Tisci forces NY Fashion Week to confront city’s past

The line between creating commentary on social events and exploiting them as a commercial endeavor is dangerously fine in every industry. The art world, however, is often given a little more leeway; and yet fashion, un­like music, visual art and film, is consistently deprived of the space to grapple with social is­sues and to use art to communicate something deeper than which shoes are “in” this season.

When New York Fashion Week coincided with the anniversary of 9/11, most designers chose to keep fashion and world events sepa­rate; Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci, how­ever, was not going to let a day so pivotal to American history slip by unobserved. Instead he chose to use the opportunity to create a con­versation about human connection and the uni­versality of our experiences.

Held at New York’s Pier 26, in view of the 9/11 memorial, the show’s setting subtly under­scored Tisci’s message. The set, in turns elegant and utilitarian in appearance, blended seam­lessly into the background of skyscrapers, roads and bridges.

Art director Marina Abramovic used re­claimed wood and recycled metal to construct a world that was at once broodingly meditative and strikingly beautiful. Without overshadow­ing the models themselves, the set accentuated the themes that Tisci strived to bring to the sur­face and added to the somber undertones of the show.

The soundtrack incorporated Arabic, He­brew, Hindi and Latin music, and embodied a blend of hymns and prayers of an array of cultures and religions. A guitarist and a singer perched high up on the set, exemplifying the impossibility of separating art forms into dis­tinct categories.

The show was open to the public, a rarity in the exclusionary events of New York Fashion Week. Its relative accessibility is a step–albeit a small one–toward breaking down the barri­ers that continue to exist between the fashion world and the “real” world.

The runway itself was anything but straight­forward, both figuratively and literally speaking. The platform was punctuated with crudely built wooden steps, a subtle comment on the dimen­sionality of fashion that is typically disregarded.

But the show was not limited to the runway; the scaffolding surrounding the catwalk took on a life of its own. While the audience’s eyes re­mained glued to the catwalk, their surroundings continually shifted and changed, influencing the onlookers’ perspective of the show wheth­er they were aware of it or not. A robed figure perched above the crowd, leaning on two olive branches; a woman stood motionlessly under a ceaseless stream of water; a man moved in slow motion through the crowd. Still others made vague gestures, played instruments or simply presided over the runway.

The collection was a blend of styles, intro­ducing modern cuts and silhouettes while still remaining classic and elegant. As always, Tisci embraced juxtaposition: the clothes combined structure with softness, femininity with mas­culinity, formal wear with lingerie. There were stiff tailcoats worn over flowing slips, tuxedo pants with lace stripes up the sides, and sculpt­ed suits left open in the front to reveal intricate undergarments. The neutral tones of the col­lection itself allowed the clothing to stand out without overpowering the show’s backdrop– both the physical set, and the historical impor­tance surrounding it–that permeated the usual­ly superficial tone of Fashion Week.

Tisci included a small preview of his mens­wear collection, further adding to the underly­ing ambiguity of the event. There were few dis­tinct differences between the male and female models’ attire, a small triumph in a business that typically separates gender into two distinct cat­egories.

Tisci’s presentation of his spring 2016 col­lection emphasized that fashion is intrinsically linked with all of us, a reality that is often for­gotten in an insular world where couture gowns and diamond accessories are the norm.

Designers rarely dare to acknowledge the influence of world culture and events on their collections; stepping outside the realm of art for art’s sake has proven to be a dangerous move in an industry that cannot stick to a trend in shoes, never mind political views, for more than a few months. Tisci, however, managed to hon­or a pivotal moment in world history without causing further strife; his tribute had a unifying effect, instead of dividing onlookers along po­litical lines.

The subtlety of the tribute spoke to the emo­tions and ambiguity that underlie the events of September 11. In addition to serving as a re­spectful reminder of the tragedy and exuding a sense of patriotism, which is true of most, if not all, 9/11 commemorations, the show offered a sense of harmony and spoke not only of one particular moment in human history, but of hu­manity as a whole.

That is not to say that Givenchy’s show marked a turning point in the diversification of the fashion industry. The usual aesthetic still prevailed: the models were, as usual, uniformly tall, slender, and predominantly white; the few exceptions that could be found revealed a meek effort to embrace world diversity. Although the acknowledgment of world events is certainly a step in the right direction, the industry undeni­ably still has a long way to go.

New York Fashion Week is inextricably tied with 9/11. In the past, the fashion industry has chosen to glaze over what is, to many, no more than an unfortunate coincidence of unrelated events, instead of paying tribute to such a mo­mentous national tragedy.

By acknowledging the day’s importance, Tis­ci opened himself up to the recrimination not only of fellow designers, critics, and editors, but also that of the outside world, whom he alone dared to let in.

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