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A New York Fashion Week Debut That's All About Color

Bach Mai debuted his American take on haute couture during the pandemic. His sophomore collection — and first to show at fashion week — is a celebration of vibrant, unabashed femininity.
Bach Mai & Teddy Quinlivan (by Dimitri Hyacinthe)

"Clothes can be more than just clothes. It's about beauty and bringing lightness and happiness to the world." 

Bach Mai wants to build an American haute couture house. Born and raised in Texas (much like Tom Ford, Brandon Maxwell and Daniel Roseberry), he left Houston to study at Parsons, and then worked at Oscar de la Renta; from there, he moved to Paris for grad school, earning his masters from the Institut Francais de la Mode and going on to design shoes for Prabal Gurung before being hired at John Galliano's Maison Margiela. Still, his plan was always to come home. 

"I fell in love with haute couture when I was really young because of John's collections," he tells Fashionista at his debut New York Fashion Week presentation, staged just blocks away from his Garment District studio. "It was always my goal — I fell in love with couture and I wanted to go to Paris, learn the craft, do haute couture and then come back to America and be a designer, an American designer doing haute couture. Hopefully one day."

Mai moved to New York from Paris to launch his namesake brand right before the pandemic. Naturally, that stalled his plans. But he officially launched with a Spring 2022 collection in October, which was written up in Vogue by Nicole Phelps and ended up on the celebrity stylist radar. (It's been worn by Venus Williams, Tessa Thompson and Kate Beckinsale already.) 

The starting point for Collection 1: A Flower Walk, as the autumnal line titled, was Cy Twombly's "Blooming" exhibition and its abstract expressionist florals, as well as the inspiration the artist drew from Japanese haiku. There was one piece in particular by Kikaku that he referenced, that resonated with Mai as well, as it boils down to "the disarming power of femininity." 

"That's really what we're going for," he says.

That brought him to bijin-ga, a style of portraiture in Japanese art that focused on feminine beauty. Having worked under Galliano, Mai explains, he was able to draw the collections between these different sources of inspiration.

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"Twombly was also looking at Japanese haiku, which is rare for him, and somehow all these pieces came together: The color are the same, and we're looking at the same things," he says. "It's these big abstract expressionist florals, but also these classical Japanese glamour portraits."

Bach Mai 'A Flower Walk' Presentation (by Duke Winn)2

There are traces of all his previous jobs in the Bach Mai collection — the Oscar ball gowns, the Prabal colors — but arguably, the gig that has been most formative to the designer was his time at Margiela, where he was Galliano's first assistant. 

"As I continue to do this, I see more and more of what he taught me," Mai says. "Every collection has its own process. People think that designers have a process, but with John, every collection has its own life, and you have to let it live and breathe, to let its own story unfold — whatever it needs. It's not [about forcing] a process, like, 'I have to start with fabric.' Whatever the collection needs, it will become."

The shapes and color story grab your attention and bring you in, but it's the level of craftsmanship in the fabrics and the construction of the garments that make it impossible to look away. Bach Mai is backed by Hurel, the storied French fabric house, which provides the brand with its luxurious textiles. Highlights in Fall 2022 include an airy clear lurex and silk velvet made from what Mai describes as a super-fine tinsel and fine chiffon ribbons layered over each other to create an ombré effect down skirts. Though the materials come from Europe, the rest of the collection is made in the U.S. 

In Spring 2022, Bach Mai established a vision and an aspiration. Now, the brand aims to show what that could look like — this time, with more vibrancy. "It was really about color this time. Color, color, color," he says. "After another long, dark winter, I just want optimism."

See the complete Bach Mai Fall 2022 collection in the gallery below.

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