror films — the last survivor who perseveres through adversity and somehow manages to come out of it looking strong and sleek. Shortly after, by happenstance, a global pandemic forced everyone to adapt and survive a frightening new reality.

With large gatherings and numerous brands on pause, a few issues stemming from the pandemic and specific to the fashion industry have included the future of fashion weeks and what clothes will look like post-lockdown.

Regarding the former, as a brand born from social media, Peter Do has never followed a traditional fashion model, opting out of fashion weeks to hold market appointments during Paris men’s week. It’s no surprise, then, he decided on another unconventional route to debut his spring 2021 collection through Instagram TV. A video of models walking one at a time through head-to-toe and closeup frames was accompanied by a link to a thorough virtual showroom for buyers and press to view individual items in more detail. Do is but the first of many designers who will be playing with new presentation methods for what will inevitably be an experimental fashion season.

As for the clothes, even quarantine’s influence on more casual attire couldn’t sway this posh brand too much. In a balance of last season’s “final girl” aesthetic with a newfound necessity for comfort, the overall mood was tough yet undone, softening codes without sacrificing the strong silhouettes Do has built over the last two years. Prime examples were the brand’s signature detachable bolero jacket cut in mixed media more like shirting, and a version of his “spacer” dress from season one that could be wrapped and tied into a cape top. That transitional element was effective elsewhere, notably on dresses that could be worn backwards with reversible tank tops for a new take on evening and a side of lightness the designer hasn’t shown before. It’s a smart approach to open pieces up and allow for various open-ended ways to wear, providing a convincing reason to buy.

Silhouettes stemming from quarantine included a croc-embossed leather apron to replace the work suit while at home, and handbags through a collaboration with Italian brand Medea that include the “baguette” to fit a sandwich, the oversized “laundry” tote, and the “airport” bag to fit a laptop once travel is allowed. And, like many designers during resort, Do utilized some stock and scrap fabrics, including in a cool asymmetrical pleated skirt consisting of three skirts that didn’t make it into development, and a shaggy patchwork coat of repurposed swatches.

Here, the designer shares more on his quarantine process and his take on the future of fashion.

WWD: A lot has happened since we last spoke. What have you tried focusing on the past few months, either in general or specific to the brand?

Peter Do: I feel like since the beginning we’ve always been focused on e-commerce. The past few months with stores closing everywhere it’s been really important for us to focus on our virtual showroom and our e-commerce site. We really wanted to have that direct dialogue between us and the fan base on Instagram and stuff like that.

WWD: How has e-commerce been doing during this time?

P.D.: It’s good. People are still shopping. If you can shop, you still shop. We still do really well. It pays the rent, helps out here and there. That’s always been the plan since the beginning. It’s a substantial part of our business.

WWD: I know in the beginning you wanted to make e-commerce a smaller offering. Has that stayed the same?

P.D.: We actually expanded to more. We tested the ready-to-wear collection last season and it did really well for us. Knitwear is uploading. The shoe has been really successful. We had a waiting list; it hasn’t hit our online shop yet and they’re all pretty much sold out.

WWD: When does it hit stores?

P.D.: This month supposedly, but with COVID-19 our factories were shut down for three months. They got back and worked really hard and they’re finally going to be in stores this month.

WWD: You and your team have been very vocal and transparent about race and diversity issues as they apply to your company and society at large. Why is it important for you all to speak up and factor that into your business?

P.D.: When COVID-19 just started in America, as we witnessed as Asian Americans or Asians in the U.S., we were faced with a lot of hate and racist attacks around the country. I think that’s when I realized we wanted to speak out more. That’s kind of the beginning of it. Internally, individually, we all shared our thoughts over Instagram, but we decided to come together as a team on the brand account to announce that and have an active plan on how we can help and how we can speak out against it.

WWD: Part of your proceeds went to different charities the month of June. Have you continued with that charitable component?

P.D.: Yeah. Two weeks ago we started doing this raffle where there are organizations that we love and we support that we had leftover archive pieces that we put up for raffle. People donated and the money went towards those organizations. I think you saw the shearling jacket, we did the archive “spacer” T-shirt. I think we’ll continue to plan stuff like that as we go forward.

WWD: What do you think the role of a designer is at a time like this?

P.D.: I feel like as designers, we are doing what we have always been doing. My job is designing and making clothes. The way we show it is different. I think the Internet changed a lot of things and for young brands these days it’s not just about making clothes and doing campaigns. Instagram is a campaign. There are so many things happening. My job pretty much is the same, but just how we do it is different.

WWD: Can you elaborate on why IGTV was the right medium to show the collection this season?

P.D.: That’s where we started. Spring 2019, we kind of just debuted on Instagram. As an outsider, I feel like that’s the one platform that I feel like I have direct communication with the people who watch and are loyal and have followed us for so long. It’s just nice that they can get that first view I guess.

WWD: What were some challenges designing and working from home?

P.D.: I mean, lots of challenges. You know us. We work in the studio so much. I think that that physical, in real life experience is really important. I don’t sketch, everything is very hands-on, draping. Zoom fittings and meetings were great, but there’s only so much you can do. I think when we got back to the studio and saw each other in person, touching fabrics, playing with fabrics, dress forms, machines, making clothes again, I think that’s when the magic happens again. And that’s when this collection started happening. Zoom can only replace so much. You need a combination of both.

WWD: How did the Zoom fittings work? Who was a part of that?

P.D.: The whole design team. And the factories, whether it’s overseas or in the city. Everyone was staying home. In Italy, they had a model over there. A lot of the time in the Zoom meetings, it’s just like holding it up on a form.

WWD: Did you get to see how it draped and fell on the body during that process?

P.D.: Yeah. It’s difficult. It’s definitely not the same and it’s not my favorite thing, but it’s allowed like, “how does it feel?”, “how does it fit?”, a lot of pictures back and forth and in between. But we adapted.

WWD: In terms of this collection specifically, were you designing with the frame of mind that the world would be open by the time it was available?

P.D.: There are definitely some looks in there that I feel like were wishful thinking, like you have somewhere to go, someplace to be, an event or even traveling again — we have a bag called the “Airport” bag. There are definitely elements of us being hopeful. That’s what keeps us going: being positive, optimistic and hopeful. That’s what gets us through this really hard time as a family as a unit.

WWD: Let’s talk about the collection. What was the starting point?

P.D.: We started back in February. I was thinking about comfort and cooking, because you know I love to cook. There was so much going on and I really wanted a moment of peace and being at home. And then the lockdown hit and all we did was stay at home. Everything was about comfort and people were just wearing sweatpants and nobody was wearing pants anymore. For a little bit, it seemed like the suit that we were making didn’t have a purpose. I think as the lockdown continued, the main thing that I talked about with people was that people started to get dressed up, put on pants and go to the grocery store, put on shoes and just have a moment to think about being hopeful, a moment of normalcy where you feel like things are getting better.

When we got back into the studio, I think that is when it started to happen. Last season was the final girl, as you know, with the horror film and she had a lot to prove and she was strong. The question is what is next? What’s the next step for us, this woman? For me, it was really interesting to find a new way to show strength without things we’ve been doing, like the structured suit. We started to experiment with softer fabrics. Things opened up more. We re-looked at things, cut them out and opened them out. You see a shirt that opens, you see knitwear and dresses that completely open in the back and are worn backward. The world was upside down, inside out, and there were uncertainties about it that I wanted to play and open up and destroy the codes that we had been building. So that’s kind of like the process behind it.

A lot of things you can wear back-to-front and inside out to show you that you can do so much with your clothes and you can wear them however you like. There are a lot of pieces you see that reflect that change, things from past seasons that we revisit, a dress turned into a tank top, you can wear things different ways, a tank top is now worn backward. There’s an important sense of play.

WWD: Last time we spoke, you had to hold off on adding new retail partners because you wanted your factories to be able to grow with you. How has quarantine affected them, and ultimately, your growth plans?

P.D.: We still say no, even though some stores happened to go out of business, which is really unfortunate. A lot of our factories were having a rough time but came out of it stronger. We work closer with them. We were one of the few people that stayed with them and it wasn’t easy. It was very difficult at first. One of my designers is the only one that speaks Korean so she was on the phone with the patternmaker every single day translating the notes we had from Zoom to him. So that’s the kind of thing you had to do. You just do what you have to do to support each other during tough times. We’re keeping the same factories, our factory here is doing well and everyone is healthy and they’re back to work.

WWD: During quarantine, there’s also been a lot of talk about realigning seasons with deliveries better. Since the brand launched two years ago, you’ve never followed a traditional calendar (opting to show women’s collections during Paris men’s week). Why did you decide on that model from the beginning? 

P.D.: At the beginning we made a lot of choices because as a small startup you have limited funding and everything is boot strappy and crafty. We decided to show off-schedule because we have more space in the factories mapped out for us because it’s a slower season, and we show during pre-seasons because the buyers have more budget. We show in Paris because all the buyers go there and we hit all the stores at the same time. So those were the decisions we made as a company that makes sense for us and has been working for two years. As COVID-19 hit for the last few months, we’ve shifted a little bit; still not quite the main season of fashion week, but we talked to our stores so whenever they’re ready and whenever we’re ready to work out a calendar that works for us. So whatever calendar we do, it makes sense for our partners, our stores, our fabric mills and us. It may not work for other people, but it’s been working for us.

WWD: What do you see as the way forward for fashion weeks?

P.D.: We never followed fashion weeks and it’s been working for us, so I think everyone should just do what they want to do and what works for them. What works for you may not work for other people. I like that people are following their instincts and structures, one collection a year or four or six, whatever works for you, and not have to feel like you have to do so much to fulfill some industry standard.

WWD: Belated congrats on your CFDA nomination (for Emerging Designer of the Year). Can you share what your reaction was when you first heard?

P.D.: Honestly, when I saw that e-mail on my phone I thought it was spam. We’re all surprised and humbled to be recognized. I’ve told you so many times I still feel like an outsider in New York, doing our own things every year, like in the clothes that we make and the internal culture, the things that we like to do. Sometimes it feels like you’re just doing your own thing in Brooklyn and not where the conversation is happening somewhere else, so it’s nice to be recognized. We’re just happy and humbled to be a part of it.

WWD: Have there been any other silver linings for you during quarantine?

P.D.: I feel like me and my team have gotten even stronger. If we can design a collection through a pandemic, I feel like we can take on the world. We can do anything. It has strengthened us more as a family. The communication has been really great. We Zoom every day. Even though we miss our dinners and stuff like that, I think we have gotten stronger as a family. We haven’t quite survived it yet because it’s still happening, but we feel like we are getting out of it, which is the light at the end of the tunnel.

Launch Gallery: Peter Do RTW Spring 2021

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