With its setting in a totalitarian, dystopian society known as Gilead where the government has claimed complete control over women’s rights, Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale has taken timeliness to eye-raising levels. The parallels to America's current political climate have not gone unnoticed: Since the show premiered in April, women have showed up across the country in the signature red robes worn by the handmaids, aka enslaved concubines for the ruling class, in places like the Texas Senate to protest its legislation restricting access to abortion.
On Thursday night in New York, though, their DIY robes got a high-fashion upgrade, thanks to the indie label Vaquera, which teamed up with Hulu to turn the series into a fashion show—one that was eerie even before guests stepped inside the Angel Orensanz Foundation, a Gothic Revival former synagogue on the Lower East Side. The line of downtown kids clamoring to get in was actually across the street, meaning that, after having their bags checked, many show-goers crossed the street in pairs, just like handmaids.
Once show-goers like the actress India Salvor Menuez and the artist Chloe Wise found their way through the vaulted space to their seats, a cacophonous soundtrack complete with heavy breathing replaced the sounds of birds chirping overhead, and the first handmaid stomped out in a reliably red, albeit somewhat Comme des Garçons-like garb, along with an only a slightly altered bonnet.
She was soon followed by a bonnet-less woman who kissed her before pushing her out of the way to pose for the cameras. (Definitely against the rules in Gilead.)
From there, the cast of mostly unsigned models played out what was essentially Handmaids Gone Wild, filing out in their red and white ensembles to stomp around, hitch up their pants, eat oranges, litter the runway with remnants of said oranges, throw shredded flowers at the photographers, and forgo real clothing in favor of a veil-enshrouded umbrella.
There were some more sober—and a bit on the nose—elements, too: One woman had her hands bound with rope behind her back, where she clutched a giant white flower, while another wore a dress where a “votes for women” sign served as an apron. After all, Vaquera, which is made up of four twentysomethings—Patric DiCaprio, David Moses, Bryn Taubensee, and Claire Sully—has never shied from a theme.
Their last collection was gleefully theatric take on the American dream, with looks like a dress made of enough American flags to trail for yards behind the model, and a dress that was straight up an oversized blue bag from Tiffany & Co.
Despite their oversized ambition, though, the label is still, mostly underground; that last show was in fact their first-ever on the official New York Fashion Week calendar. Which is in part why “little tiny Vaquera,” as Moses called it, welcomed a collaboration with the decidedly not so indie Hulu, after their friend, the artist Dena Yago, first approached them while consulting Hulu’s marketing department.
“There’s already so many clothes in the world, so whenever we put together a collection, we always talk about having a really strong message behind it,” Moses continued. “Hulu has a much wider reach, so it’s cool for us to have this platform to make a statement.” (Indeed, it’s even reaching those in DiCaprio's small hometown in Alabama, to his disbelief.)
As ever for the brand, that statement was centered around individuality, though it did expand to include empowerment this time around to further line up with the series—not that the designers wouldn’t have gotten political without the prompt.
“The thing that I keep on saying is that it is really relevant right now, but people have been oppressed forever, so it’s always a relevant time for this, no matter who’s in the White House,” Sully said.
After all, Atwood’s original story is based only on things humans have actually done throughout history—something the designers (save for Moses) were familiar with, having previously studied up on the novel.
“[Trump’s election] definitely influenced our rage,” Sully continued. “But in a way, that rage should always be there. Because all this is always happening.”
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