At Dauphinette, Ambition Is All-Consuming

Happiness used to be the label's guiding design principle. Not anymore.

A Dauphinette model wears a cape
(Image credit: Jena Cumbo Photo)

Welcome to The Runway RecapMarie Claire editors’ daily rundown of the best and most closet-worthy collections we’re seeing at fashion month.

When Olivia Cheng founded Dauphinette in 2018, she christened it “The Happiest Brand on Earth.” Her label started as a lineup of quaint, quilted floral outerwear; in the years since, it’s blossomed into a range of bright ready-to-wear and accessories so heavily embellished, hearing them walk down a runway is fashion week ASMR. But Cheng has decided happiness alone can't guide her aesthetic anymore.

Guilt was the dominant emotion threaded through Dauphinette’s fall/winter 2024 collection, shown on day two of New York Fashion Week. In a sparsely decorated church on the Bowery, the label presented “The Vegetarian”: 30 looks with a darkly glamorous edge and a title cribbed from the 2008 3OH!3 pop song “DONTTRUSTME.” The clothing was sexier and sheerer than in the past, and in several cases, it was adorned with metal cutlery—pâté knives, the kind usually reserved for devouring animal guts. Belted midi skirts, tame in silhouette, were slit to reveal skin around the hip and lower stomach. One sheer white skirt was embellished with tiny safety pins.

Three models on the runway at Dauphinette

Three looks from Dauphinette's fall/winter 2024 collection, highlighting the designer's move toward sexier, revealing shapes and textures.

(Image credit: Dauphinette)

Later on, a model appeared in a red, fully crystal-covered cape with the words “Bad To The Bone” emblazoned across the front; another wore an oversize black jacket embellished with a skimpy trompe-l'œil veil-and-underwear bridal set matching the satin pieces layered underneath. Lest that sound too sweet, it was accessorized with a mini bread-shaped bag covered in oversized studs and safety pins. The look encapsulated Dauphinette’s moment of gritty transition, made by a designer who is digging deeper into her roots and coming to terms with new desires for her brand’s future.

A Dauphinette model wearing a cape

One of the collection's most striking pieces: a red cape coated in an embellished florals and the phrase "Bad to the Bone" along the collarbone.

(Image credit: Jena Cumbo Photo)

Cheng shared in show notes that she is indeed a vegetarian, but the show title isn’t about her dietary preferences. It’s a reference to her newfound hunger to get into the meatier stuff through her designs: the prickly, complex, and difficult feelings around freeing yourself from guilt in pursuit of your ambitions. She cited Margaret Atwood's 1974 work You Are Happy as another inspiration. The lines "Last Year I abstained/This year I devour/without guilt/which is also an art" manifested in the form of over-the-top textures, like an upcycled leather coat adorned with crystals, safety pins, and both a combination of new and vintage rhinestones for look one. These clothes said that to be happy is not the point of fashion anymore, nor is holding back. Instead, Cheng posited in her show notes, the real end game is to feel satisfied. Full. 

After several consecutive seasons of pared-back, well-tailored, and neutral collections, it felt cathartic to see a women's brand lusting for more and wondering how to get there. It’s easy to call yourself driven or ambitious. It’s harder to show it off, to reveal that side of yourself, to ask for more. In a church on Saint Mark’s place, Dauphinette let it all out.

Fashion E-Commerce Editor

Julia Marzovilla is the Fashion E-Commerce Editor at Marie Claire, where she covers everything from the latest beauty and fashion launches and sales to celebrity outfits and news. She also creates shopping guides that span every vertical on the site. Prior to joining the Marie Claire team, she contributed similar shopping stories to sites such as Bustle, InStyle, The Zoe Report, Who What Wear, and STYLECASTER. In her spare time, Julia can be found creating shopping guides for all of her friends, spending too much money on yet another pair of black boots, and cooking in her far-too-small kitchen.