Rather unsurprisingly starting an hour late, and so around the same time Tom Ford's runway show began, the infamous VFiles kicked off New York Fashion Week with a show at Brooklyn's Barclays Center. And kick start the week with a bang they did, from the very get go. Before any of the models had engaged on the runway, Offset – of the highly successful and relevant Atlanta trio Migos – used it to drive his spanking new yellow Lamborghini towards the center stage in the middle of a startled crowd. Moments later, he was pulling on a blunt as he stepped out of the luxurious vehicle to find his seat in the front row. Not bad for a show opening. More entertainment than fashion, but that seems to be a common thread this season. Especially considering the presence of high profile music artists at VFiles – namely Ty Dolla $ign, Lion Babe, Yung Lean, Joey Bada$$, Young Paris, Trinidad James, Jessie J, Tinashe, and most surprisingly Slick Rick – who were already reason enough for the attendees to be impressed.
Photos courtesy of VFiles
Although it would be unfair and unfitting to reduce VFiles to a brand or a collective, you could regard it as a New York-based effort collaboratively connected and inspired by a global fashion community. Founded in 2011 by Julie Anne Quay, it's been championing emerging creatives to provide a platform for young and under-the-radar designers as well as obscure designers. In doing so, it also has had somewhat of a participatory Midas touch in the successful trajectory of up-and-coming brands. Gypsy Sport and Kzaburo, for instance, who presented their first collections with VFiles are among today’s brands to be watched. The former organized one of the most interesting and original runway shows last year, and the latter, nominated for a 2017 LVMH award.
The designers selected to present their collections this year were JunJie Yang, a menswear designer based out of Belgium whose work is characterized by the attention to craftsmanship; Louis Pileggi, a womenswear designer hailing from Chicago and residing in London, known for his precise attention to fabrics and cuts; London-based Christian Stone, who describes his take on couture as “mutant artisanal,” breaking codes of today’s dressing by interpreting what they might become in the future; and Benzo from INXX, a Chinese platform that prides itself in facilitating a melting pot between streetwear, subcultures, and both past and present fashion.
Always grateful that representatives from other cultures have generously learned English, without which this interview would not have been possible, we spoke to all four designers about their involvement with VFiles, how it feels to be part of New York Fashion Week, and how those two things are interconnected.
Robin Torres: VFiles is one of the various driving forces in how NYFW is changing. Today you are showcased here as part of the designers that VFiles expressly selected to feature this season. What does it mean to you?
Pileggi: New York Fashion Week to me represents sort of my first idea of what fashion is and the designers who got to show here. I had the chance to see them going to department stores or going to shops, so it represents the beginning of my enjoyment of fashion, and what inspired me to work in fashion. Today, NYFW represents a playground that I finally get to play on.
RT: Do think NYFW the way we know it will be different in the future?
Pileggi: I think it’s important to hold on to some of the history of what New York Fashion Week is, to its tradition. There is so much room to play around in and there are many new ideas that can be brought to the playing field with what to do with it next. It’s important that it changes, evolves, and develops. But it should stay NYFW, and to me it’s still very exciting.
Yang: To me, NYFW is a great place for emerging designers. It's a good promotional platform. I feel like there is more energy going on in NYFW and it's very different than Paris Fashion Week. Paris is more for well-developed brands. I am a new starter and I am blessed to be here to share my work.
Benzo: NYFW is very malleable. I mean, look at all the designers here tonight – some are creating crazy pieces and others are really tailored. Everyone has an opportunity to do what they want, and everyone can choose what they want to show, freely. The reason we chose New York is because, to me, New York, Paris, and Tokyo are the most fashionable cities in the world. In my mind, New York is the first stop.
Stone: I think there has always been potential in NYFW to find new and exciting fashion. If you talk about what used to be the modern days, there was Helmut Lang, and he was revolutionary. Today, he continues to do something revolutionary through Shayne Oliver [one of the designers of Hood by Air] so I do think if things are new and groundbreaking, they get noticed. No matter what region it comes from. I suppose that in some cases, for brands that appear to be groundbreaking in New York, it is because they are based in New York, so it makes sense, but now they can also be from anywhere. VFiles is a part of that.
RT: Why do you feel VFiles is so successful where other brands might fail, say in capturing the attention of a new generation or as a platform for more progressive designers?
Benzo: The brands that are coming up under VFiles are very new and very different. It’s an up-trend, a unique type of company. Coming to New York, I wanted to offer something different to anybody else and VFiles allows me to do it. It’s great to be at New York Fashion Week, it’s exciting. I studied in Canada for ten years but New York is where I like to be, where I really enjoy hanging out, and I am very happy to be here. But we will not stop here; we are going to introduce our new brands in Tokyo or Paris. We want to be everywhere! The idea is to place our brands overseas and see how it goes. Especially Western people, I feel they are really receptive to the Eastern culture.
Yang: VFiles is not just a platform for designers or to produce fashion. It's about youth culture…I don’t know….cultural recycling maybe. Music and art influence it. In the 90's it was about Rock and Roll culture and now it's about something else, maybe Hip Hop, youth, I don’t know… We want to be slightly on trend but not really chasing trends, looking forward. I think that is the right strategy, and that’s what VFiles does.
Pileggi: For me, it's bringing in young talent that has experienced life in the environment of (pauses) I guess you can call it “street culture,” which involves music, art, and all these things that make Manhattan great, that make New York great. But this is also subjective because my collection might not be considered “street” but I feel like I want them on the streets! (laughs)
Stone: I don’t think that VFiles fits any specific category. They collaborate with a really wide range of designers who are very different, in ethnicity or say international versus local designers. They all come to show their work under VFiles and I love that they don’t discriminate against anyone, or anything. You’ll see some designers making some huge ball gowns, others making streetwear, other making crazy menswear, or womenswear… You get all these different people under VFiles so it’s a very important platform within NYFW to showcase diversity: of designers, of models, of backgrounds…