Telfar Fall/Winter 2019
A giant American flag with a large hole cut out in the middle hung center stage at the Irving Plaza rock concert hall. Under the moniker “TOTAL FREEDOM,” the artist and DJ Ashland Mines initiated his set alongside the blues musician Robert Randolph, who performed using a pedal guitar, an instrument commonly used in the black Pentecostal church. On the corner of the stage, Jeremy O Harris, playwright of the Off-Broadway hit ‘Slave Play’ added to the extravaganza and confronted the difficult questions about the long and arduous heritage of race as he emerged to commence his four-part monologue entitled ‘Telfar Countrymxn’ as a series of letters sent to different recipients. One of the letters that Harris read out induced a sense of forging a community of shared culture – ‘How do I welcome y’all?
I, We. Us.
Have placed our feet
In the hands of our fellow Countrymxn
Have bore their weight
And felt them bear ours
Constructing of a land,
We’s sculpted in my image
This is a manifesto
On the state of
Harris, wearing a bright blue corduroy suit with an ascot tie, was surrounded by dancers performing Xavier Chaw’s choreography while close friends of the designer parted the crowd for the models as they emerged from backstage, accompanied by the vocals of the R&B singer Oyinda who sang alongside Randolph and Mines. Oyinda – in a cutout tank, leather pants, and cowboy boots – fell into the welcoming arms of members of the crowd and floated around, underscoring the sense of a community where different hands grasped and held each other to foment not only a sense of belonging, but one of protection. Community here is about trust in the hands of others– even that sort of blind trust as Telfar Clemens, like others before him, fell backward and let the crowd catch him.
In this moving tribute to community and country – ‘country as nation vs. country as land’ – the Telfar art-fashion-social-political performance played out in a highly poetic manner as the clothes shown – high waisted pants complimented by Western belt buckles, jackets with detachable sleeves, loose orange brick corduroy suits, striped and fringed knitwear, denim and vegan leather chap pants, and leather and corduroy mixed boot leg pants – completed the experience. The cowboy boots and belt buckles incorporated Budweiser imagery in reference to the continual collaboration with the beer company since last season. Proceeds from the White Castle capsule collaboration are donated to the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Fund to help minors with bail issues on Rikers Island.
Considering Telfar’s projection over his fashion career, the immersive show experience was a natural culmination of the many elements that have always composed his fashion – trend-neutral genderless clothing presented with an all-inclusive cast since 2002, years before the issue of diversity became prevalent, sending a message across all cultures. The punk band Ho99o9 closed the show with a rambunctious set, bringing the audience to a sort of rapture. The band members wore the Black Lives Matter and Black Futures Month tee-shirts– a collaboration initiated to support the nonprofit organization and spread awareness.
“Our story is they, them, their
This land is his land
No New York islands
But this land
Harris ended his monologue with a poignant reminder that the unity often touted by others, like the recent State of the Union address, should not be a matter of false discourse but one where outreach and shared ideals bind people together, as clothes can also do. Telfar’s show was different from Raf Simons’ three seasons of meditation on America for Calvin Klein as Simons took the road of intellectual reflection on the culture, within the deep conscience to identify the marks of American culture and fashion. Now on an emotional level rarely seen in New York, Telfar is the new voice and quite possibly the sole representative speaking and vouching for a community where everyone belongs– and belongs together.
Photos by Charlie Rubin