Following the fine-art label’s Fall 2023 presentation, designer Carly Mark joins Document to reflect on horror, romance, and the makings of a balanced meal

Puppets and Puppets’s New York Fashion Week show was staged in a school cafeteria—or, at least, it looked that way. Models walked upon blue-checked linoleum floors, under the arched ceilings of the David N. Dinkins Municipal Building. The makings of a balanced lunch littered the ground: heads of lettuce, loaves of bread, orange slices, chocolate cakes, towers of plain spaghetti.

Since designer Carly Mark started her fine-art label, she’s been referencing food quite literally: handbags adorned with resin carrots and cookies and bananas; egg-carton shoes; hyperrealistic Swiss cheese hats. She has a penchant for the surreal and uncanny—and Fall 2023 was no exception. This season, Mark was inspired by Dead Ringers, David Cronenberg’s psychological thriller starring Jeremy Irons, who plays a pair of Jekyll-and-Hyde-style twin gynecologists. Her color scheme, in turn, was dominated by dark rose and black, accented with beading, snakeskin, leather, and dark, graphic prints.

The show marked a turning point in the mood of Mark’s practice—from playful to rather shadowy—though she’s still guided by a potent impulse to tell a provocative story with each new collection. Here, the designer speaks with Document, reflecting on horror, romance, and Puppets and Puppets’s next chapter.

Morgan Becker: What inspired this collection, visually and conceptually?

Carly Mark: Dead Ringers by David Cronenberg. I love Cronenberg films—the way they’re horrific as well as romantic. This film has a lot of red in it, so I used it throughout the collection.

Morgan: Tell us about the design process, from sketches to physical construction.

Carly: We build boards in my office. Film stills, fashion references, and muses all end up on them. We start planning, sketching, and brainstorming from there. There’s a lot of conversation around building a collection—a lot of checking in—to make sure we’re keeping course.

Morgan: Where did you run into the biggest challenges?

Carly: Sometimes, you have an idea and it doesn’t execute in real life the way you want it to. You want to challenge yourself, but there’s a difference between a sketch and something that lives on an actual body. It’s all problem-solving, and at the end of the day, the challenges can be fun.

Morgan: What did you try this season that you hadn’t before?

Carly: Beading. The bralettes were a new challenge. My friend Timothy Gibbons helped me execute them.

Morgan: With past collections, you’ve leaned into the storytelling aspect of design—exhibiting cohesive themes and color palettes and characters. Was there a similar, overarching narrative to this season?

Carly: Yes—Dead Ringers. Which is also romanticism and the psychological undoing of a person in love. Just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Morgan: What went into the decision of where to host your runway show, and how to stage it?

Carly: I loved the ceilings of the show space—very grand. It felt like a real hidden gem. Quori Theodor made the food sculptures on the runway. We’re good friends; they were able to talk through the theme of the show with me, and execute something in line with the psychological state of the film.

Morgan: What are the three most important descriptors you’d go for in designing a garment?

Carly: Wearable, deranging, sexy.

Morgan: Has your label’s mission evolved since your most recent collection?

Carly: Yes. I’m always evolving, so the clothes do as well. I’m a woman in my mid-30s, running a business, existing in a metropolitan world—and I think the clothes clearly show my personal growth as a human, living that life.