Photography: Kohl Murdock
To fully experience Namilia’s provocative brand, you’d need to attend one of their after parties. This season’s unfolded at the Owner’s Suite in Hotel on Rivington, where a flock of New York cool crammed together to dip into the open bar, sponsored by Nicki Minaj’s own MYX Fusions Moscato. (Open bars are like magnets for fashion’s underpaid twenty-somethings, who’ve spent weeks skipping their go-to parties in preparation for NYFW. No one wants to seem desperate, but we’re all desperate).
While the Pussycat Dolls’ “Buttons” played on blast, models wearing Namilia’s BDSM looks writhed on a hotel bed, as photographers all squirmed—cameras flashing like paparazzi—to catch the perfect shot. At the center of the room was a clear box, filled with mini vibrators and condoms—both free—setting guests up for a good night, regardless of them ending up alone or with a stranger. A life-size cut-out of Minaj overlooked the party, which collectively felt like an archetypal Hollywood depiction of “Fashion Week,” laced with sex, pop culture and American ideals.
As Berlin-based designers observing Western society, it’s fitting Namilia’s Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl would piece together a party that highlights the most superficial elements of music and fashion. A PCD soundtrack, celebrity-endorsed alcohol sponsor, quintessential “hotel room party”—the spectacle was a perfect complement to Namilia’s spring ’17 collection, which celebrated, criticized and subverted American values through fashion.
This season saw the two amplifying elements of their VFiles debut, which they designed to celebrate our obsession with stars, like Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus. Namilia focused this lineup on dismantling the patriarchy and redirecting the sexualization of women by objectifying male icons, like Justin Bieber, Zayn Malik and presidential hopeful (hopeless) Donald Trump. Featuring patches of Trump’s face superimposed on porn stars, images of Justin Bieber as Jesus and statements like, “You Can Put It Anywhere,” or “Take Down Trump,” Namilia’s collection was a confrontational, stylized intersection of everything we’re culturally inundated with.
We caught up with Li after Namilia’s charged presentation to discuss designing BDSM looks, objectifying idols and celebrating sexuality.
You always approach fashion from a pop culture perspective. What was this season’s angle?
The starting point this season was reversing the patriarch concept of sexualizing and objectifying women by turning the male into sexual playthings. We also looked at contrasting different ideas of female power for example the classic dominatrix, BDSM visuals and the obsessive power of teenage fandom to create a new form of alpha girl gang. As pop culture has always been a main focus for us, we chose the most relevant and contemporary male idols of pop culture and turned them into sex objects trapped in our clothes.
Do you see connections between pop culture and religion?
As Europeans looking on American society, it seems strange to us that celebrity culture uses the topics of religion and politics to build up a certain image or sales strategy and that people actually respond to that. Therefore the intensity of fandom is definitely comparable to that of a religious group or cult. Just look at Justin Bieber or Kanye West fans who’d pretty much do anything for their idols. They completely objectify their idols to subjects of desire and elevate them to a God-like level. In the collection, we’re using this energy in an ironic, fun way and turning those boys into sexual playthings. We wanted to mirror, but also ridicule the issue, and use it in an empowering way.
How do you feel Namilia’s brand of sexuality empowers women?
We just think there is still such a mainstream idea of feminism. Last year when the Pirelli calendar shot by Annie Leibovitz came out it stated ‘this year we want to celebrate the women for their achievements and not their physical appearance,’ and they shot them all dressed up in shirts and suits, which I felt was such a step backwards. What is this supposed to tell young girls? That you can only be treated seriously if you are dressed up as a man, and that showing your sensual side makes you a bimbo? We’ve come a really long way regarding gender equality in the last century, but there are still so many gender issues and preconceptions so deeply rooted in our minds that we still have a lot of work to do.
There was a strong BDSM presence this season. Why?
We wanted it to be more grown-up and aggressive than past collections. Trump was the last icon to come into the collection [because] we think it’s simply something you cannot ignore, and as designer we have a platform, but also a responsibility to address issues [that] concern us. The phenomenon Trump truly shows you the maximum level of power, combining patriarchy, religion, politics and celebrity culture, which is super scary.
Beyond Trump, you’ve also featured Justin Bieber and Zayn Malik, depicting them as religious figures.
For me, personally, Justin is the most powerful celebrity, right now, when it comes to the level of obsession and fandom with teenage girls. He also uses religion as a main part of his stage image and music. When Zayn split up with One Direction, there was this crazy hashtag #cutforzayn, when girls actually started to cut themselves and post images on social media to express their grief. You can feel the level of influence and power these boys have over their fans. In the collection, we turned the whole thing around and trapped them into prints and embellishments to create a new girl gang [that] doesn’t just follow their idols, but takes control and dominates them.
How do you think Namilia has grown since its American VFiles debut?
I think we’ve really found our core message over the last seasons and tried different way to express that. Redefining feminism in 2016, youth culture, the power of teenage imagination and fantasy are all recurring themes. This season we went a bit darker, more aggressive and grown-up than the last collections. It was also our first stand-alone show and we’ve started to work with Kelly Cutrone of People’s Revolution, which has been an amazing learning experience. We hope this is the start of a long lasting relationship and we’ll be back in February to harass everyone again until [they all] understand and accept [us].