When New Yorker F.W. Woolworth was first starting out as a young kid working in a stock room, he was told by his superiors that he wasn’t a very good salesman. As we all obviously know, he proved them wrong. This is a blip of business lore that reflects some of the universal aspects of the American dream construct: an unassuming guy turning into a titan of business with brains, a few bucks, and a lot of scrappiness.
Yesterday, Mexican-American designer Willy Chavarria took over the Woolworth building’s lobby for his spring 2024 show. He titled the collection “New Life”, and that was exactly what it brought at the end of fashion week. Like Woolworth the man, Chavarria’s own backstory is marked by a sense of no-holds-barred self-assurance. It’s what helped him ascend the ranks to become Calvin Klein’s senior vice president of menswear while also developing his namesake conceptual label, which is now one of the top tickets of the fashion calendar. He is an incredibly skilled designer, one who can cut clothes with couturier-level precision. But more importantly, he has a lot to say.
In his show notes Chavarria described this season’s collection, which is technically menswear but really made for anyone, with the words “romance” and “dilapidation.” It was that very tugged-from-real-life juxtaposition that made this offering so moving at the end of a long, hot summer and a week dotted with safe, commercially viable collections. While last season he stuck to a darker, more restrained sensibility, this time around he pumped up the glamor while maintaining a sweet lightness.
There were beautifully tailored, boxy jackets, some with exaggerated shoulders, as well as football jersey pullovers that were decorated with balloon sleeves. Tank tops thrown on under billowy open shirts and paired with easy trousers felt like the ultimate flex of urban effortlessness, as did a track pant and jacket over a distressed tee emblazoned with an upside down “USA.” Other shirts were printed with the words “Grupo Nueva Visión Por Vida”, which translates to “The New Vision for Life Group” and is meant to promote a fantasy youth group. Many of the looks were accessorized with giant red flower brooches, as well as ranchero hats reimagined by Chavarria.
Tradition, home, and familiarity were all key components to this work and have always been anchors for Chavarria’s oft-political and heritage-based designs and shows. This season, he chose songs—including classic Mexican music—that made the show feel like a celebration. Personally, it reminded me of my best friend, also Mexican-American, and the local gatherings I’d go to with her, often held inside her grandparent’s restaurant in the Pilsen neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. The clothes could rival those of any major European luxury house, but most importantly, they had charisma, charm, and also something hugely important (though not often touted by the industry) that can often be distinctive of New York fashion: heart.
The same feels were felt during the very last show of the week: Luar. Designer Raul Lopez has had a remarkable rise to fame over the last couple of seasons, though no one should forget that he’s been at this a very long time. He’s worked his ass off to find a footing in the industry, beginning his career with a more experimental bent but morphing into someone who has a sellout ‘it’ bag and a LVMH prize nomination under his scripted “L” belt.
Born and bred in New York, Lopez has managed to cultivate a highly lauded label while always maintaining a tight grip on his roots. This season was all about the balance of self and being one’s own savior–a theme that makes Lopez emotional as he acknowledges his own difficulties remaining true to his point of view (a triumph in an industry where the risk-averse run rampant).
His deconstructed, sex-positive clothes have origin stories that tie back to his upbringing in Brooklyn, his Dominican culture, and the women who raised him. At the show, while the bass pounded, strobe lights pulsed, and smoke machines billowed, the crowd cheered. They cheered for the models, many of whom were Lopez’s friends, and they cheered for their runway walks, which tore like even the fiercest supers and Vogue-ers in the game. They cheered for the draped and cutout tee dresses and skirts and for the deconstructed, modular suiting decorated with fancy buttons that went every which way. They cheered for Lopez’s crazy cool new denim offering, too. But mainly, the cheering came because Luar is a brand that has real fans, no, stans.
It’s exactly what we’ve been missing in American fashion throughout the last decade–designs that you can believe in, that you can wear, that actually make you think and ache to be part of a community. Plus, Luar, the person, the brand, the clothes, the bags–it’s all just real fucking fun, and same goes for Chavarria's world. If there is anything wrong with the state of fashion in this country right now, it’s that we’ve lost a sense of humanity in the clothes. Chavarria and Lopez have the thoughtfulness, the design chops, and the business sense to be their own versions of titans of the fashion industry. And oh what a joy it is to watch them rise.
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