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Tonight at a vacant loft in lower Manhattan, one of the most anticipated runway shows of the week opened with one of the most mundane scenes you can spot in the city: a man in an orange safety vest spray painting a white line on the bare concrete floor. Then came another one, who doodled a blue path, and eventually a third, whose hue was an orange to match the men’s three vests. A few seconds later, the crowd erupted into applause. “The artist is present,” a Vogue colleague quipped.

The artist in question was Heron Preston, who was showing as part of New York Fashion Week for the very first time—yes, really. Preston is based in the city and has found considerable inspiration in its mean streets and colorful characters, but he has not shown a collection here since his collaboration with the New York Department of Sanitation back in 2016. Tonight’s staging also marked his return to the runway since before the pandemic—it was a homecoming in more ways than one.

“I was looking at the streets as a soundboard to direct the collections,” Preston said backstage, “I’ve always said that the face of fashion is all of us.” That starting point explains the seemingly unmethodical styling and hodgepodge lineup. There was a method to the madness, however. “It’s fun to see someone make real clothes,” said a fellow editor; another added “the cool kids dress like this”—the real cool kids you see at raves in Ridgewood, or bumming cigarettes and sitting on stoops across SoHo and the Lower East Side.

Sweatpants with high heels, and crisp button-downs with ties walked alongside utility vests styled over hoodies and workout shorts accompanied by waffle knit long johns. Chainmail slips, mini skirts, and bralettes were layered over catsuits, jeans, and sweatshirts, respectively, while luscious floor length silk skirts and dresses were dressed down with moto jerseys, graphic jackets, and mid-cropped down puffers. Laced up going out tops and corsets peeked from under shaggy faux fur jackets, and tweed separates were paired with sweatpants and balaclavas. Chaotic as this all sounds, the models looked like characters off the street. Preston is an observer, and knows that many of the young folks consuming his show through images and videos are styling the pieces in their wardrobes with this same “anything goes” approach—which, by the way, is the title he gave to this collection.

Preston said he was looking at found objects. He created chainmail inspired by fences, placed carabiners as branded accents on his handbags and closures on his tailoring, and used level tools as heels on shoes and classic blue construction tarp as clever flanges where he placed grommets (the tarp will prevent the fabric underneath the hardware of fraying over time). The show’s invitation consisted of discarded objects he collected himself. A piece of industrial cardboard here, an empty bottle of liquid soap there. He knows most physical invites go straight into the bin, and decided to make the process circular by using existing trash that will stay trash. (There’s no little irony in shipping those invites via the mail, but Preston’s intention is clear and deserves some props.)

“I wanted to create the experience that when you walk into the space there is nothing, and when you leave there is something left behind,” Preston said of the lines he and his team painted on the floor at the start of the show. Mission more than likely accomplished—we’ll surely spot a few of the pieces from tonight’s show on one of the celebrities that sat front row soon enough.