Photography: Courtesy Vaquera
A dystopian story about a society that forces women into slavery to bear children for the rich and powerful doesn’t exactly seem like the most likely candidate for a spin-off womenswear collection, and yet, here we are. When it was announced earlier this year that Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (based off Margaret Atwood’s book by the same name) would be getting the runway treatment, many people furrowed their brows in confusion. But fans of Vaquera, the New York-based design collective responsible for the sartorial adaptation, knew what was up.
Made of up millennial designers Patric DiCaprio, David Moses, Bryn Taubensee, and Claire Sully, Vaquera is known for taking on issues of gender and sexuality, capitalist greed, and Americana with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that has set the label apart from its contemporaries. For their first official New York Fashion Week show last season, the designers riffed on the so-called “American Dream,” which meant references to service industry jobs, Tiffany & Co and everything in between. Basically, this is all to say that if anyone were qualified to make Handmaids high fashion, it’s Vaquera.
While several looks in the collection incorporate the traditional white bonnets and oversize red garb the handmaids on the show wear, the designers also took some welcome liberties with the aesthetic, creating a variety of ensembles that definitely wouldn’t fly in Gilead. While ripped red jeans and a little red crop top are humorous given the context, the most awe-inspiring looks are the ones that go in the opposite direction, like a model almost naked under an umbrella, shrouded by a thin piece of white fabric hanging from the top. Others take on the history of feminism and women’s rights, like a reproduction of a suffragette’s costume from 1909 or a white dress covered in a tangle of fire engine red brassieres.
“There’s already so many clothes in the world, so whenever we put together a collection, we always talk about having a really strong message behind it,” Moses told W magazine. “Hulu has a much wider reach, so it’s cool for us to have this platform to make a statement.”
In addition to having a much wider reach, Hulu also has much deeper pockets than Vaquera or any other upstart label could hope for. The collection and star-studded presentation at the Angel Orensanz Center were both funded by the streaming network, setting an interesting precedent. While TV shows worth adapting into high fashion collections don’t come along all the time, will this be something we’ll see again the next time one does? After all, sending a collection down the runway ain’t cheap, and big companies like Hulu seem increasingly desperate for cred with the cool kids. Only time will tell whether the entertainment industry will be the future underwriters of fashion. For now, I’m just curious when (or, more accurately, if) we’ll see any of these looks pop up IRL. As strange as dressing up like a handmaid may be (and, make no mistake, it is really strange), that red slip dress sure is on-trend.