moshpit runway: telfar clemens steals nyfw back

February 12, 2019

New York’s Irving Plaza is a storied music venue, whose four-decades long history of sold-out nights, and messy hardcore punk shows has served it well. It is certainly *not* the kind of place that New York Fashion Week ever descends upon, not even for secret performances by pop-star fashionistas — it’s way too old and mangy for that, not enough VIP/bottle-table glitz in its aura. Likely, this is exactly why designer Telfar Clemens thought it would best serve the purpose of unveiling “Country,” his Spring/Summer 2019 collection, last Thursday night. F*ck a runway, when you can have a pedigreed moshpit.

Designer Telfar Clemens walks the runway at the Telfar Fall/Winter 2019 Collection on February 8, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images)

This is not a metaphor. The 34 year-old Clemens designs clothes that are inspired and perverted by rock and punk — the classic fashion ideas these forms evoke (think: denim, leather, t-shirts, rips galore) — and by the iconography that often accompanies them. The “models” who stage-dived and crowd-surfed — and, yes, at times simply descended off the stage — at Irving Plaza, entered the hall through a rip in a black and white American flag, to the pointedly deconstructed collaboration between DJ Total Freedom and sacred steel, blues-man Robert Randolph.

There was also a punk band (old friends of AFROPUNK, Ho99o9), a rapper (Baltimore’s Butch Dawson) and a soul-singing veteran of Telfar’s shows (Oyinda). The 1000-strong audience ran more concert-crowd that RSVP’ing tastemakers — though it did include Rico Nasty. And the run-of-show narrative of America, the West and a “celebration of Black future” was co-conceptualized by Slave Play playwright Jeremy Harris, whose penmanship could be identified in the program notes (“For those who landed here as objects, treated as a part of nature, we are all a little bit Country”) and who delivered a monologue while the models did their thing. By the end, he was stage-diving too.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by New York Times Fashion & Style (@nytimesfashion) on

The Queens-born-and-raised Clemens has been elevating his designs and presentation to engage with music, culture and “other” (read: non-white) points of view, ever since 2006, when he first began making clothes under his own name. But at the time, no one cared. “The first ten years he didn’t get a review,” his sometime creative director, the artist Babak Radboy, once told i-D, “because people weren’t into questions of diversity or gender — it just meant you didn’t exist.” Telfar’s has always been a union between high and low culture, between alternative styles. Last year, he featured Dev Hynes, Kelela and Ian Isiah as models, and held an after-party at a Times Square White Castle.

A model walks the runway at the Telfar Fall/Winter 2019 Collection on February 8, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images)

The Irving Plaza happening ended with Telfar surfing the crowded himself, which was all well and good, since it was his party. Its chaos wasn’t just that of a fashion extravaganza — though based on the reviews, which claimed Clemens had won the hyper competitive NYFW week, it was that too — but of the kind of hardcore shows Irving Plaza experienced in its mid-80s Rock Hotel heyday. Fashion culture’s not dead. You just need to know where to look.