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Sunday, June 26, 2022

New York Fashion Week: inclusivity centre stage at raw and diverse Telfar Clemens show | New York fashion week

The motto of Black-owned New York fashion brand Telfar is “It’s not for you – it’s for everybody”. If this has been hailed as a win for inclusivity, the epic show at New York fashion week was about defining what that meant for designer Telfar Clemens and his collaborators. A press release, handed out to guests, asked “how can a Black business with almost entirely Black customers – be the result of someone else’s inclusivity?”

The exploration of what inclusivity means to Clemens and collaborators was an assault on the senses.

It began with a film from Telfar TV – the channel set up by the brand earlier this year. With the raw but fun feel of late night TV, presenters included designer Telfar Clemens and singer Ian Isiah, with different fans of the brand calling in, spontaneous prayers and sleepcams.

This was followed by a more conventional fashion show, with a diverse cast and live experimental jazz collective, Solange collaborators Standing On The Corner Art Ensemble.

The models wore an extremely covetable collection of sportswear-influenced clothes – the inspiration for which began with Clemens’ work for the Liberian Olympic team last year (he is Liberian-American). Here there were longline basketball shirts to baseball tops and ski suits. A pair of tracksuit trousers with cut-outs on the model’s legs managed to give a new spin to this extremely familiar item. The Telfar T logo found on its sell-out bags was transposed to the top of knee-high boots set to be equally in demand next season.

A model walks on the catwalk during the Telfar New York Fashion Week show.
A model walks on the catwalk during the Telfar New York Fashion Week show. Photograph: Dan Lecca

After a further screening from Telfar TV, a second part of the collection was debuted – with oversized denim, long skirts and more baseball shirts. It culminated with all the models, Clemens and collaborators flooding the stage. “Wow,” said Clemens over a microphone. Any guest watching the hour-long visual spectacle would have to agree.

Telfar was founded in 2005 by Clemens and his business partner Babak Radboy. Initially popular within the club scene they were part of, the brand hit the radar of the wider fashion industry with the vegan leather shopping bags they are now known for.

First on the catwalk in 2014, the bags – which were based on the dimensions of a Bloomingdale’s bag – have become a runway success. Sometimes called the “Bushwick Birkin” thanks to its popularity in the fashionable Brooklyn area, the bags have now been worn by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Oprah and Solange, and won Telfar the Fashion Design of 2020 award from the Design Museum.

The bag was a pandemic success story. Lyst named Telfar’s medium shopping bag the “hottest product” in the third quarter. Searches for the brand rose 61% while demand for its totes increased 270%.

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