rowan blanchard and whoopi goldberg star in opening ceremony’s alternative beauty pageant

Last night, Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen hosted what will probably be one of the most poignant, and definitely funniest, shows of the spring/summer 17 season.

by Alice Newell-Hanson
12 September 2016, 8:25pm

"This design is for toddlers. This is toddler size," Fred Armisen deadpanned as a model walked past him in a ruched royal blue dress with a high ruffled collar, open-knit sleeves, and fully adult proportions.

Earlier, Armisen's co-host Carrie Brownstein had told a model with a shaved head, wearing a layered ruffled situation and knee-high leather boots, how much she'd enjoyed her performance as a telekinetic child in Stranger Things. The MCs had also warned the audience at the Javits Center, at the start of Opening Ceremony's spring/summer 17 show, to prepare themselves. Because some of the women walking in this fashion show slash beauty pageant would not in fact be models. "Don't look at them!" Armisen yelled.

But of course everyone was watching the nodels, who walked across the stage and fielded questions about world affairs in a brilliant spoof of a classic American beauty pageant. In order of appearance, they were: Ali Wong, Rashida Jones, Natasha Lyonne, Alia Shawkat, Rowan Blanchard, Jessica Williams, Diane Guerrero, Aidy Bryant, Aubrey Plaza, LGBTQ lobbyist Sarah McBride, and Whoopi Goldberg. Yes, Whoopi Goldberg!

Opening Ceremony's creative minds, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, love a spectacle. Previous shows have involved Lamborghinis, experimental dance, levitating spacecraft, and a play written by Spike Jonze and Jonah Hill. They have always done fashion week on their own terms, which means with heart and never straightforwardly. And last night's production "Pageant of the People," took their showmanship to another level — a place both funnier and more earnest than ever.

"Our initial idea was that we wanted to do something with a message that was also entertaining. We always feel that the way you remember things is if you're both really interested in them and can also laugh about them," explained Leon backstage. That message was about political awareness and cultural exchange.

While the parade of international flagbearers who kicked off the show reinforced the collection's inspiration — the rich cultural legacy of America's immigrants — the questions Carrie and Fred asked their pageant queens covered everything from race to women's rights and the need to vote. That last issue, voting, Lim and Leon really wanted to hit home. They'd installed voter registration areas in the venue, courtesy of Rock the Vote.

Carol and Humberto were also very aware of their show date, September 11. "It was the right thing," Leon explained about their approach. "It was celebratory but also our message was about not forgetting that there are important things to think about. We're months away from an election. It felt like the timing was right to use our platform for something other than just talking about clothes."

And there were plenty of major moments that didn't depend on the clothes: When Rashida Jones spoke about the severity of the refugee crisis. When Aidy Bryant flailed her limbs in an indescribable body-shaking dance of self-confidence. When Rowan Blanchard and Fred Armisen riffed about feminism. And when Whoopi declared, "Only in America can a girl like me find themselves walking on a stage like this."

But the clothes had a message too. Lim and Leon had revisited images of early immigrants at Ellis Island and of their own immigrant parents, finding inspiration in their journeys. The pieces made use of traditional American craft techniques, like smocking and pointelle knit, and their many shades of blue evoked broad, misty skylines. Layered in a way that referenced photographs of early settlers, the collection communicated an optimistic vision of America and celebrated the eclecticism of its new arrivals.

"That was what the 'Pageant of the People' was all about," said Leon. "Bringing all kinds of different people together who have different messages."

Read the rest of our NYFW coverage here.


Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography Mitchell Sams

Natasha Lyonne
Opening Ceremony
Rashida Jones
Alia Shawkat
fred armisen
Carrie Brownstein
Whoopi Goldberg
New York Fashion Week
Aubrey Plaza
Humberto Leon
Carol Lim
Jessica Williams
sarah mcbride
diane guerrero
rowan blanchard
spring/summer 17
ss 17
nyfw ss17
aidy bryant
ali wong