moshpit runway: telfar clemens steals nyfw back
By Safety Pins
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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