What do we do with Americana?
This is a question that designers are wrestling with in Donald J. Trump's America, where to don a sweater bearing the American flag or other staples of patriotic kitsch might mean something very different than it did prior to November 7. Yet, this season designers at New York Fashion Week offered a modern interpretation of a theme that has been a constant since long before Ralph Lauren donated $13 million to Smithsonian to help restore the Star-Spangled Banner.
In New York, veteran designers, everyone from Raf Simons to Coach's Stuart Vevers, toyed with the meaning of the American spirit, while young designers like Eckhaus Latta and Vaquera seemed to relish challenging conventional notions of national pride. Meanwhile, over in Los Angeles, designers like Tommy Hilfiger paraded red, white, and blue down a Venice Beach runway, an exuberant show of patriotism that was only slightly complicated by his public admission that he'd be happy to outfit First Lady Melania Trump, whom other designers have refused to dress.
For his debut at Calvin Klein, Simons started off the week with a statement: David Bowie's "This Is Not America" was the soundtrack for a collection of reinterpreted American classics—varsity sweaters, Wall Street suits, and Western staples like denim-on-denim, cowboy boots, and button-ups. He also commissioned a permanent installation from Sterling Ruby that utilized, among other materials, shredded American flag-printed fleece. "We’re thinking about how to redefine American culture, particularly at a time like this," the artist told W. For a Belgian designer and recent immigrant to New York City—where immigrants were either detained or turned away at JFK airport just weeks before the show—to cut up the American flag and piece it back together again was a powerful symbol.
Simons was not the only one making political statements on the runway, although his might have been the most subtle. This re-interpretation of Americana actually began back at Paris Men's Week, when Demna Gvasalia showed his take on American corporatism for Balenciaga Fall 2017, which included an overt nod to Bernie Sanders and his campaign logo. In New York, other easy political references came in the form of Public School's "Make America New York again" red hats as well as Prabal Gurung's slogan shirts, which took street style by storm along with Dior's "We should all be feminists" T-shirt.
Over at VFiles, Strateas Carlucci's kinky cowboys took the runway wearing "Fetish" t-shirts, proving that one way to make Americana great again is to sex it up in a Peter Berlin kind of way. Eckhaus Latta had a much more sobering approach, however. Disheartened by the election, designers Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta stopped creating for a brief period, and then returned to the studio with an empowered statement.
“I remember being in the studio and then crying and going to a protest and being like, ‘Okay, how do we deal with this?’," Eckhaus told W after the show. "And then coming out of that and being like, 'Well, we love what we do, it feels important to us...and it’s important to be doing these things that feel so counter to where our government seems to be going at the moment, and really sink into that excitement.” The show closed with model India Menuez, whose orangey-red hair was bumped-up in a Trump-like fashion, wearing a dress embroidered with the phrase "IS THIS WHAT YOU WANTED."
Finally, in one of the more striking shows among up-and-comers, young designers Patric DiCaprio, David Moses, Bryn Taubensee, and Claire Sully of Vaquera showed their interpretation of the American Dream on Sunday night. All hailing from working class, rural American cities (Alabama, New Jersey, Indiana, and Virginia, respectively), the designers thumb national archetypes for inspiration—last season taking on collegiate life and for Fall 2017 exploring the idea of white collar versus blue collar, insider versus outsider.
Specifically, the collection was meant to address "what it means to be content in America" today, DiCaprio said. "We looked at the idols that Americans look to, and have looked to in the past, and what they mean." The designers referenced the uniforms of everyone from construction workers to waiters, closing with a chef instead of a bride. And these looks were then juxtaposed with a dress made to look like the iconic Tiffany & Co. blue jewel bag and a harness fashioned out of pearls.
"We had Tiffany's in mind way, way before the election began," DiCaprio continued, referencing the notorious Tiffany's box that First Lady Trump gave Michelle Obama before the inauguration. "It started with Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany's and was a funny reference to that, but we don't mind the political parallel."
"They'll probably need a rebrand," Moses said of Tiffany's, smirking. And whether he was joking or not, the designers gave the American flag a re-brand of sorts as well, with a long train dress that dragged it along the floor of the runway.
"The symbol of the American flag is really strong, and I think in a way this look is us being sad about the way that it's changed," continued DiCaprio. "I think if Obama were still president, we never would have made this dress and dragged the flag across the floor. It's us saying that the symbol is important to us, and it's sad that we've lost that symbol to Donald Trump. We can't truly love it anymore because it means something else."
"It's a subversion of patriotism," added Sully. "But also a beacon of hope at the same time."
Watch W magazine's "I Am an Immigrant" video, below.