Pageant of The People

December 17th, 2016  |  Published in December 2016

As we welcome the holiday season, most high fashion brands are focused on transitioning their buying clientele from fall / winter to resort collections and preparing for the debut of their newest runway collections in February. This time of transition is the perfect opportunity to reflect on collections we may have missed amid the hustle and bustle of the Spring 2017 season presented in September.

An important show, largely under-reported in the mainstream media, though spoken about in fashion publications Vogue and W Magazine was Opening Ceremony’s runway show that took place in September called Pageant of the People. Now nothing is really ever new in the fashion world these days, but this show was truly one-of-a-kind in its mix of fashion show and comedian-helmed pageant. The latter highlighted the November election’s most fraught issues in a question-and-answer format with celebrity “models”.

The show began with male models wearing Opening Ceremony’s newest set of Varsity jackets and carrying in flags from all over the world. Although they used the word pageant in the event’s title, this was more an example of an Olympic Opening Ceremony (pun intended) more than anything. No matter; it made a statement to mark that this night was more about those those things that affect us as people of the world, not just the nation, than the clothes on our back.

Next came an opening monologue from Portlandia stars Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen that continued to set the tone for the night. Their quips continued as the female models began to walk the stage in looks from OC’s newest Fall II & Winter collection.

Every immigrant charts new cultural frontiers, the collection shares that sense of exploration,” said co-designer Humberto Leon who created the collection with his partner Carol Lim. Being first generation Americans influenced their work as they showcased looks charting the journey of the explorer of America’s new world. Some pieces highlighted the beauty of America’s landscape “from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the California coastline, the Great Plains to the Alaskan tundra.”

It made for a diverse collection to be sure, while all of the pieces screamed the easy, daywear aesthetic that the brand is known for. But the night was not really about showcasing fashion in the traditional sense. They were not setting out a brief of what you should be wearing to be considered in. Instead they were celebrating diversity in its purest form. “Inspired by the American immigrant experience, it is a space where unconventional beauty—and ideas—are celebrated.”

In between the newest pieces being shown to the captive audience at the Javits Center on this September 11 night, emcees Brownstein and Armisen directly interacted with the celebrity comedians, actresses, and activists, asking them each a question on topics about everything from immigration to women’s rights. Among the women who walked the stage, Ali Wong was asked about balancing family and career, while Rashida Jones covered the refugee crisis and why Americans should care about it. Rowan Blanchard spoke on feminism and how it can be more inclusive. Later in the show Diane Guerrero answered a pointed question on immigration and Sarah McBride spoke about what it means to be an American today.

Each question, reminiscent of a traditional pageant finalist question, pointed to an important topic that men and women alike were seeking answers for during this electoral season. While not meant to be the definite answer on the topic, the celebrities’ answers highlighted the need for thoughtful discussion on each and every topic.

It begs the question, hindsight being 20/20 with the election over, about the true goal of this runway show-turned-pagent. Was the goal of this presentation to raise issues important to the designers and their celebrity friends? For sure, yes. And it’s certain that their answers resonated with many members of the general electorate as well, not just those sitting in the audience or watching at home.

But the underlying theme of the show was that, in the end, the most important thing is to vote. This was clearly a direct message to the young audience that Opening Ceremony caters to. The brand is relatively young, as compared to luxury brands Christian Dior and Chanel, and its core demographic is the younger, now growing up Millennials and the always young at heart. The night ended with the poignant question, “Why should we vote in November?” As Rashida Jones said quite succinctly, because you can.

It is with great hope that this type of event spurs continued creativity among designers to consider the runway show as performance art vs. a walking retail store. Although on the extreme end of the spectrum, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim proved that you can make an artistic statement just as loudly on a runway as in the halls of an art gallery.

Jenny Perusek is a freelance Brand Manager, specializing in fashion and the creative arts.

Image courtesy of Opening Ceremony.

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