For quite a while now Opening Ceremony's Carol Lim and Humberto Leon have tried to come up with new concepts for runway presentations: three years ago, for example, they launched their collection via a play commissioned to Jonah Hill and Spike Jonze (and directed by Jonze) staged at the Metropolitan Opera.
Last September, instead, during the US presidential campaign, they organised a political show entitled "Pageant of the People" and featuring Portlandia's Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen.
The show took place at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and featured models and non-models, including Whoopi Goldberg, Rosario Dawson, Saturday Night Live star Aidy Bryant, and LGBT activist Sarah McBride.
Different issues were addressed by the participants, including the refugee crisis, economic inequality, feminism and women's rights, LGBT rights, climate change and the US presidential elections. Eligible people who were at the show could also register to vote on the premises.
Including striped ribbed-knit maxi dresses, puffy jackets, skirts and shirtdresses with tiered ruffles, and patchwork denims, the collection referenced the Blue Ridge Mountains, the California coastline, the Great Plains and the Alaskan tundra (but you had to read the notes to make all the connections as the references weren't certainly immediate).
According to the duo, the designs referenced images of their parents, who moved to the States from Korea, Hong Kong and Peru, and of immigrants arriving on Ellis Island. They were therefore a celebration of the American immigrant and the event was aimed at raising awareness, even though it felt at times a bit cold and neutrally pointless (it seems hard to believe that Opening Ceremony's liberal followers are Donald Trump fans, but, just in case, there was no direct mention of any candidates during the show, just to be on the safe side...).
Yet that happened before Donald Trump was elected, and now the Opening Ceremony duo seem to have more to say. Their Spring 2017 collection debuted this time not with a catwalk show but with a performance in collaboration with the New York City Ballet.
Performed at the end of January at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center while the travel ban was enforced and people were demonstrating at Kennedy International Airport against it, the piece was entitled "The Times Are Racing" and was choreographed by Justin Peck to compositions from Dan Deacon's 2012 album "America".
The ballet featured dancers in T-shirts and sweats with the words "Defy," "Protest", "Change", "Unite," and "Fight", and pieces inspired by 19th century photographs of Ellis Island with prints based on illustrations from a fairy tale book given to children at Ellis Island.
The resident choreographer of the New York City Ballet who has already collaborated with Opening Ceremony on the duo's S/S 16 catwalk show, asked Humberto Leon to create the costumes for the piece before Election Day, but with the new President in power, it seemed logical to turn the event into a fashion presentation as well, considering also the fact that the ballet inspired the collection and vice versa.
According to Peck and Leon, the clothes were supposed to be a call for action, they represented indeed the empowerment of the individual, while the casual and street styles comprising shorts, leotards, jeans and sneakers had to remind people that America is a melting pot where all sorts of people cross paths.
Like the themes behind the ballet or Opening Ceremony's messages? Then you will be happy to hear that, apart from the tops included in the performances, the "Global Varsity Collection" is now available on the brand's site: it includes several jackets in the colours of the flags of various countries, decorated with their national symbols (prices: from Euro 590 to over one thousand euros for the more elaborate Mexican varsity jacket; mind you, despite the good intentions, the flag idea is not new in fashion, besides, a few years ago, Nike managed to come up with a better transnational garment via the S.P.L.I.T. jacket...).
Yet it wasn't the varsity jacket collection that caused some concerns, but the sweats: after people started pointing out that the press release/news and information regarding the call for action tops emphasised first and foremost the fact that they were immediately available online, Opening Ceremony announced the company will donate 100% of the profits from its "Action" collection to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a non-profit organisation dedicated to defending the rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the USA. The incident seemed to confirm that the designers were trying to cash in on the current political situation.
It is obvious that, while Carol Lim and Humberto Leon do believe in these messages, they have to rethink the contents of some of their collaborations: so far all their efforts on the stage and for political pageants have indeed turned into excuses to launch hip events with cool people and employ them as a marketing strategy.
From now on they may have to put purpose first and strengthen the message they want to give, otherwise their rather general fight and act messages (against what? aganst who? adding an object wouldn't hurt here...) may turn into vapid and superficial slogans encouraging consumers to merely engage in a temporary protest-themed shopping spree, rather than to speak out and make themselves heard.