Rise, a civil rights accelerator, is hosting its first annual New York Fashion Week survivor fashion show on Sept. 10 at the Museum of Modern Art.
Designed to draw attention to sexual assault survivors and those who advocate for them, the event will also highlight a United Nations resolution championed by Rise and introduced by Sierra Leone that aims to give access to justice for survivors of sexual violence around the world.
Thirty-five percent of women around the globe — 1.3 billion people — are sexual violence survivors, according to the World Health Organization.
Survivors of sexual assault will walk the runway with a celebrity. They will sport garments from Phillip Lim, Chloe, Diane von Furstenberg, Obey’s Shepherd Fairey, Bobby Hundreds and others. The runway will feature such well-known personalities as Paris Hilton, “Star Wars” actress Kellie Marie Tran, citizen astronaut Kellie Gerardi, gymnast Katelyn Ohashi, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor Terry Crews, Africa Rising Foundation founder and Nelson Mandela’s grandson Kweku Mandela, poet and UNHCR goodwill ambassador Emi Mahmoud and Rise’s Nguyen. There will also be an opening dance act that cannot yet be revealed.
After attending a NYFW show, it occurred to Nguyen that the question that she was being asked a lot was, “What are you wearing?” That query resonated since she had been asked it before. “In the context of fashion, it was really empowering and fun,[signaling] your agency, your choice to put together this piece and be present for this show. Those exact words I had heard in the polar 180[-degree] opposite context, which was after my rape — ‘What were you wearing?’” she said. “And in that context, it’s meant to shame and blame victims.”
After realizing “the journey” she had experienced in hearing that question for two such vastly different reasons, Nguyen said she wanted to arrange for survivors to walk the runway and reclaim that question “to be empowered instead of being victim blamed.”
Two hundred guests will be welcomed at next week’s show in MoMA’s atrium and each will be seated three feet apart. The crowd will largely consist of United Nations ambassadors, because many of the survivors bound for the runway have been advocating with Rise for a worldwide survivor bill of rights. That resolution will be presented by Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio next month during the 76th session of the U.N. General Assembly.
Rise’s founder wound up deciding on MoMA in a roundabout way. A few years ago as a fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, Nguyen met Paola Antonelli, who is the senior curator of the department of architecture and design and director of research and design at MoMA. Antonelli is also affiliated with MIT’s Media Lab.
The celebrity roster at the show is made up of friends of Nguyen’s and Rise supporters, who are keen to uplift survivors. As for how the survivor show will help to further substantiate the increasing purposeful consciousness in the fashion industry that is chipping away at its more frivolous reputation, Nguyen said, “Fashion is more than vanity. Fashion is a utility. We wake up every day and we choose what to wear. Therefore, the new fashion should be inclusive and conscious of the way that all of us are. I would be so honored to have this show contribute to that new world for fashion.”
The Rise founder emphasized that the standard age-old body type for runway models no longer holds true. Eager to “disrupt” that image, Nguyen said, “We should all have access to fashion. Fashion is for everyone. And on top of that, survivors should be able to have joy. This is not all about surviving, but thriving. It’s about healing. I want to make a statement that we are multitudes in walking the show.”