Fashion Brand ‘Opening Ceremony’ Goes Political at the NYC Ballet

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  • Humberto Leon
    American fashion designer
  • Justin Peck
    American choreographer
  • Carol Lim
    American fashion designer
Dancers from the New York City Ballet wore Opening Ceremony during the fashion label’s Spring 2017 collection debut. (Photo: Courtesy of Opening Ceremony)
Dancers from the New York City Ballet wore Opening Ceremony during the fashion label’s Spring 2017 collection debut. (Photo: Courtesy of Opening Ceremony)

On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order making good on campaign promises to ban an entire religion’s people from entering the United States. Refugees everywhere are prohibited entry for 120 days; Syrian refugees are denied entry indefinitely; citizens from seven majority Muslim countries are not to enter the U.S. for three months.

In response, Americans protested at airports that held detained travelers. At New York’s John F. Kennedy airport, hundreds gathered with signs welcoming immigrants and refugees to the country, defying the Trump administration’s immediately effective order.

The airport protest continued into the night on Saturday, but about 20 miles away at New York City’s Lincoln Center, Americans gathered for a different civic event. For a night, the New York City Ballet engaged politically, with the help of Opening Ceremony, an American fashion label led by Humberto Leon and Carol Lim. The duo debuted their Spring 2017 ready-to-wear line during a performance called “The Times Are Racing.”

#UNITE • #TheTimesAreRacing is back tonight at @nycballet

A photo posted by Justin Peck (@justin_peck) on Jan 28, 2017 at 4:26pm PST

If November’s presidential election shaped the performance itself, as choreographer Justin Peck said, so too it influenced Opening Ceremony’s spring collections. Last week, the brand revealed its “Global Varsity Jackets” collection which, as the name suggests, includes nearly 50 varsity jackets representing countries around the world (including two — Iran and Syria — that Trump included in Friday’s executive order). On Saturday, dancers swapped their ballet slippers for sneakers and donned the label’s “Action Capsule” collection.

There were no tutus during the Opening Ceremony ballet performance. Instead, Dancers wore streetwear that more closely resembled T-shirts you’d see at a campus protest than on a runway: tank tops, in hues whose boldness is only beat by the shirt’s text, mobilizing us to “DEFY,” “ACT,” “SHOUT,” “FIGHT.” There’s no ambiguity: The clothing serves as a call to action.

“I feel like in the past, the ballet hasn’t necessarily directly commented. But this is done in such a way where it reflects what’s happening, but in a way that both allows you to escape and moves you to feel and to react,” Lim told Yahoo Style.

The “Action Capsule” shirts were not the only statement pieces (ahem) to come out of the collaborative project. Google partnered with Opening Ceremony to design “Live cases” for its Pixel and Nexus phones that complement the clothing brand’s spring collection.

Google created $40 “Live Cases” for its Pixel and Nexus phones that match the Opening Ceremony’s Spring 2017 Ready-to-Wear collection. (Photo: (L) Tom Johnson for Opening Ceremony; (R) Courtesy of Google)
Google created $40 “Live Cases” for its Pixel and Nexus phones that match the Opening Ceremony’s Spring 2017 Ready-to-Wear collection. (Photo: (L) Tom Johnson for Opening Ceremony; (R) Courtesy of Google)

On how Opening Ceremony tries to reach beyond the fashion world, Lim said, “in using a phone as a canvas, we’re not only extending our collection, but also drawing attention to the importance of community to expand the conversation.”

This isn’t the first time Leon and Lim have opted out of a traditional New York Fashion Week runway show. Last year, the brand’s “Pageant of the People” attracted Claire Danes, Andrew Garfield, and Aziz Ansari as it championed democracy and diversity. (Saturday’s performance brought just as many notable names, including fashion writer Derek Blasberg, actress and activist Maggie Gyllenhaal, and actor Finn Wittrock.)

As other designers prepare for upcoming New York Fashion Week runway shows, Leon and Lim will continue to engage in the political and cultural issues that matter most to them.

“I’ve always felt like I wanted to use Opening Ceremony as a platform for a lot of things other than fashion,” Leon said. “Throughout our 15-year run, we’ve always dove headfirst into culture. Politics comes hand in hand.”

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Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Style and Beauty. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.