It’s apparently not enough anymore for a designer to just do good clothes, he has to deliver an experience, too. Telfar Clemens mastered both with his spring collection. Part of it was beyond his control. It was pouring, the show was outside on the Blade helipad on the FDR and 34th Street, and the weather contingency plan amounted to a tarp jerry-rigged to a chain fence, sheltering only the portion of the audience that could fit under it. When it buckled under the weight of the raindrops, someone came out with a broom and poked it until the water drained off. Eventually, the wind blew the tarp away completely. Everyone got wet. Everyone coped. It brought a bemused camaraderie to the atmosphere.
Weather aside, there was a lot going on. Clemens staged his show of unisex clothes around a barebones performance medley anchored by a single drummer and FAKA, the queer South African music and performance art duo comprised of Fela Gucci and Desire Marea. It was pretty impossible to take your eyes off them, with their hypnotic sound and stage presence that seemed to only amplify in the rain. But if you did, you saw a collection of casual everyday American clothes — denim, camp shirts, polos, cropped tops and T-shirts — astutely tweaked, deconstructed and, perhaps most significantly, branded in an impressive way.
Clemens moved the needle on familiar silhouettes just enough to make them a little off, a little surprising to the eye. He spread shirt collars, raised the waistline on cotton pants and kept the legs a little looser and longer than expected. The jeans were great, reconstructed from various washes, cut into chap-like pants or fused with cuffs or waistbands printed with the classic Budweiser logo. The T-shirts were better, made by layering and patchworking the Bud logo with Clemens’ own, a good design that was also used on hardware and bags.
He’s wise to acknowledge the power of a logo and work on refining it. Clemens’ profile has been raised significantly since winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award last year after many spent on the fringes. He was early to the gender fluid/unisex concept that is suddenly front and center in fashion. As his spring show demonstrated, clothes are but one part of his message of inclusivity, diversity and cultures that haven’t gotten much attention from fashion until recently. That message will grow louder as his brand grows, emphasis on the word “brand.