The designer got real about the challenges facing young designers today — with music.
You don’t even have to personally know Susan Korn to know that she will never be one to put on a super-serious fashion presentation.
The designer behind Susan Alexandra — that line of brightly-beaded handbags and jewelry which dominated your Instagram feed last summer — has broken up all the lock-step runways of New York Fashion Week by throwing a Bat Mitzvah and taking over a New York City diner. Her Fall 2020 might just be her most ambitious event to date: Korn staged a full-on musical, complete with original music and lyrics by Mur and choreography by Hannah Cullen.
“I never want to do a runway show with beautiful models walking — to me, it doesn’t resonate,” Korn says after the musical’s first run. “I was like, ‘What can really touch people and leave them with something that they feel?’ and then I was like, ‘Music!’ And music means Broadway; that’s what New York is to me.”
Korn found everyone, from the costume designers to the hair and makeup teams to the actors, on Instagram. The cast included friends of the brand — like photographer Hunter Abrams, creator Benito Skinner, comedian Mitra Jouhari and musician Shane Fuller — in supporting roles. Aisha Kerensa played the role of “Susan” in what Korn calls her “‘Star is Born’ moment” (casting directors, take note, the woman can belt) and Larry Owens took a scene-stealing turn as Pigeon, Korn’s dog, accompanied by puppet representation.
Former fashion editor and Même Chose founder Jessica Joffe surprised the audience with her hidden knack for musical theatre in the role of “The Landlord,” a nefarious figure in red who promises that, despite all the recent store closures in Soho, Susan will be “just fine” if she signs on the dotted line for a space on Prince Street. It was an absolutely brutal and honest take on the current retail landscape (“I have to go shop the closing sale at Opening Ceremony,” Joffe quips at one point in a joke that felt a bit too real) that could only indicate Korn has been considering the logistics of opening a space of her own.
“It’s absolutely based on a real thing,” Korn admits. “I want to have a store, but it’s so hard now because it’s just such a daunting landscape.”
Indeed, the song that follows this revelation is a dark number about self-doubt; surrounded by figures that represent “Anger,” “Rage,” “Sadness,” “Fear” and “Anxiety,” the character of Susan questions whether she’s even good enough or talented enough to continue working. It’s not exactly the kind of deeply-personal public confession one might expect from a designer — especially not at fashion week — but that’s why it was so important for Korn to share it.
“I feel so much of my story is that it seems very easy, but it’s been excruciating. And I feel like that’s a more interesting thing about any story — the pain and the trials you overcome,” Korn says. “I built the business with no funding, no support, and it’s been very hard. I’m not like, ‘woe is me,’ but it’s a journey and I wanted other people to know that that’s what it takes, it takes a lot of wrestling with demons.”
Thankfully “Susan Alexandra: The Musical” ends on a high note — as though Korn would settle for anything less — with Susan meeting her pup Pigeon and everyone joining back up for an uplifting number, all dressed as popular Susan Alexandra motifs. When Korn took the stage for her final bow, the audience was roaring. People laughed! People cried! People left smiling! It was the kind of rare fashion week moment only Korn could deliver. We may all be feeling grumpy about the state of runway shows, but it all feels worth it when you get to witness something like “Susan Alexandra: The Musical”