A stage framed by a tattered American flag; a soundscape of blues, R&B and rap; rhymes about land, loss and fathers “black and blue before you,” and models of all colors trust-falling into the crowd and onto a human runway, carried by friends and supporters. That was “Country,” Telfar’s fall 2019 spectacular, a moving commentary about race on a day when blackface scandals made headlines in both politics (Virginia) and fashion (Gucci).
“Everything is so boring and standard, I want to have experience,” Telfar Clemens said backstage at Irving Plaza, articulating his fashion week vision while wearing a Black Lives Matter x Telfar T-shirt, for sale online as part of the movement’s art, culture and fashion initiative.
No one will soon forget this experience, a new benchmark for the activist designer’s collaborative power to create something that transcends fashion in medium and message to become its own kind of performance art. To develop the concept, he partnered with playwright Jeremy O. Harris, whose “Slave Play” at the New York Theatre Workshop in December and January generated so much buzz that it sent Clemens scrambling to meet him via social media.
“He was a fan of the brand, and immediately we fell in love,” the 2017 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner recalled. “He agreed to write some lines and we had a lot more collaborators, too, it’s beautiful.”
Those collaborators included some seriously impressive names: sound artist/DJ Ashland Mines, aka Total Freedom, who set the evening’s aural environment; blues guitarist Robert Randolph, who offered up some swagger; “body drama” choreographer Xavier Cha, who helped the models hone their crowd surfing skills; emotive R&B vocalist Oyinda, who managed to sing on her back while being passed overhead; rapper Butch Dawson, who kept the beats going seamlessly into the Budweiser and White Castle-fueled after party, and more.
The clothes had their own higher production value, too: corduroy suits with the cool, detachable sleeves that have become a Telfar brand signature; high-waisted trousers with a distinct slouch; T-shirts and knits with shredded fringe hems; flared denim worn with unisex-y crop tops, and thermals and hoodies emblazoned with “Country” and “Telfar.”
Even after the main event was over, the excitement around Clemens was so palpable fans were trying to crash the green room. Next season, he could probably sell tickets.