The fashion veteran Andre Walker has been designing clothes on and off for the past four decades. But seeing them actually hang on a rack—as they do in New York’s Dover Street Market, the newest outpost of the designer Rei Kawakubo and her husband Adrian Joffe’s multi-brand retail emporium—is a novelty for him. Invited by Kawakubo and Joffe, whom Walker met through the men’s wear designer and mutual friend Kim Jones, his latest collection rubs shoulders with labels as varied as Prada, Junya Watanabe, and Supreme. “They’re crazy for including me!” Walker says. “And I’m supposed to be the crazy one.”
Indeed, the 47-year-old Brooklyn-based designer, who at 15 staged his first fashion show, at the New York nighclub Oasis, is well-known among industry insiders for his unconventional ways. After working for the ’80s design star Willi Smith, Walker moved to Paris in 1990, where his irregularly shaped avant-garde ensembles (coats cut like oven mitts, -paper-bag-waist overalls, and pant-skirts that his friend Jean Paul Gaultier subsequently knocked off) received tremendous acclaim. “Self Service, Purple, i-D—every magazine possible shot my stuff,” he recalls. And although all the top buyers packed into his presentations, eager to see the latest offerings from “the future of new designers,” as the stylist Patricia Field described him to The New York Post, few took a chance on him.
“What stores?!” hoots Walker at his rambling century-old childhood home in Ditmas Park, where he lives and works among piles of art books and vintage fashion magazines. “Nicola Formichetti bought a few things when he was working for the Pineal Eye in London, and I sold to a place or two in Japan.” In 2005, after he’d won the ANDAM Fashion Award, the French equivalent of the CFDA prize, Walker, broke and exhausted, closed his company and returned to New York. Until recently, he was a creative consultant to Jones, as well as to his old friend Marc Jacobs, both for Jacobs’s eponymous line and for Louis Vuitton. (“We’re born four days apart and are typical tunnel-vision-type Aries,” Walker notes.) He also published two issues of a high-concept art and fashion magazine called Ti**wimuta, which he plans to start up again—just as soon as he figures out its raison d’être. “If I’m going to put something out there, it has to be essential,” he explains. “The world is really out of sync with the reality of its resources, and I don’t want to contribute to that.”
With that in mind, Walker has kept his Dover Street Market collection small, and most of the sculptural pieces, which are updated versions of older designs (a curvy-sleeve dress from 1987, a pair of bustle pants from 1985), are cut from vintage fabrics. “Tons of beads and digital prints are great, but fashion needs to have another type of consideration aside from aesthetics,” Walker says. “It needs to exalt society.” Creating retail-friendly clothes imbued with such lofty notions might just be Walker’s most radical undertaking yet. “This is such a beautiful, interesting opportunity that Rei and Adrian have given me. It’s amazing the way things have turned out.”