I swore off sweatpants in college, denim in my early twenties and shorts earlier this year. No one forced me to. I came to these sartorial rules on my own volition in a vain attempt to protect myself from fashion follies past that I find in my photo album. Historically, I‘ve rarely revisited these decisions yet here I am standing in the new Garment District offices of Commission trying on pair after pair of their recently launched jeans in the midst of a global pandemic.
Through my mask I confess to the designer Dylan Cao that this is an act of personal blasphemy for me and that I stopped wearing jeans around the same time that the skinny stovepipe style of my youth reared its head again. My real question now: can denim be adult?
His answer comes in the form of a buttery, high-waisted pair in white—one of three colors the brand launched this past week as part of their first official denim capsule. I slip them on and feel immediately like I’m in on the secret. Because while Commission jeans certainly apply a bit of pressure, it is more like a hug than a choke. The fabric itself isn’t the key (it has very little stretch) but rather the cut which works almost like a soft corset shaping the curvature of my backside by pushing up rather than in. If only I had known about this magic before spending my High COVID-19 Days sweating to Chloe Ting tapes.
This gravity-defying silhouette with its pleasantly curious asymmetrical waistline is only new to me. Since its launch in 2018, Commission’s designers Jin Kay, Dylan Cao and Huy Luong have accrued a cultish following by producing collections that riff on rather than reinvent a sensual, suiting-forward approach to womenswear. So this cut, in fact, appears already across several collections—taking its main inspiration from memories of one of the designer’s mothers. The sloping wave that crests one side of my stomach is an aesthetic homage to the negative shape Cao’s mom’s fanny pack would make on her own hip as she went about her errands on a motorcycle. The soft plateau imitates her shirt’s path around her purse. “When we started talking about denim, we knew we didn’t want to create anything fussy. We wanted to incorporate that one detail that preserves Commission spirit but ultimately blends into the functionality of the garment and we thought the fanny pack detail is a perfect bridge between the two,” Cao explains. “To adapt it, we decided to remove the zipper pocket that was originally there and just incorporate the line.” Functioning like the horseshoe pocket on a pair of True Religions, the lapel stands in as the only audible formal signature on an otherwise quietly sharp garment.
Like many small fashion outlets, a denim line represents part of a larger shift in Commission’s thinking. As the fashion world grapples with survival in a pandemic landscape, young designers are looking for ways to diversify their portfolios within reason (think Lou Dallas’s streetwear launch; Wiederhoeft’s bridal collection). For Commission, denim felt like a logical next step on multiple levels. “Denim was a crucial element of the era we represent. The first launch was an extension of the things we had already,” Kay tells me. “In the long run, we would like to offer more silhouettes and comprehensive guides on how to wear the jeans based on body type, but I think for the initial offer it was important for us to do the 1980s high-waisted, easy-going style which kind of personifies the era we are referencing.”
Their denim launch acted also as a pilot program for Commission’s first saunter into e-commerce. “We, like everyone else, are thinking about how we can become more self-sufficient and that means being less reliant on wholesale business,” Luong says. “It also allows us to be more in contact with our clients, which is something we’ve always enjoyed.”
The brand’s next online venture will be the launch of SS21 presentation, which, like many of their peers, will be completely virtual. According to the designers, the upcoming collection drew inspiration in part from their COVID-19 media diet with a special emphasis on Pedro Almodovar’s films and Al Pacino’s 1983 classic, Scarface. The delivery methods won’t have the same cinematic flavor. The specialty website Commission is creating with their longtime digital collaborator will be more akin to a line sheet Pacino’s tailor might labor over. “We wanted to create an experience that would allow for someone to interact with the clothes in a way a normal e-commerce site might not but without radically undermining that familiarity of that vocabulary,” Kay says.
It is Commission’s interest in archiving as a methodology for research and community-building that ultimately put the brand on my radar. When Design Miami’s director of global exhibitions Jillian Choi, who is also coincidentally my ex-coworker and roommate, requested a new portrait captioned @commissionfemmes I really started looking at what Commission was creating. In the photo, Jillian looks at once poised and glamorous—the way I see her.
“We see Commission Femmes as a sort of yearbook project,” Cao says of the in-studio portrait series. “The women we feature are our friends and people in our community we feel generally inspired by.”
Updates are for new haircuts and radical style shifts, and in this way, the project acts as a kind of living registry for the New York Commission community. On a day-to-day level, Commission Femmes has ulterior benefits. It provides an excuse to see how the clothes fit on lots of bodies, to make new friends and to uplift old ones. On a more macro scale though, one could see project as part of a larger investment by the designers in creating the same kind archival infrastructures that were not afforded to documenting the lives of those upon which the brand itself is based. If they keep this up, I would bet the whole house that those self-possessive women appearing on Commission’s feed will resurface on mood boards in the future. All that to say, you might see me in jeans again. Because I realized it has nothing to do with my age, denim is right for the times.