Among the dark, dreary, and tearful sights at Willy Chavarria’s runway show, it was the glint of gold that often caught our eye. Adorned on models with teary, puffed up eyes and denim trench coats, we saw crucifixes, crosses, and sacred hearts—with a twist.
For Chavarria’s collection, these gold-plated accessories came from the mind of fellow gay, Chicano designer Chris Habana. After striking up a conversation with Chavarria last season in the smoky interiors of the gay leather bar The Eagle, Habana began a collaboration that took on religious iconography and prison jewelry with a soft, feminine twist.
As models scattered after the brooding runway show, we caught up with Habana to talk about how the collaboration came to pass, where he found his inspiration, and the importance of authentic diversity in fashion.
OUT: How’d you come to collaborate with Willy Chavarria?
Chris Habana: I’ve been a fan of his for a while. I actually approached him and said I loved his work and if he ever wanted to work together, I’d love to. The conversation started last season and then, when it came to this one, he was down to try it out and it’s been really great.
The inspiration [for the collection] was Latin and Chicano culture, the migrant worker, and their experience. How to make that a bit more dramatic. With our brand identities, we share this affinity for religious iconography, especially crosses and crucifixes. We did a lot of prison jewelry takes on crucifixes. There’s a switchblade crucifix and it looks like regular cross but a blade comes out of it and we have sacred heart coke spoons. We’ve got shanks and shivs that are all melted down from religious icons. Those are the elements we played with. Towards the end of the collection, we added a few mouth plates that the models bite on that also act as a necklace.
As queer designers, do you feel that your personal identities filter into the clothing?
I can only speak for myself, but queer identity isn’t necessarily at the forefront of my mind when I push it out but I think that, since I’m gay and the people who work around me are gay, we have that bend to begin with. Everything for this collaboration had a masculine touch but we turned it into something more feminine with the shiny golds and the rose imagery. I think what’s really great about the collection—down to the name “BELIEVERS”—is that it shows hard-looking elements but twists them into something more soft and feminine.
How’d you enjoy the casting for the show? Willy always does such a great job finding models who embody what his clothing’s message is.
I think Willy is such a genius when it comes to casting. It all really came together and I feel that it comes from a very honest place. Often, a lot of people are starting fill quotas when casting their shows because they feel they have to… I don’t know if it’s trendy or something like that but, with Willy, [casting] is done with such a sense of ease and grace. When he casts his shows and just like when we cast our lookbooks and campaigns, we don’t feel we have to fill any quota—it just happens that way.
Yeah, it has to be. I think that’s what is happening now. You can really tell when people are casting or presenting a brand image that’s not as authentic. I’d like to think that Willy—and our work with him—feels authentic.
Photography: Hunter Abrams