vfiles opens fall/winter 16 with bold optimism
Between Pikachu memes and a parade of gender-defying kids dancing to German pop, the digital platform's all-inclusive runway has never felt more experimental.
"VFILES spring/summer 16 demonstrates that democracy inspires entirely uninhibited creativity. Like the internet, but in real life."
Those thoughts closed i-D's review of VFILES' show last season: an outing that brought together wildly disparate design talent. It's a proposition that actually seems a more apt description of the platform's fall/winter 16 show, presented last night at Spring Studios to Kylie Jenner and Bushwick's finest alike.
The show opened with the debut of VFILES_XO, the brand's first foray into the wild west of wearable tech. Created with Studio XO — the London-based design lab that dreamed up Lady Gaga's flying dress — the collaborative capsule collection literally paraded down the runway flanked by a drum line. But that wasn't the only techy offering: New York-based brand Neurocouture debuted loose, white cloaks that — when positioned on the runway — illuminated with digitally projected graphics. "A lot of the influences came just from watching gifs and animation. I wanted to incorporate that movement, especially visually and aesthetically," its founder Nayana Malhotra explained before the show. "I was also really inspired by the idea of wearing the internet and being able to link that to your thoughts, because what you wear is such an apparent signifier of your mindstate that linking the two things just seemed really logical."
We already know that rainbow fiberoptic puffa vests and a kaleidoscope of memes (that featured appearances from Donald Trump, Pepe the Sad Frog, and Pikachu) will delight VFILES' audience. Every aspect of production — from the designs to the makeup —was crowd-sourced by the ever-expanding platform's users. Arguably, the person most excited by this democratic disruption of the traditional fashion system is the brand's founder, Julie Anne Quay. Quay spent seven years working under Steven Meisel before becoming the executive editor of V Magazine. Since 2012, she's built a community of savvy, ambitious youth of the digital generation hell bent on rewriting fashion's rules.
"For the first time ever this season, people have realized that we're not just a store. I think the word is getting out to the greater world that we're a very authentic, original community of really smart kids. Over 75 percent of our users are under 24," said Quay backstage. "I see people coming to the shows now that I'd never ever expect, and really embracing what we do. The reason why VFILES exists is because I had such a great opportunity in fashion; I had the most incredible team around me all the time and I want that same thing for all these kids."
As they have in seasons past, the selected designers ranged widely in aesthetics and approach. If there was a common theme, it was experimentation. Kiev-based Anton Belinsky's elevated sportswear placed emphasis on color blocking. As the Ukrainian designer's translator explained backstage, "Anton is trained as a painter, so he builds color and imagination." The designer's rich reds, pop pinks, and bold yellows were rendered in loose, deconstructed silhouettes that didn't shy away from maximalist details like full ruffles. One parka had a second set of arms.
Though Kim Shui also drew painterly inspiration with her use of color (Kandinsky, to be exact), the New York-based designer's construction was clean and neat. Shui's experimentation was with fabric psychology. "The focus was about mixing materials that felt outmoded or overused and putting them together in a way in which they no longer had those connotations," she explained backstage of her Prada-leaning tailored outerwear. "For me, snakeskin, plaid, lace, fur — they're pretty common in fashion and can also be considered distasteful if you wear them in a certain way. For me, it was about combining these different textures and materials together."
Like Shui, Ottolinger also played with textiles. But instead of more luxe materials, the Berlin-based duo put classic casual fabrics like denim, jersey, and cotton through the ringer. "It was pretty much just messing around with fabrics: burning, ripping, some sandpaper. For us, it was about finishing a fragile garment and doing a lot of handwork to experiment with roughness." Though light years away from those iridescent carbon fiber creations, the two projects approached creation with the same ethos: let's try it.
Hardeman also took a left-of-center approach to denim design, couching her experimentation in Quay's infectiously punk optimism. The Amsterdam-based brand presented a wild take on heritage pieces — including a reverse-vertical pencil skirt and enviable illustrated white ensemble — using one of the most dynamic, diverse casts in recent memory. When the eclectic, gender queer crew all-out danced their finale walk to "99 Luftballons," it felt great. "We don't set out with an active aim to make shows diverse or to make VFILES appeal to a broad range of people, we just embrace everything," said Quay. "It sounds really cheesy, but we see beauty in everything. We see promise in every designer and every talent that's on our platform — that's who we are, and I'm really proud of that."
Text Emily Manning