how the best party of fashion week ended up at white castle
New York-based designer Telfar Clemens invited his crew of downtown diehards to revive a long-lost NYC tradition and turn it up at a fast food joint during NYFW.
Compulsory to Fashion Week are Fashion Week parties. Coveted and hyped affairs, they can sometimes eclipse the clothes they are meant to celebrate. Celebrities, A-list fashion professionals, and fashion groupies alike swarm on open bars and dance to surprisingly not-that-interesting music among of a crowd of surprisingly not-that-interesting people. This season the party circuit centered on Givenchy and Alexander Wang, megabrands with big budgets and unlimited celebrity pull. But the best party of the week had nothing to do with Riccardo Tisci and Kanye West, or Alexander Wang and Nicki Minaj, or Nicola Formichetti and Lady Gaga. No, it was Telfar Clemens' astounding, exceptional, and endlessly inspiring party at the White Castle at 8th Avenue and 36th Street.
At 9 o'clock on Monday night, Telfar's spring/summer 16 show cast, crew, and guests journeyed up from Milk Studios to the White Castle just below Times Square. They arrived to find DJ Michael Magnan booming hip-hop club tracks from behind the serving counter. There was a bar set up right in front of the soda fountain where you could top up your pop with vodka, and the White Castle kitchen staff were working with aplomb to send out platters of sliders, French fries and Chicken Rings. The menu screens were swapped with custom designs featuring an animated Telfar and the White Castle logo with the "C" in "Castle" replaced with the Telfar logo. Most party attendees, downtown mainstays more than familiar with the city's best parties, would agree they had never seen anything like it. Gerlan Marcel, a fashion designer and consultant was enthusiastic: "I wasn't here in New York for those Dunkin Donuts parties," she says, referring to the legendary guerilla bashes thrown by the notorious Michael Alig at places like Dunkins and Burger King, "But I can only imagine this is what is was like."
It all began with the clothes. Telfar Clemens is a designer with an obsessive interest in the nuance of everyday realities. No detail of dress is too banal or mundane to escape his intrigue. "My ideas twist these norms," Clemens explains, "or categorize and repurpose them, I think, to fit in but to also stand out." For Telfar, sameness and individuality are a revolving binary in which our unique identities and our sense of place within a group exist in harmony. It's perhaps a uniquely American perspective: "My idea of American style has extended into a global way of dressing or universal style." And there is perhaps no institution that speaks to the reality of American taste better than White Castle.
White Castle is a niche fast food hamburger joint known for their steamed patties and mini-size sandwiches. While not as popular as McDonalds, Burger King, or Wendy's, its clientele is infinitely more loyal and devoted. The idea to host his party there came from Telfar's spring/summer 16 concept, "Culture Sport.TV." It's a fictional animated world in which all things Telfar reign supreme. The designer needed a sponsor for the show (which was easily his best yet) and according to Babak Radboy, Telfar's creative director and co-founder of Shanzhai Biennial, "White Castle is just who came through — but once we started speaking I honestly have to say it was unlike any client relationship I have ever had." Radboy is referring to his discussions with Jamie Richardson, a Vice President at White Castle who flew in from the company's headquarters in Columbus, Ohio to oversee and assist with the event. "It's hard to describe him — he's a true believer... or a 'true craver' as he would put it." But Richardson's enthusiasm was crucial. "He was unbelievably genuine and so palpably excited and respectful of our creative process."
Richardson is an approachable man of an even-keeled Midwestern sensibility. When I asked him why on earth he thought sponsoring Telfar would be good for White Castle he seemed dumbfounded that I would even question it, "Well… we just thought it would be cool." For Clemens, it was a mutual appreciation, "We LOVED each other...I LOVE White Castle, and they loved Telfar." The feeling of camaraderie and shared points of view is perhaps best expressed in White Castle's awkward menu item the Chicken Ring. While any other chicken nugget attempts to hide its molded meat product origin, the Chicken Ring makes no apologies and puts up no façade. It is what it is and it's proud to be it. It's an appropriate analogy for Telfar's own matter-of-fact yet celebratory take on everyday America, "I think the thing that inspires me about American style," Telfar explains, "is my ability to understand it, because I am an American."
The party raged on into the night with merrymaking and emotions running high. At one point the models cried and lifted Telfar up on their shoulders, chanting his name. Jamie Richardson was the night's hero. He taught a bunch of struggling creatives that, under the right circumstances, corporate interests can indeed service genuine creativity. He gave a speech declaring his admiration for the group of youngsters who, before the show, seemed a world away.
"I think that was the most fun I've had at a fashion week after party," Telfar admitted the day after. For Babak, the party was unprecedented, "I honestly don't want to sound crazy but it was the most fun I have ever had in my life. I've been to all kinds of parties — I've been flown to Life Ball and danced with Bill Clinton in the Austrian parliament building to Sister Sledge, I've been Berghain in Berlin — whatever — this was more fun." Richardson opened up a bit more about what motivated him to collaborate with Telfar: "At White Castle, we're really about creating unique and memorable experiences. And making friendships that last." A unique and memorable experience during New York Fashion Week? Imagine that.
Text Jeremy Lewis
Photography and graphics courtesy of Babak Radboy/Telfar