Usually, a fashion show begins with bright lights, loud music, and a leggy model stomping down the runway. This was not the case at Gypsy Sport's Fall 2017 show.
The audience should have known to expect something unconventional when they walked in: four tents were assembled on the runway, with a couple of kids—some with buckets and drumsticks, others with iPhones—sitting between them. When the lights dimmed, leaving only the illuminated tents visible on the runway, Gypsy Sport's creative director Rio Uribe spoke directly to the audience through the sound system. "This is Rio and I'm actually backstage. I wanted to talk to you guys a little bit about my show," he began, choosing his words carefully. "The fall/winter '17 collection was inspired honestly by people who live on the street and just don't have much fashion in their life or any of the luxuries that we take for granted."
He went on, recalling how when he was living in Paris, the city was covered with refugee villages and tent cities. He saw the same thing in Mexico, where he produced the collection, and Los Angeles, where he currently resides. "There are people who do that for their choice," he said. "But I don't want anyone who is gay or Muslim or disabled or mentally ill or a veteran or a drug addict or a runaway to have to live on the street just because someone's not willing to give them a chance. So when you see the looks today, and you see all of the tent shapes all the other styles that we made, I want you to take a second to think about all the people who do live on the street. You don't have to give everyone a dollar, but just remember you can smile at people and that helps a lot."
His message, which wasn't intended to be a "downer" but rather a "celebration of life and all the different people who are here," could easily be misconstrued. After the show, which included untraditional models wearing tie-dye, patchwork hoodies and sporty shorts, I had to ask: Was he worried that some would find this show offensive?
"I was, actually," he said. "We talked about this on our team a lot, over and over and over, because we didn't want to be disrespectful.... I know people are going to be like, 'Oh, you're making fun of homeless people,' but that's not the intention at all."
While Uribe had plenty to say in his introductory speech to the show, there were several things he intentionally neglected to mention. "We're giving part of our proceeds to the Bowery Mission. It's not something we talked about, but I just want to be able to make sure that we're sustainable, responsible and checking all the boxes, and without being braggy about it." Also, the models in the show weren't just cast from the street, they were cast at recent protests and marches in New York City. "We went to the Women's March, the Muslim ban march, so we were casting kids who already had an activist spirit to bring that into the show."
Uribe also spent a great deal of time working closely with organizations that support homeless people, and engaging with charitable organizations. "I gave toilet paper to a million people, I spoke to them and we really connected," he said. What he learned throughout this process is that ultimately people aren't as bad as he thought. His introduction to the show closed with a message of hope: "I think, for the most part, we're actually very loving people. We want to help each other and live together in happiness, and we don't want to hate or despise each other, but sometimes that's kind of what's preached to us. So for anyone who can hear me, I just want to tell you guys, Don't despair. There's a huge cloud of hate that's floating over us right now, and it's a lot of men who are just hateful and they are just afraid of what we can do when we come together and unite. And that hate will die. Dictators die. Power dies. Eventually it will come back to us, the people. In the name of liberty, let us use that as inspiration to unite together. Let us fight for a new world, and a world that will give us a chance to shine."
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