The Spring/Summer 2020 ready-to-wear shows just started today in Paris, and what we saw so far was promising: featuring independent brands, rather than the big industry voices, the first day – or rather evening – welcomed the Grand Prize winner of the 2019 LVMH Prize Rokh, in addition to the collection of the Japanese designer Mame Kurogouchi and the Korean designer Kiminte Kimhekim.
While Kimhekim featured a collection that highlighted attention-seeking cocktail numbers – possibly a style that he got from working for Balenciaga in the past – Mame Kurogouchi focused on clothes as protection of the body, delving into the history and traditions of Japanese wrapping with softly cut overcoats and loose-fitted outfits that were lightly embracing the models' bodies, almost like cocoons. Rok Hwang's discreet-chic luxury, for its part, came with a fetish twist this season, while reinterpreting a woman's staple pieces, such as trenchcoats, polo shirts, and twinsets with a youthful yet sophisticated twist.
And while we are looking forward to the rest of the week, we can say that one brand today already made a lasting impression. The highlight of this – rather short – first day of Paris Fashion Week was undoubtedly Telfar. Founded in 2004 by the New-York-based Liberian-American designer Telfar Clemens, the brand is designed to be "unisex, universal, and democratic," as its founder explains. Telfar's real driving force is indeed its intelligent and socially committed artistic direction, which is further enhanced by the brand's willingness to produce high quality at affordable prices – and today, Clemens has managed to impress with a runway show that opened the Spring/Summer 2020 season of ready-to-wear fashion shows in Paris.
Having said that, the term "runway show" is an understatement: in the concert hall La Cigale, near Pigalle, Telfar revised archetypes of American urban wear against a backdrop that featured the extended trailer of a film. Named "The World isn't Everything," the film directed by Clayton Vomero is an on-going fruitful collaboration between Telfar and the brand's close friends and supporters, namely a few notable personalities, such as actor Ashton Sanders, and multi-disciplinary artists Juliana Huxtable and Petra Collins, as well as playwright Jeremy O. Harris, rapper and producer Butch Dawson, and musician Steve Lacy.
Against this impressive visual backdrop, Telfar's signature style twisted logos blended into daily wardrobe pieces that conveyed urban, military, and graphic vibes, as well as both a youthful and thoughtful irreverence with a hint of audacity. More importantly, the message conveyed by the film trailer made a strong statement way beyond fashion: “We are migrants. That’s our philosophy in general, the line between representation and presence,” the designer explained to press after his show – a statement that, unequivocally, acknowledges all the immigrants who suffer in the United States and Europe from the anti-immigration policies which, alas, have been espoused by many governments.
Far from making social justice a commercial gimmick – or even worse, a fashion trend – Telfar Clemens has proven his integrity. In the past, Clemens has been making financial donations (benefits from his collection sales) to the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Liberty and Justice Fund, which fights to ensure that juvenile detainees of the Rikers Island Prison have a decent lawyer, a fair trial and a chance to bail out. The infamous Rikers Island Prison detains juvenile inmates, many of whom are black minors who suffer from an endemic culture of violence perpetuated against people of color in the United States.
A police brutality that Telfar Clemens is committed to fight against. Even in his latest film trailer, which served as the runway show's backdrop today, the tense interaction between the black protagonists he featured and the security guards says a lot about the palpable racism that continues to wreak havoc in the United States. “We don't really identify with any one place; we're not even at home in America,” concludes the designer after his show, when asked about his choice to show in Paris. And yet, for one moment, Telfar's show finale, which had models – all genders and ethnicities – dancing and partying all together to a live performance by U.K. rapper Lancey Foux, felt like home. Or at least, how home should feel like.
Photo by Gio Staiano