Anyone looking for an escape from the looming cloud of Trump's America wasn't about to find it at this season's New York Fashion Week: Men's presentations. At a time when artists from Meryl Streep to the Hamilton cast are being told by the far right to shut up and entertain, up-and-coming menswear designers in particular showed a compulsion--if not a responsibility--to craft creative responses to the political topics on everyone's lips.
For his fall '17 collection, Manhattan-based designer Robert James went so far as to arm his models--already clad in battle-ready camo prints, helmet-like hoods and beanies--with bandit masks and protest signs scrawled with hashtags like #WOMENSMARCH, #FIGHTFASCISM and #NOTMYGOVT. The aggressive accessories may have distracted from the actual garments, but an artist's statement from James spoke to the vibe permeating collections this week: "As the world around us turns dark, the use of clothing as protection becomes more literal than ever," it read. "Protection from the elements, governments, strong men, and each other."
But not all designers needed to be so explicit in their expressions of resistance. With his first-ever collection, gay designer Rafal Swiader--whose fashion house, R.Swiader, is also based in New York--said he strived to create a wardrobe for "a street gang of peaceful warriors," embedding the influences of British punk and Parisian romanticism into looks that, according to him, might usher in "the next peaceful revolution." Accompanied by a ukelele player that set a Woodstock tone, Swiader's models, conversely, stood firm and stoic, all of them grounded in heavy black shoes, and some sporting graphic crop tops with printed phrases like, TARNISHED STARS FALLING FROM THE SKY. "It's a direct reference to what's happening in this country," Swiader said.
"I've been excited to rally together with other people to show our resistance to what's happening right now," added Dan Donigan, better known as the drag queen Milk, who modeled Swiader's entire collection for his lookbook. "This is about uniting people who are positive but also angry about current times--who want to resist, but not destroy."
Julian Woodhouse, another gay designer, rooted the fall '17 collection for his brand, Wood House, in the idea that we all need to step outside of ourselves if we want to move forward. Dubbed "Reflected," the collection--a text-heavy mix of glam details and athleisure, with one pink sweatsuit branded with, YOU DON'T WANT TO FUCK WITH THIS LITTLE PIGGY--implored the consumer to leave all of his comfort zones. "If we're so focused on our own microcosms, we lose sight of what's happening around them, and that includes our political situation," says Woodhouse, who's served in the military and absorbed international inspiration, especially from his time spent in Seoul, Korea.
Left: Woodhouse, Right: Private Policy (Photos: Glenn Garner)
Related | Private Policy Fall '17 Inspired by Polycephaly, the Condition of Having Two Heads
Private Policy, the vanguard label run by designer duo Siying Qu and Haoran Li, took Woodhouse's philosophy one giant leap forward, asserting that leaving one's microcosm and embracing globalization no longer just involves respecting other countries as neighbors, but seeing them and existing with them as a conjoined entity. Polycephaly, the condition of having multiple heads attached to one body, sparked the inspiration for Private Policy's fall '17 collection, which not only endorsed the union of opposites by mixing fabrics like denim and velvet, but combined the vibrant patterns of multiple nations' flags. "We actually have all become conjoined twins," Qu said of Private Policy's directive and worldview. "We cannot just shut the door to our twin--we're connected and inseparable."
And yet, for all of Swiader, Wood House and Private Policy's efforts to offer artful hope amid gloom, it was impossible not to also notice a harsh indictment of today's America. James's work may have barked the loudest, but Qu and Li didn't resist the opportunity to point the finger at our battered country, writing the word CRIMINAL on the face of the model whose Private Policy look incorporated the stars and stripes of the U.S. flag.
Backstage at N. Hoolywood (Photo: Glenn Garner)
Related | Backstage at N. Hoolywood's Street Smart Fall '17 Show
Furthermore, N.Hoolywood designer Daisuke Obana sent out a fall '17 collection that, while inspired by the resourcefulness of the nation's homeless, also seemed to forecast a new Depression. With up to five layers of knit blankets, sweaters, and hoodies piled high on the shoulders of certain models (who also carried trash bags as their last-resort totes), Obana's shanty-town aesthetic was impressive; he presented a loaded line of what looked like handmade hand-me-downs. But as each model stared at the ground and trudged down the runway in their urban armor, one message was clear amid our bleak climate: Winter is coming. Suit up.