On the second night of Williamsburg Fashion Weekend, Geary Marcello prepped his models while wearing a purple plaid schoolgirl skirt over his pants and a three-inch spike through his septum.
“It’s about New York in the ’70s, in the disco era, when everything was whimsical and a novelty, but still had edginess,” said the bubbly designer of his FoXXy Face Couture line. “My shows have been called controversial, but I’m not trying to be controversial about sexuality or politics or anything else. It’s about creating a feeling.”
As models from all five designers, who varied from the tall and sculpted of New York Fashion Week to the totally normal, buzzed about the high-ceilinged backstage room at Villain on North 3rd Street, Marcello moved on to the uncontroversial subject of 1930s-era porn. He had somehow obtained a DVD copy of some, and planned to project it on the wall beside Villian’s main stage while his models walked.
“Soft porn today was hard porn then,” Marcello’s partner Rob Ordonez told us. “And the actors are all just housewives and regular people.”
WFW has garnered a reputation for the ridiculous, and as each model is allotted 45 seconds (a really long time) to strut around the small stage, many designers choose to camp things up with dance or performance art. Marcello was no exception.
“The concept of my choreography tonight is that it’s still a male-dominated world, no matter what anyone says,” said Marcello. “Women are still expected to be seen and not heard. But in my show, women rule the world, and men worship them and submit to them.”
A fit and strikingly beautiful male model in a floor-length silk skirt and silver chain-link necklace with a gold padlock approached Ordonez, rubbing his hands over his bare chest and abs. “Do you think I should use some makeup to highlight my contours?” he asked, “Or maybe some oil, so I’ll shine!”
“You are not getting oil all over that skirt!” snapped Ordonez.
Marcello has shown at Williamsburg Fashion Weekend’s fall season for the past five years, and he was one of several returning designers over the course of the weekend. Despite this, WFW founder Arthur Arbit told us that he doesn’t plan to turn WFW into an alternate version of NYFW, in which the same designers convene each year with a new collection. “We want people to get noticed, to develop, and then go on to bigger and better things,” he said. “It’s an incubator. We’ve had people move on to Mercedes Benz, and people get picked up by Nordstrom.”
“I look for people who give spectacular shows” said Arbit, who is a spectacle himself with his long grungy hair and the navy military suit and officer’s hat he wore on Night Two, complete with a graphic tee depicting what looked like Reagan and Gorbachev in the nude, giving each other handjobs. Arbit said he gives the designers “friendly encouragement” to be as theatrical and attention-grabbing as possible in their shows, but in the end it’s up to them.
“The thing about the theatrical elements is that it will show the audience the designer’s artistic sensibilities, beyond just fashion,” he said. “You get to know the designer better.”
Shute Organic presented first, and backstage designer Amanda Isaac was dressed in the same sunflower headdress and glittering gold makeup as her models. She uses turmeric and mudder (an herb) to die her bamboo fabric delicate shades of pink and orange; she then “hand destroys” them to make sheer netting dresses with draping open backs.
“These are all my friends,” she said, about the models in her show. “I’ve never done anything like this unless it was with people who inspire me.”
Five pounds of gold glitter confetti sat in packages on her prep table. When the show began, each model took one out onstage with them and threw handfuls up in the air, or fanned themselves with the open bag, or dumped it on themselves. One girl danced wildly onstage to the point of nip-slippage, with glitter falling in streams all around her, but Shute Organic’s real showstopper was Gerald Cotiangco, a petite male model in one of Isaac’s destroyed shirts who danced with strip-club prowess for his 45 seconds, and ending by writhing on the floor in a pile of glitter.
“This is all totally new to me! I figured I’d just get up there and dance,” he told us afterwards, adding that Isaac is a friend who recruited him at their day jobs.
“We both work at Soul Cycle!” he said.
The night before, at the opening of Williamsburg Fashion Weekend, we were impressed that the show started only five minutes late, as NYFW shows run notoriously behind schedule and at the whim of anybody who happens to be important (Jeremy Scott started 45 minutes late last week because Nicki Minaj hadn’t shown up yet.) But Arbit ascended the stage promptly at 9:05 p.m. on Friday night, in a gold suit and black top hat, reminding us of Beetlejuice with his long stringy hair and leery demeanor.
But after about 9:20 p.m. or so on Saturday, we entered into that universe of absurdity in which you want to get a drink or use the bathroom but are also terrified to do so, because the show could arbitrarily start at any moment. So Night Two was looking more and more like NYFW. There was even a posse of thin blondes in head-to-toe black taking an album’s worth of selfies and ignoring the presentations. They were Marie Chevalier, Elisa Profit, and Valerie Weber, freshman at FIT by way of Germany and France who arrived in New York for the first time to attend school in mid-August.
“We were working for Fashion Week, but we like this better,” said Chevalier. When asked why, after conversing for several seconds with the other girls and asking us to take a photo of them, Chevalier responded on behalf of the group: “because it is more unusual, so it is better.”
Williamsburg Fashion Weekend is fun and theatrical and electrifying, but isn’t actually that much weirder than Mercedes Benz’s tented version. What about NYFW’s resident oddball Thom Browne, who last season blindfolded ten male models and tied them to metal hospital beds to serve as scenery while the female models walked? What about the sequined Coca Cola logo dresses at London’s Ashish? Even Vivianne Westwood uses zombie makeup sometimes.
(For the record, Williamsburg’s Fashion Weekend is better than NYFW, but only because the designers/photographers/
Arthur took the stage for his languid intro on Saturday at 9:36 p.m., approximately. Following Shute Organic was ShocKVintage by Ramono Martelli, which is a collection of his original designs, despite his use of the v-word.
“I was always a shocking boy,” he told us. “And I also have a recycled vintage line, where I take vintage pieces and I shock them,” he said, popping open his hands like fireworks at the word “shock.”
He makes exactly one of each piece of clothing.
“I don’t ever mass produce, because I want people to feel special,” he said. “So I just make it and move on.”
Hot pink fur was a definitely a motif of his collection, along with camouflage print headscarves, and a vinyl leotard with a pattern of neon fruit. Martelli emerged at the end in the black floppy hat of a medieval minstrel and a shirt with oversized royal blue ruffles along the sleeves to take his bow.
Melissa Lockwood showed her IQ Test line, made of fabric strips that she salvages from “very clean garment district trash bins,” according to Arbit, and SDN showed his minimal black-on-black collection of drop-crotch onesies, draping tops, and a bowler hat made of just-barely-metallic oxblood fabric with a lace ribbon above the brim.
Arbit came onstage between each act to make jokes and butcher the name of each designer’s collection, but for Marcello’s FoXXy Face Couture, he gave a serious and loving intro: ”His collection is all about the ’70s. Do you remember the ’70s? Lots of flare pants, lots of hairy chests. I know, I miss it. Now here’s the thing about Geary: he always brangs the show.”
He brang it. Grainy images of definitely-not-softcore ’30s porn played on the side wall, but nobody watched it, as Marcello’s sequined pistol belt buckles, ball-gown made of hot pink vinyl, and wolverine claw adorned with brown skulls were much more interesting.
A high cheek-boned and vaguely androgynous blonde woman with a scary stare walked out wearing a natty black fur stole and a purple gown decorated with paisley velvet. She looked like the queen of the underworld. Each model remained on stage after their 45 seconds in the spotlight, and once all the walks were over, they start revolving in slow circles around each other, the men bending down before the women, the women pulling the men along by their chain-link necklaces. Impeccably choreographed and awesomely creepy, they climbed over each other and kissed here and there along with an extended mix of “Fuck the Pain Away,” until Marcello appeared to take his bow and ordered two of the female models to kiss, which they did, smirking underneath their now-smudged fuchsia lipstick.