'the handmaid's tale' goes high fashion courtesy of rising nyc brand vaquera
Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale topped Amazon's bestseller list in February, over 30 years after its release. The Canadian literary hero explained the book's resurgence by pointing to the current political climate in the U.S. "You are seeing a bubbling up of it now," she told The Guardian, referring to a return of the puritanical values described in the novel and alluding specifically to Trump's rolling back of abortion rights.
The novel's dystopian America, in which fertile women are conscripted into a state breeding program by a totalitarian patriarchy, feels more plausible now than ever. And New York brand Vaquera's collaborative collection with the new Hulu adaptation of the book compounded that relevance tenfold.
The brand presented its collection yesterday, at the Angel Orensanz Foundation on the Lower East Side. The venue is a non-profit art space set within New York's oldest surviving synagogue and it is out-of-this-world beautiful (think peeling plaster, gothic balconies, and gilded chandeliers). Its religious history and color scheme (teal vaulted ceiling, blood-red facade) were extremely fitting.
The designers — Patric Dicaprio, Claire Sully, Bryn Taubensee, and David Moses — showed 21 looks inspired by the red cloak and white "wings" worn by handmaids (those aforementioned fertile women) in the novel's Republic of Gilead.
When Hulu approached the brand about a collaboration, they agreed it was a no-brainer. "I've been a fan of the book for a long time," Patric explained backstage. "Even when I first started the label, I was very inspired by the way the colors [of the novel's clothes] were described and by the way systems of dress were prescribed by the government, which is such an extreme version of what's happening now."
Vaquera riffed on every aspect of the handmaid's uniform. There were giant white bonnets (also a motif in the brand's mainline collections), multiple mutations of capes, and variations of other characters' outfits — a red houndstooth boiler suit, for example, echoed the garments worn by Gilead's drivers.
Ane Crabtree, the costume designer for the Hulu series, made the show's state-enforced uniforms feel wincingly real by adding contemporary touches, and Vaquera ran with that idea. Ane's interpretation of the handmaid's cape resembles a hooded sweatshirt, so Vaquera sent a model storming through the venue in a red hoodie twice her size, its sleeves trailing dramatically behind her.
Other standout looks included a dress made from maroon sofa cushions (the ultimate representation of women becoming objects?), a gauze-draped umbrella, and a dress made from a lifetime supply of bras.
"We're big fans of her work," Patric said about Ane. "We really connected with her. We were like the same people," added Bryn. And so they cast Ane in the show. "She nailed it," Patric said. "We were like, 'Oh no, Ane makes clothes. Will she like her look?' But she showed up basically wearing her look in blue, this blue boiler suit. We were like, 'Ok, you're going to love what you're wearing in the show because it's basically the same thing.'"
"We cast with Walter Pearce at Midland Agency. It was about personalities and atypical beauty. And Ane felt very right," explained David.
The casting saw every kind of person inhabiting the handmaid's role. "That was really important to us," Bryn emphasized. "We definitely didn't want to do just women. We wanted to discuss the spirit of the handmaid — all people who are oppressed — and so we put all types of people in the clothing. To say that bad things don't just happen to women."
"The book is important now, because of the climate," concluded Patric. "It was important in the 80s, it was important in the 1880s. Women have been oppressed for so long. It's nice to make work that's in this cannon, and exposing the systems that oppress us."
Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography Michael Hauptman courtesy Black Frame