The complex interconnections between religious beliefs and fashion have been increasingly recognized by researchers, journalists and avid fashion lovers.
The list of exchanges between fashion and religion is long, and goes back to the late ’30s when Elsa Schiaparelli borrowed the symbols of the Vatican flag and embroidered Saint Peter’s keys on an evening suit, launching the “Celestial Line.”
Latinos often describe their faith as intimate and reciprocal relationships with God, family and community, with these relationships playing an important role in health and well-being. And as such, designer Willy Chavarria presented his latest spring collection at the historic Marble Collegiate Church (founded in 1628), one of the oldest continuous Protestant congregations in North America.
No stranger to religious controversy, famed entertainer Madonna made a front-row appearance, giving testament that even the most powerful establishment in the world can be challenged, and in the same manner Chavarria has proposed with his “Please Rise” collection.
“Because I was raised Catholic, I have a strong belief that good overpowers evil, and I do feel like there is a loss of God in the world,” said Chavarria backstage.
The Latino designer has seen a successful progression from season to season, and his latest offering cements itself as his most elevated and extensive yet — amping up the couture details and tailoring, presenting an array of suiting (mainly double-breasted) with a bold, strong shoulder paired with exaggerated collared shirts, cotton shirts resembling clerical collars, ultra-wide-legged pants, skirting and oversize baggy shorts in variations ranging from all sequined to sheer organzas. “It was important for me to have a show that was for revered people, showing things in the most elegant, refined and respectable way,” Chavarria said.
The lineup was a harmonious infusion of religious garb meets classic workwear, rounded off with Chavarria’s ever-evolving voluminous silhouettes.
Chavarria is a master at mixing workwear elements with streetwear, always resulting in an unexpected yet alluring silhouette. This time, monastic vibes took over, with pieces such as oversize (knee-length) white crewneck T-shirts paired with all-black trousers (for the altar boys), mesh tops in cardinal red with wording such as “Cathesicm,” and maxi floor-length coats that resemble clergy attire.
“I cant get away from sex, but this was all about sensuality,” professed Chavarria. And in a season where many collections have featured either sexually charged looks or allusions to sexual tension, Chavarria opted to go the opposite route. Though many of his looks usually offer a sexual connotation, the designer said his latest offering was rooted in sensuality versus sexuality — “sexuality is so easy, everyone is doing sex right now, and I feel we’ve lost this incredible elegance that lives in sensuality.”
The uses of transparencies via sheer organza oversize shorts, mesh tops revealing subtle hints of skin, boxy workwear shirts buttoned just above the waistline (with revealing torsos) and a black coated tank top paired with a papal red satin pant adorned with an oversize rose and large, pleated train, played into Chavarria’s refined universe.
The designer also highlights collaborations with Pro Club, FB County and Dickies, styled within the elevated lineup. “It was important to give these iconic labels the attention they deserve as they have had such an impact on American style,” said Chavarria.
The show’s opening sequence included an a cappella song, written by American singer, composer and performance artist Dorian Wood, which touched on the realities about being divided, with walls between us, and how we are separated by the powers that be. These notions also permeated the show’s all-street model casting, featuring models of all races (not just Latino). “It was about solidarity and how strong we look when we are with our people, it’s one of the most beautiful things to witness,” said Chavarria.
Will the Latino designer ever reach a tipping point? Let’s hope so. Still coming off a high from being named as the recipient of this year’s Cooper Hewitt National Design award for Fashion Design, Chavarria’s latest effort has once again proved the importance of highlighting key aspects of the Latino culture melded into modern American fashion, a formula we have come to yearn for from Chavarria.
“I will never reach the top, I’m always trying to do the most perfect thing I can formulate, it will be an ongoing journey of trying to get there, and I’ll be doing that forever,” stated Chavarria, before sharing his next dream project: Underwear à la Chavarria.