Put 70-year-old Grace Jones in a metallic leather jacket and gold mesh bodysuit on your runway and you’ve got yourself a hit. Tommy Hilfiger brought the pop star out at the end of his latest celebrity collaboration last night — with the actress and singer Zendaya — which toasted diversity, in race as well as age and size, with a cast that included Beverly Johnson, Pat Cleveland, and Veronica Webb.
For Zendaya, the Hilfiger platform — in the middle of Paris Fashion Week — was a great way to call attention to the general lack of diversity in the entertainment and fashion industries, not just on the catwalk but in power positions. And let’s hope that Hilfiger, 67, who has built his name and fortune by selling images of white privilege — with recent collections evoking the Ivy League, Mustique, and Savile Row — makes true diversity his business, because he hasn’t always in the past.
Even without such overt messaging, though, designers are making powerful statements about feminine strength and self-representation.
At Hermès, Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski opened with black leather, lots of it — hot pants, sharp coats, and little fanny purses emblazoned with an H. Given that the soundtrack had a hard, thumping beat, I wouldn’t have been surprised if one of the kohl-eyed models had suddenly produced a whip from her tiny purse. And I don’t mean the equestrian kind. Seriously, though, it was great to see Vanhee-Cybulski venture into more daring territory for classical Hèrmes. Designers should be free to explore and propose, and she has already demonstrated that she can do light, eclectic sportswear, as she did in her dazzling spring show. Apart from the hot pants, the mood of this collection was strict and rather buttoned-up, with pencil skirts in textured leather shown with matching boots and long-sleeve, mock-turtleneck tops in solid hues of orange and moss silk that were a novel treatment of the house’s famous scarves.
Six months ago, Area was all about playfulness. This season, that flippant joy has given way to something more aggressive, more punk. Yes, tonight’s show was glitzy and fab-you-loussss, but beneath that purple-to-pink fur and those rainbow crystal earrings are layers and layers of meaning. What does it say? Post show, codesigner Beckett Fogg summed up her and her partner Piotrek Panszczyk’s mission as, “It’s about these dualities: How can they live not in contrast but in harmony?” They riffed on contrasts of color, silhouette, era, genre, ethnicity, femininity—you name it, they had a take it on it.
The clash of it all made for a lively show, with guests wrestling over each other to photograph their favorite looks. It opened in mostly black and white, a basic palette for Fogg and Panszczyk to experiment with texture and treatment, like crystal-strewn cable knits that deconstruct into fringe trousers and a pied de poule–inspired houndstooth that morphed into an A monogram. A ’60s couture theme ran throughout, with several references to André Courrèges’s Spage Age shapes at his own brand and at Balenciaga. Then came the text, cut out of silver plastic as dangling belts and printed on scarves made of found phrases that evoke protest. Soon apocalypse. Power play. “We have quotes in the collection that are quite heavy, intense, almost like a protest song,” began Panszczyk, “but do we really mean anything with it? Maybe not.” He went on to riff that maybe the customer is actually a hippie-dippie activist, or maybe she’s just wearing that Photoshop-printed tie-dye, itself a mutation of ’60s couture polka dots, because she thinks it makes for a good selfie. Meaning can be found anywhere, but there is also an inescapable meaninglessness to our contemporary world.
There’s the rub. In attempting such a high-concept show, Fogg and Panszczyk became stuck, at places, in an echo chamber. Certain ideas felt so broad, like the trendy tie-dye, or so specific, like a one-off fluoro orange jumpsuit, that it was hard, as a viewer, to get one’s bearings, to make sense of it all. Maybe that’s the point. In its eclecticism and diversity, this collection felt like a big “F you” to the system, to the rules, to the right way of doing things. For a while in the recent past, Area listened to what other people wanted. This show was pure, unfiltered Fogg and Panszczyk, administered intravenously while Madonna sung “Shanti” over a sound system on a Wall Street promenade. It was so surprisingly, sophisticatedly weird, you just had to smile.
Brands are now racing to capture the market of young people who strive to live gender identities that fit.
They are the new beautiful people and their pronouns are they, their and them. Fashion courts them. Publishers pursue them. Corporations see in them the future of consuming, as generations come of age for whom notions of gender as traditionally constituted seem clunkier than a rotary phone.
Why settle for being a man or a woman when you can locate yourself more exactly along the arc of gender identity? And, on another axis, why limit your sexual expression to a single definition when you can glissade along the Kinsey scale?
“It’s all about letting go of gender so you can be everything in between,” said Terra Juano, a model with 100,000 Instagram followers who track the booming career and amatory antics of this androgynous Mexican-Filipino beauty with a shaved head, a mile-wide smile, an affection for cowboy hats and an uninhibited tendency to go top free.
In the evolving language of gender expression, Terra Juano, though assigned female at birth, identifies as nonbinary. And in business as in life, TJ, a native of Stockton, Calif., has lighted out for a new territory. It is one in which the conventions of both homo- and heteronormative expression are called into question daily.
Personal style at major music festivals can be generally watered down and frankly, a little lame, but not at. Afropunk. Attendees of the music and arts festival, now in its thirteenth year, looked as lush and happy as ever. Flower crowns, which have been having a moment in fashion, were ever-present and larger than life. Shades of bright yellow were inescapable, and skinny shades returned sleeker and chic-er than ever. Many of the impressive looks we captured were handmade by the wearers themselves. Peep some of our favorites from the weekend below. MORE PICTURES