Elena Velez’s Witchy Creation for Taylor Swift’s “Fortnight” Is Tortured Poetry at Its Core

taylor swift wearing an elena velez design
Elena Velez on Dressing Taylor Swift for New VideoCourtesy of Elena Velez
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In the co-op of tortured poets, Taylor Swift and Elena Velez hold permanent residence.

Last week, Swift released her 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, and with it, debuted a haunting music video for lead single “Fortnight.” Swift, a woman known for sprinkling hidden messages in both her lyrics and her sartorial choices, looked to one of New York’s most provocative emerging designers to outfit her for a scene in the video.

The ensemble was created by Milwaukee-raised, 2024 LVMH Prize semifinalist Velez, a designer whose artful, largely upcycled clothes highlight the beauty in chaos. Velez’s 2021 debut collection was crafted with abandoned ship scraps, like sails, rope, and discarded metal, inspired by the childhood she spent with her mother, a ship captain on the Great Lakes. For her Spring 2024 show, Velez dressed her models, many with exposed surgery scars, in pieces crafted from aggressively plain materials like canvas, and then had them break out into a literal mud fight.

In the video, Swift wears Velez’s inky-black Victorian-gothic set constructed from high-low materials, like a bustle from Amazon Prime, yards of fine silk, and polyester “stitched together with desperate and delusional tenderness,” the designer tells Harper’s Bazaar. The top is all ruffles, buttons, and drama, while the skirt is a voluminous cascade of pleats. It’s a look from Velez’s most recent collection, titled EVSALON_001, shown during the first presentation of an ongoing a series of salon-style events she’s hosting “with cultural and literary criticism at their core.”

Velez got the request for the loan from stylist to the stars Joseph Cassell and admits she “mulled over it for a few days.”

“Maybe it’s contrived, but I rarely loan, and when I do, it just has to make conceptual sense,” the designer says. “It means the most to me when a style comes full circle on a character who speaks to all the quirky attributes I imbue it with.”

For those familiar with Velez’s still-emerging trajectory in the fashion world, where she has often stirred controversy and been labeled as an outsider, a mainstream collaboration with the world’s biggest pop star may seem counterintuitive. But if you know anything about Swift—the emotional songwriter, antihero, and feminist artist—this partnership actually makes sense.

a look by elena velez
Courtesy of Elena Velez

Velez’s work is deeply emotional and personal. She has an unapologetically fierce, no-bullshit approach to design. As Velez explains, “I just crave depth and complexity, and I think my work tends to freak people out because they aren’t sure how far I’ll take it.”

Hers is a story similar to Swift’s own journey in music, at least as far as that drive and deeply rooted sense of self-exploration are concerned. And of course, the controversy. The musician’s trajectory has been filled with record-breaking wins, and in tandem, the constant criticism and high-profile feuds that gave birth to her angry 2017 album Reputation, and to TTPD tracks like “thanK you aIMee,” about her viral war with Kim Kardashian.

Also, both Swift and Velez, in their own ways, are keen to speak about the complicated nuances of feminism.

The Velez-designed look Swift wore to sing about treason and love as torture in “Fortnight” was designed as an extension of Velez’s “fascination with the iconic American antiheroine Scarlett O’Hara: her reconciliation with apocalypse and determination toward self preservation.” Finding beauty in destruction and power in messy women like the Gone With the Wind protagonist is a recurring theme in Velez’s collections; and reinventing herself and embracing her critics’ image of her as a difficult woman is something Swift knows all too well.

“Taylor Swift x Elena Velez doesn’t make much sense without a good story, which the art directors of ‘Fortnight’ really gave us,” Velez says. “From the outside looking in, I really loved the [Frankenstein author] Mary Shelley aesthetic on her. It’s the culmination of a lot of funny overlaps in the zeitgeist, namely our relationship to reason and romanticism.”

In the video, Swift lies chained to a bed without a mattress in a stark white asylum, wearing a white dress. As she sings about the love that’s driving her mad, she strides into a room where masked black Victorian-looking figures and singer Post Malone (who guests on the track) are seated at desks typing, and a typewriter is waiting for her as well. In Velez’s nostalgic look with matching lace gloves, Swift begins to type, over and over: “I love you, it’s ruining my life.”

In the next scene, she and Malone are lying on a pile of papers that form a silhouette of her head in profile. Then they’re on their feet, embracing and happy, Malone—now minus his trademark face tattoos—mugging for the camera, as the pages float up and swirl around them. “And for a fortnight, there we were forever / Run into you sometimes, ask about the weather / Now you’re in my backyard, turned into good neighbors / Your wife waters flowers, I wanna kill her,” Swift sings.

post malone and taylor swift
Courtesy of Elena Velez

“I think to some people, The Taylor Swift Brand™ is something of a Frankensteinian machination, in that despite the artifice and calculations of a pop music inception, her music really does speak to a uniquely modern sort of female esotericism,” Velez says.

The designer says she is decidedly “not a Swiftie,” but her art, like the superstar’s work, is all about embracing womanhood in its most raw forms—celebrating sexuality, rage, power, passionate love, delusion, and even absolute fucking insanity. “A lot of my inspiration revolves around complicated and paradoxical representations of womanhood: our proclivity toward wickedness, moral ambiguity, and application of eroticism,” Velez says.

I ask Velez if this Swift moment means she’s now crept her way into a fashion realm with more mass appeal. “Mine is a punk brand in a highly censorial cultural landscape, and I don’t map cleanly enough onto a lot of establishment matrices, which makes the industry nervous,” she reflects. “But at the end of the day, it’s important for artists to know that they can hold tight to the things they believe in and still get a big win.”

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