Photography: Morgan Young
Willy Chavarria knows how to throw a party. Even when it’s not a party, per say, but the presentation of his S/S ’18 collection, “Cruising,” which took place at The Eagle, a storied leather bar in Chelsea that Chavarria and his team filled with flickering candles, piles of flowers, and burning smudge sticks. To get in, each guest was given a plastic rosary in lieu of a wristband. And with onlookers lining one side of the bar, cocktails in hand, the models proceeded to walk languidly — with all the devil-may-care swagger of a well-dressed dude on a big night out — down the makeshift runway. It felt less like being at a fashion show and more like simply watching a collection of the most interesting-looking people you’ve ever seen enter a room.
The clothes, too, are ready for fun. With charged riffs on brands from Coors to Marlboro courtesy of artist Brian Calvin, there’s a tongue-in-cheek, Warholian sensibility to Chavarria’s wares that ensures you’ll likely be seeing items like a pale blue turtleneck with a pair of lips printed on it in future street style shots. Pastel colors, an homage to Chavarria’s California childhood, are given much-needed edge by leather hats, pants, and jackets (occasionally worn with as little as possible underneath). Shapes are oversized but cropped, and there are several references to the lowrider culture Chavarria grew up around, including those large, crisp button-down shirts; short, wide-cut pants; and satin-embellished tracksuits.
But for all its fun, “Cruising” is also very much about both a clashing and a coming together of cultures. From rosaries and floral crosses in a gay bar to the melding of California lowrider culture with ’80s leather nostalgia to symbols of American capitalism turned into calls to action, Chavarria is skilled at setting up and subverting dichotomies. And, somehow, he still manages to make everybody look really cool while doing it.