vfiles pushes punk populism to the max for spring/summer 16
IV bags dripping black liquid, miles of Big Bird yellow ruffles, and phallic chain-link cat suits. What else would you expect from the Mercer Street anarchists hell bent on breaking all of fashion’s rules?
When Givenchy made 800 tickets to its New York show available to non-industry folk, an age-old argument was reignited: should fashion week be made public? But last night's VFILES spring/summer 16 show took the debate to a new level. In addition to offering public spots to last night's show at Spring Studios, every other aspect of the outing -- from design duo Namila's purple penis chain link catsuit to the lip liner applied by 19-year-old makeup artist Meredith Menchel -- was not only accessible to, but crowd sourced by the brand's markedly millennial public. Punk populism at its most decadent yet.
"VFILES is a social media platform. We don't curate, we don't edit, we just give people freedom to be who they are and we want to celebrate that," founder Julie Anne Quay said backstage. And celebrate it they did. In addition to the aforementioned dick suit (more on that later), this season's VFILES lineup saw design talents from all corners of the world proudly letting their freak flags fly. From ruffle master David Ferreira's bright ballgowns to trio Moses Gauntlett Cheng's take on octogenarian glam, no one can accuse VFILES of holding back this season.
"Our goal at VFILES is to change the way people think about fashion forever," Quay said. "It's a big, grandiose statement, but when you think about the fact that Coco Chanel took away waists, I want to take away the glass ceiling. We embrace the out to bring it in."
The designs brought in this season might be wildly disparate, but they do share something: intricate handiwork. First on the runway was Kozaburo Akasaka, the Japanese designer who matched menswear tailoring with ripped up, bleached out American casual fabrics like denim and canvas. "The inspiration started with one of the vintage records in my collection," the Parsons and Central St Martins grad explained backstage. "It's covered in sandpaper and is meant to scratch up other records on the shelf, but its music is really sensitive and naive. I tried to show that contrast -- rougher on the outside but soft on the inside -- in the garments. Some of the clothing is made of sandpaper, but the lining is vintage bedding cotton."
On the opposite spectrum of Akasaka's wild west tailoring sat Feng Chen Wang, the Beijing-born, Britain-based designer whose functionally futurist pieces Quay referred to as a "combo Norma Kamali and Junya Watanabe." The young designer's movingly personal collection, titled Life & Love, was inspired by her father's liver cancer diagnosis. Although some medical references -- like the IV bags dripping black liquid perched atop her boys' shoulders -- were more overt, others -- including zippers modeled his after his operative scars -- were a little quieter. Feng's silhouettes saw delicate proportional play: flowing trousers paired with foam injected shapes "modeled after livers and hearts."
On the subject of silhouettes, no one pushed proportions to the limit quite like Nan Li and Emilia Pfo of design duo Namila and London-based designer David Ferreira. The former lifted inspiration for their emoji-spangled inflated corset tops and "condom nylon raver ball gown trousers" from social media self expression. "This collection is about how Instagram has changed the way we view femininity," the pair said backstage. "This is our version of really celebrating pop culture and and how girls like Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj are putting it out there. Each outfit in the collection is based on one of the characters, so it's our ultimate girl gang going out tonight."
Ferreira's equally bold looks were inspired by a different female tastemaker, Empress Dowager Cixi of nineteenth-century China. "She really opened up China to all the rest of the world," David explained. "I tried to re-work some of the worst traditions from this critical era -- like corsets and footbinding -- to create the most extreme shapes of the collection." Although his intricate boning and ruffling techniques were inspired by pre-internet globalization, the sheer volume and particular shade of egg yolk yellow also recalled Rihanna's meme-worthy Met Gala dress.
A red carpet moment also inspired Moses Gauntlett Cheng, the buzzy hometown trio presently captivating New York's fashion underground. "This collection started out as a fantasy we had about agricultural life. We conjured up this image of a sexy, Italian farm wife rummaging through a field," Esther Gauntlett explained backstage. "That sort of stemmed into Sofia Loren," David Moses added. "There's this photo of her on the red carpet: current day, eighty years old, sunglasses on her head, blowout, diamond choker, diamond earrings, just glam." And glam is exactly what they gave us: a knockout casting of largely trans and genderqueer nodels stormed the runway in super sheer separates to an A-Trak remix of Pavarotti's soaring operatics.
All together, VFILES' spring/summer 16 demonstrates that democracy inspires entirely uninhibited creativity. Like the internet, but in real life.
Text Emily Manning
Images courtesy VFILES