Maria McManus Fall 2021 Ready-to-Wear

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Is it gentler on the planet to use recycled cashmere spun from existing sweaters and deadstock yarns, or virgin wool sourced from a farm that uses regenerative, carbon-sequestering practices? This is the kind of question Maria McManus asks herself when she’s sourcing materials, long before she’s designed a single garment. They’re questions without clear-cut answers; both of those fibers are virtuous, neither is 100% perfect, and once she’s made her choice, she has to contend with a dozen more, like how to ship the yarn between manufacturers without racking up a carbon footprint that cancels out all the good she’s doing.

McManus admits she occasionally gets mired in the complexities, unable to see the forest for the trees. Surely she’s wondered if it’s worth it at all, considering the fashion industry’s still-massive impact and the unwillingness of many to change it. But we need more designers like her: women who believe things can be different and are willing to get into the nitty-gritty of regenerative agriculture, recycled fibers, animal welfare, and supply chain transparency. McManus’s career has been in merchandising, not sustainability research or even design; she’s figured a lot of it out on her own. (Interesting side note: Most of the people leading fashion’s sustainability efforts are women.)

None of that would matter if McManus wasn’t also making the kind of clothes women want right now: luxurious, everyday pieces with thoughtful details and tweaks in proportion that make the difference between a good shirt (or dress, or trouser) and one you’re excited to wear every single time. The heroes of her spring 2021 debut were the plush recycled cashmere cardigans and sweaters, each finished with slashes through the sleeves so you can tuck your arms through or reveal a bit of skin. Fall 2021 has new versions in rich saffron and lavender, plus a cropped pullover to wear with her sporty high-rise trousers. Its wide, extra-long sleeves are among those thoughtful details, falling around the wrists just so.

An ivory wool shirtdress was noted in the lookbook as “mulesing-free,” meaning the sheep weren’t harmed when the wool was sheared. (Google it, or don’t—it’s upsetting.) To the typical shopper, it will simply read as a pretty and un-basic shirtdress, finished with ties around the neck and a pleat at the back to create a soft cocooning shape. A taupe recycled cashmere coat was another highlight. Elsewhere, McManus expanded her capsule of ribbed, body-conscious foundation knits; they’re made of the same nylon as Alaïa’s, but McManus naturally chose the recycled version. The beauty is in its dry, compact hand and the way it skims the body, features best appreciated in person. That hasn’t been possible for most of McManus’s buyers, many of whom are in Japan or outside of New York. When restrictions lift and they’re able to appreciate her clothes in person, it’s fair to expect she’ll make up for the business she lost in the pandemic. Beyond the quality and detail of her clothes, the under-$1,000 price point will appeal to a happily diverse range of conscious shoppers.

By virtue of this being a “wardrobing” label, McManus’s challenge going forward will be to balance her essential, timeless items with bursts of experimentation to keep things interesting. Drilling into her sustainability commitments at the same time won’t be easy—but there’s no doubt she’s the woman for the job.

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