30 Under 35 2019

Esther Gauntlett and Jenny Cheng Make Art Worth Wearing

Em Gallagher

Photography by Aubrey Mayer

Gauntlett Cheng
Jenny Cheng and Esther Gauntlett photographed in their Canal Street pop-up in front of a Jared Madere textile.

“We didn’t sit down one day and say ‘let’s start a label’” Esther Gauntlett says, perched on a ruby red couch next to her co-designer Jenny Cheng in the Canal Street pop-up showroom the two had earlier this fall. This is the duo behind fashion label Gauntlett Cheng, a chaotically joyous clothing line building its reputation for cheekily cut knitwear, thoughtful collaborations with artists and body-affirming, interspecies designs (they’ve had dog looks on the runway). Their clothes reflect the bursting energy of two women with the gumption to flout their proscriptive paths; Esther went to law school in her native Australia, while Jenny studied biology in the States.

This most recent season, GC offered a collection about summer and the beach and the slightly skewed way of dressing that comes with it. “It’s about being half naked and those half outfits that we pull together after the beach,” says Gauntlett. “But also the feeling of comfort that can come in those moments with your body,” Cheng adds. The simple conceit dives deep into body-positivity, which is usually shallowly, or falsely, employed by the fashion world. This especially came across in the show-stopping ocean blue dress covered in a grainy sand material worn by Georgia Pratt, with an elastic fabric, a custom made jacquard designed in-house, gracefully spiraling down the curves of the model’s body. The collection highlights new priorities of young designers working today, where tactile experimentation can exist alongside a more relatable experience of living in a body.

Gauntlett and Cheng met as interns for pioneering label Eckhaus Latta, where they first experienced the intoxicating ecosystem of a burgeoning underground fashion label. “After working quite intensely with Mike [Eckhaus] and Zoe [Latta], we felt all this momentum,” Esther says, “‘What do you mean this season is over?’ It was this feeling that we had to keep going, we wanted to keep making clothes.” This lead to the workflow that still rings true—day jobs balanced with making clothes, an all too familiar narrative that seeps into the sincerity of the design and its presentation. For example, a few seasons ago, GC did a collection about mixing 9-to-5 attire with nightlife, where suit jackets were matched with itsy-bitsy bikini tops. The show occurred on a docked boat called Harbour Lights in the East River, conjuring the hot mess vibe of a booze cruise. “The clothes say where we are at in our lives. Balance is still a narrative we are dealing with,” Cheng says.