When it comes to Fashion Week, designer Telfar Clemens rarely plays by the rules. Over the past few seasons, he’s become increasingly adept at subverting the conventions of a runway show; for Fall 2019, he proposed the notion of front row as mosh pit, staging a performance that was part rock fest, part musical theater and saw punk-rap band Ho99o9 and playwright Jeremy O. Harris on the same bill.
Harris was among the friends and family members who braved the blustery winds and torrential rain to gather in a warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn, last night for Telfar’s latest fashion happening: a screening of the trailer for The World Isn’t Everything, a film about the Spring 2020 collection he plans to present in Paris later this month.
As a first-generation American who arrived from Liberia at age 5, Clemens is personally affected by President Trump’s restrictionist agenda on migration. The pontoon logs scattered around the room for the audience to sit on offered some clue as to how those politics might play out in the six-minute clip. The video opens with an unsettling tableau: A young black man is floating on a raft dressed in a long brown trenchcoat, seemingly adrift in the middle of the ocean. Before you have a chance to wonder where on earth he’s headed, you’re suddenly transported to an anonymous airport security checkpoint. The brand’s distinctive vegan leather handbags are seen passing through TSA on conveyor belts; a saliva sample is taken; a metal detector is swiped across black and brown bodies clad in graphic, asymmetric Telfar tees.
The list of the film’s credits reads like a who’s who of downtown creatives; Petra Collins is one of three directors who worked on the short, much of which was shot off the shores of Staten Island. DJ and artist Juliana Huxtable appears in the clip, as do musicians Ian Isiah and Kelsey Lu. But it’s fair to say that Ashton Sanders, who is best known for his role in the award-winning movie Moonlight, is the star of the show. The talented 23-year-old actor attended the Met Gala as Clemens’s guest this past May and is captured on film through a fish-eye lens in what appears to be an interrogation room. (Believe it or not, all the airport scenes were re-created in the designer’s Brooklyn studio.)
“We’re making a movie, and this is just the beginning,” says Clemens, who was being trailed by a camera crew as the short film flickered on a massive screen behind him. “I really want to start working in a different way, to relieve myself of the schedule.” Early indications of the collection to come are promising for sure; the vaguely groovy, retro tailoring of Fall comes furnished with functional trimmings—cargo pockets and drawstrings. There were glimpses at a decidedly radical athletic future too: Consider the sweatpants with cheeky cutouts and thigh-grazing gym shorts. Though the event had a strict no–social media policy, Clemens seemed nonplussed about the idea of a look or two leaking online. “The idea is that one day we’ll be releasing things on our own time,” he says. “We want to take the business into our own hands.”
As for specific details about the show in Paris, Clemens is keeping mum. In the meantime, there are fun and games in New York to keep his fans busy. Tomorrow, the brand will unveil new uniforms designed for the Swiss Institute in New York, and on Tuesday night Clemens is hosting a party to celebrate the opening night of Slave Play, Harris’s buzzed-about Broadway debut.
Originally Appeared on Vogue