VOICE The Georgetown
November 16, 2018
[the fashion issue]
November 16, 2018
THE GEORGETOWN VOICE Volume 51 • Issue 7
contents The Curated Unconscious: A Contradiction in Thrift Mica Bernhard and Ava Rosato
Lost in the Machine: Self-Expression in Virtual Spaces Calvin Dass
Gaining Traction: Georgetown Alum Revives the Greek Sandal Katya Schwenk
Down the Rabbit Hole Fashion Issue Staff Rodarte: A Walk Through the Mulleavys’ Garden Max Fredell Gentlemen, Start Your Engines, and May the Best Woman Win Max Fredell and Kayla Hewitt
[the fashion issue]
“Are you Surreal?” by Egan Barnitt
7-12 13 14-15
The opinions expressed in The Georgetown Voice do not necessarily represent the views of the administration, faculty, or students of Georgetown University, unless specifically stated. Columns, advertisements, cartoons, and opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or the General Board of The Georgetown Voice. The university subscribes to the principle of responsible freedom of expression of its student editors. All materials copyright The Georgetown Voice, unless otherwise indicated.
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THE GEORGETOWN VOICE
Letter from the Producers Three months ago, we noticed a pattern: In fashion and in marketing, everything had become saturated. Colors like candy, photos like polaroids, and text like closed captions—all challenging the realism associated with photography. In an industry so concerned with luxury and self-image, we found fashion’s heightened playfulness and retrospection a welcome, if unlikely, juxtaposition. We wanted in. We searched for the weird, wacky, wonderful, and a word to capture it all. We settled on surreality—a feeling of the bizarre that could be achieved by tweaking our “normal” conceptions of reality. Just a bit. We wanted the issue to be a reading experience and a platform that promoted the clothing, businesses, art, and attitudes that we not only admire but also hope to emulate. This meant collaborating with D.C.-based businesses whose ethoses inspire us. We are lucky enough to feature three of them: LiLi The First, a local boutique with a curated collection of socially-aware and exciting brands; Maven Women, a sustainable company designed by women, for women; and Laiik, creators of handmade sandals with roots in both Greece and Georgetown. For our cover shoot, student artists designed wearable art inspired by surrealism, and for our written content, Voice staffers considered the complexities of fashion, from virtual reality (page 5) to the ethereal absurdism of fashion brand Rodarte (page 13). The colossal “Down the Rabbit Hole” (pages 7-12) is the most ambitious Voice photo production to date. We worked with 11 models, 12 balloons, two animal masks, and broke two cellphones in a month and half of photoshoots. We captured thousands of images and hours of video. Only a handful fill these pages but, as always, there are more goodies online at www.georgetownvoice.com. And now, we must part ways. As seniors, this is our last year producing the Voice fashion issue, although we will continue our ongoing project of exploring the culture and politics of fashion in our Voice-afterlives. So, please, fall with us down this rabbit hole. Let’s get lost together.
Emma Francois and Isabel Lord Fashion Issue Producers
staff editor-in-chief Jake Maher Managing editor Margaret Gach news
executive editor Alex Lewontin Features editor Emily Jaster assistant features editor Jack Townsend news editor Noah Telerski assistant news editors Rachel Cohen, Damian Garcia, Katya Schwenk
executive editor Caitlin Mannering Leisure editor Brynn Furey assistant leisure editors Kayla Hewitt, Brynne Long, Ryan Mazalatis Sports editor Beth Cunniff Assistant sports editor Jorge DeNeve, Aaron Wolf
Executive editor CHRIS DUNN voices editor Lizz Pankova Assistant Voices editors Mica Bernhard, Ava Rosato EditoriaL board Chair Nick Gavio Editorial Board Jonny Amon, Sienna Brancato, Chris Dunn, Claire Goldberg, Emily Jaster, Alli Kaufman, Alex Lewontin, Jake Maher, Caitlin Mannering, Phillip Steuber, Noah Telerski, Jack Townsend
Leisure editor Dajour Evans assistant leisure editors Inès de Miranda, Juliana Vaccaro de Souza, Nicole Lai Sports editor Santul Nerkar Assistant sports editor Teddy Carey, Jake Gilstrap, Tristan Lee
Executive editor Margaux Fontaine Spread editor Jake Glass Photo Editor Rachel Zeide cover Editor Egan Barnitt assistant design editor Camilla Aitbayev, Jacob Bilich, Delaney Corcoran Staff designers Kathryn Crager, Josh Klein, Lindsay Reilly, Olivia Stevens, ALex Wang
The Fashion Issue Staff Producers Emma Francois Isabel Lord Talent coordinator Anna Gloor Talent Rayo Adenuga Amy Meng Hanna Chan Elly Meng Norman Francis Jr. Dasoo Milton Yoon Mayeesha Galiba Zoey Needham Stephen Garrett Alexandra Rivera JJ Larkins
Contributors Derrick Arthur-Cudjoe Mica Bernhard Geritza Carrasco Calvin Dass Max Fredell Renee Gao
Panna Gattyan Amy Guay Kayla Hewitt Alli Kaufman Ava Rosato Katya Schwenk
Designers Camilla Aitbayev Jacob Bilich Delaney Corcoran Margaux Fontaine
Jake Glass Olivia stevens Alex Wang
copy chief Hannah Song assistant Copy editors Cade Shore, Neha Wasil editors Mya Allen, Emma Bradley, NataLie Chaudhuri, Brendan Clark, Kate Fin, Max Fredell, Nancy Garrett, Emily Kim, Moira Phan, Madison Scully, Sophie StewarT, Maya Tenzer, Kristin Turner, Megan Wee
Website Editor Maggie Grubert Podcast editor Parker Houston assistant podcast editor Devon O’Dwyer Social Media Editor Katherine Randolph Content Editor Claire Goldberg MULTIMEDIA editor Amy Guay
general manager anna gloor assistant manager of accounts & sales Isabel Lord
associate editors Sienna Brancato, Gustav Honl-Stuenkel, Julia Pinney, Eman Rahman
Kent Adams, Luis Borrero, Nathan Chen, Annemarie Cuccia, Haley D’Alessio, Errol French, Emma Francois, Bradley Galvin, Peter Guthrie, Caroline Hamilton, Dominic Parente, Roman Peregrino, John Picker, Zach Pulsifer, Will Shanahan, Cam Smith
NOVEMBER 16, 2018
The Curated Unconsciousness
A Contradiction in Thrift
odern hipsters enter a thrift store looking to repurpose grandma’s Christmas sweater from ’73 into a high-fashion statement of individualism and irony. But every friend of said hipster is also a hipster, complete with their own version of grandma’s Christmas sweater from some decade recognizable by its experimental haircuts. If grandma’s Christmas sweater ceases to be original because everyone is wearing it, how can we continue to call this fashion choice “unique”? In other words, at what point are we mistaking individuality for conformity? The unconscious of today’s college-aged youth is encompassed by archetypes like individuality, performativity, irony, and counterculture. Often, this demographic is dubbed “hipster” or “alternative” for its tendency to deconstruct and challenge mainstream culture through its members’ unique personal identities. Thrift shopping, specifically, is one area where today’s youth subconsciously fulfill these archetypes in pursuit of self-expression. The curation of thrifted fashions, however, also creates a paradox surrounding individuality as opposed to conformity: it seems like the movement towards individuality is actually becoming mainstream. This contradiction is referred to in psychology as the myth of consumer sovereignty, where fabricating an “authentic” identity through thrifted items is just an illusion disguising the commonplace behavior of youth today in the hipster marketplace. What’s more is that most young people who thrift don’t define themselves as hipsters. They are aware of their own tendency to conform but are still so convinced of their individuality that they reject fitting within a certain label. In the words of science writer Jeff Wise, “hipsters’ problem is that their purchases tend to place them in a category whose mythology they despise.” To understand the futility of their efforts to be an individual
while attempting to appear as one, hipsters adopt a sort of cognitive dissonance, which allows them to keep up their consumer behavior while separating it from the perceived core of their character. This contradiction illuminates the fallacy of the hipster, in which youth today unconsciously look to secondhand clothing stores to curate the illusion of individuality. This oddity also extends to the stores themselves. Curated thrift stores—in which the selections are handpicked, as opposed to Goodwill or The Salvation Army—appeal in particular to the aesthetic principle of why young people thrift. But in doing so, they become the opposite of what thrift stores are meant to be: an affordable option for people in need. This paradox especially applies to college kids who can afford to shop at more expensive stores, but instead opt for used clothing to rack up social clout. Hipster culture and the way it values vintage disincentivizes youth from shopping from corporate brands, instead persuading them to wear thrifted looks for all the wrong reasons. Sociologist Karen Hanlon coined the term “poor chic” to describe the fads and styles in popular culture that romanticize poverty and the traditional symbols of the working class. This trend borders on exploitative when it creates a spectacle of what remains a necessity for others. The more curated these stores get, the more expensive and further from authentic they become. Technically there are no official “thrift” stores left in Georgetown; only consignment shops remain, which are for-profit resale businesses. The Buffalo Exchange on M Street was a highly successful branch of its consignment store chain before it closed in October 2016 due to rent issues. Ella-Rue and Reddz Trading feature more highend designer clothing for those with bigger budgets. Regardless, students and other young people are willing to pay more for vintage items branded as novel, when the same items are being
mass-produced by commercial chains next door. In the spirit of absurdism, we assign more meaning and thus more merit to the thrifted grandma’s Christmas sweater simply because of the “vintage” history attached to it—because it’s fun to feel retro. Flashbacks are fashion-forward, yet the average consumer stands distant from the histories woven in with every thread. Students come and go, and so does the stylistic ethos of Georgetown. The kinds of fashion offered on M St reet have been in flux over the decades. The ’90s marked a clear departure from the independent, mom-and-pop stores and boutiques to a wave of corporate brands. With that, the cultural identity of Georgetown was redefined within the greater D.C. scene as less “cool,” despite its potential for hip student influence. Curated thrift stores are equally paradoxical to “individual” hipsters themselves for attempting sovereign identities amid the bandwagon of conformity. From interpreting friendships based on Myers-Briggs types to reading daily horoscopes, youth today are culprits of deception, constructing false realities in order to feel a sense of continuity among the absurdity of it all.
Mica Bernhard and Ava Rosato are juniors in the College and are assistant Voices editors.
THE GEORGETOWN VOICE
Lost In the Machine Self-Expression in Virtual Spaces
this piece that I chose to add the third emoji flag to my profile. The limitless possibilities and the ability to cover or change identities online enable people to more easily conform to the beauty standard of the dominant culture that surrounds them, just as I was able to cover my Indian identity because of my convenient skin color. Moreover, making a curated identity in a virtual space means submitting to the corporations who own the program you’re using. The possibilities of who you can be in a game or virtual platform are limited by the amount of money you can spend. This gives the owners of virtual programs control over people’s identity creation and allows them to profit from self-expression and theft of culture, just as the creators of Fortnite did by using dance moves introduced by famous rappers without giving credit or asking permission. That’s not to say that corporate control of identity creation and expression didn’t already exist. It is prevalent especially in the world of fashion and clothing companies, which profit off of a person’s desire to both conform and create their own persona. However, the key distinction between clothing companies and virtual spaces is that people can opt out of buying expensive clothes while still being able to engage with others socially. While clothing is a way to create your identity, it is not by any means the only one. But when the virtual space in which interaction happens is owned by a corporation, the owner of that space has the power to decide the available means of self-expression and their monetary worth, making it hard to opt out of existing options and still participate in the game. So, what does this mean for the future of fashion? Despite its flaws, virtual reality may enable people to be more creative with their designs and expression by removing some of the limits that the physical world places on us. But as I look at virtual spaces such as Second Life, where fashion is one of the largest drivers of the economy, it is clear that fashion has become another way for the owners of Second Life to profit off of creatives through transaction fees. Yet, it also means the freedom to express yourself will be decided by the people who own the spaces that you feel compelled to engage with. The ability to break norms and push boundaries will be determined not only by the courage of the individual but also by the limitations imposed on those spaces by the authority that owns it: What you can and can’t do to express yourself on Facebook is determined by Facebook.
he color of my skin and my accent have always made it difficult for people to identify my ethnicity. This first became apparent in primary school, when my classmates were shocked to find out that I’m Indian. I was constantly asked, “Why are you white?” and “Were you adopted?”, making me question what culture and community I belonged to. I had no obvious proof that I identified with the community that I did: I didn’t wear traditional clothing, I couldn’t speak Hindi, and I had only visited India once or twice. Because of the rejection I had experienced from my peers, I rejected my ethnic identity for most of my childhood by adamantly proclaiming that I was only Australian. I did not feel comfortable being in limbo. My experience is not the norm. I was only able to assimilate with my classmates because of my skin color. Being white-presenting is what allowed me to code switch so easily. For many people, their race and ethnicity are inescapable parts of their identities. But what if you could change aspects of your identity so quickly that code switching and fitting into societally- prescribed standards was as easy as changing outfits? What if the different components that are so integral to who we are suddenly became impermanent? Today, in the realms of social media and gaming, the ability to be someone else is a mere signup button away, putting into question how we define our true, authentic selves. On multiplayer virtual game platforms such as Second Life, your character is an extension of you. Customization, from the way you look to the jobs you perform, is elemental to the game. Even in Fortnite, an action-centered game where identity customization is not essential to the experience, different skins, objects, emotions, and dance moves are all available for purchase for the sole purpose of self-expression. These possibilities to constantly create and recreate yourself can be a source of entertainment and freedom. But they can also be dangerous, threatening to replace our authentic identities with artificially-curated selves. My Instagram is where I present all the artsy things I do. There are pictures of my trips to far-away places, the underground events I’ve gone to, and lots of cool-looking food. My bio, which summarizes the most important aspects of myself, has an Australian and Emirati flag, but not an Indian one, bec ause that would go against the identity that I have subconsciously curated to fit in with the mainstream. It was only after writing
Second Life only has 700,000 “residents,” which comes nowhere near the number of Facebook or Instagram accounts that exist. But with the race to develop the first truly immersive virtual reality experience and the virtual space that is created as a result, it’s important to examine the consequences that these new worlds have on our ability to express ourselves as individuals and the role that organizations play in enabling that self-expression. Having the essential components that represent my identity and heritage easily accessible on a marketplace terrifies me. Because I am constantly told by the people around me who I should be, I’m scared that I won’t have the willpower to remain as I am and that the traits that make me who I am will simply fall away like the fashion of last season.
Calvin Dass is a junior in the MSB. He likes the beach, food, and Sci-Fi.
November 16, 2018
Ze : Rachel
BY KATYA SCHWENK
GAINING TRACTION GEORGETOWN ALUM REVIVES THE GREEK SANDAL
ickolas Theros’s knack for selling sandals surprised him at first. He’s new to the business, but he’s a natural. He brought two pairs of his leather Greek sandals to the Voice office for his interview—one mustard yellow and the other bright turquoise. Turning them over in his hands, he described how he, a 2003 graduate of Georgetown’s Masters of Arts in Arab Studies program, found himself starting a familyrun, socially-aware luxury sandal business last year. The company, Laiik, opened a pop-up store in Georgetown this July. Nickolas Theros and his sister, Helene Theros, launched Laiik together, though he is quick to stress that it’s not a family business. “It’s family-run at the moment, but it’s a bunch of people,” he said. Still, the company is the brainchild of the Theros siblings. Down to the design of the sandals, it’s a synthesis of their lives. The Greek word laiik means “of the people.” It’s inspired, Theros said, by the vegetable markets in Athens, the laiki, where he and his sister spent time as children. They wanted a name that emphasized their GreekAmerican roots. “Greece had just been going through the crisis,” he said, referring to the country’s debt crisis and years of bailouts. “I wanted to focus on the resiliency of these people.” The siblings’ father, Patrick Theros (SFS ’63), was a lifelong U.S. foreign service officer posted primarily in the Middle East. He served as the U.S. ambassador to Qatar from 1995-98. Nickolas Theros himself was born in Damascus and grew up in Jordan, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. Still, Theros felt a strong connection to Greece, and the family visited the country regularly. “[Greece] was this oasis of stability in our lives, one that we felt very strongly about,” Theros said. “Shoes were a big part of that.” Nickolas Theros and his sisters, Helene and Marika, had been tossing the idea for Laiik around for years. Their family had always brought traditional Greek sandals back to friends, who loved them. “We were just like, wow, Greece doesn’t even realize what a market it has in the U.S. for these sandals,” he said. So when Helene Theros found herself between jobs in 2017, Nickolas Theros dropped his business consulting work to start the company with her. The two went on a soul-searching trek to Athens, armed with their idea to modernize Greek sandals for the American market. “We re-fell in love with Athens,” Theros said of this trip. “It’s like New York and Miami rolled up together. There’s so much energy, so much creativity.” In Athens’ Peristeri district, the idea solidified. The two discovered a shoe factory run by Dmitri Fanourgiakis and Sofia Samouridou, a married couple who had fallen in love in footwear design school. “They’re just insanely cool people,” Theros said. “Being a shoemaker is a tough life. You have to really love it.” All Laiik shoes are handmade in their factory. The trip to Athens also led them to their designer, Jemima Janney, who had worked with big-name labels like Rag & Bone and Billy Reid. Theros speaks highly of her. “She’s like us. Very philhellenic,” he said. Janney brought sleek designs and vivid colors to the sandals. The palette, she said, is crucial; she uses vegetabledyed vachetta leather from Italian tanneries to get it right. “Bright colors weren’t readily available in Greek history, so we wanted to use bold, vibrant leathers to bring new life to the sandal,” she wrote in an email to the Voice. The colors pop, but Theros, holding up the blue pair of sandals he brought, insisted that their shade of
turquoise could be matched with any outfit. That’s the delicate balance he strives to strike with Laiik—between old and new, bold and reserved. As he told Laiik’s story, Theros laughed easily at the risk that comes with this kind of venture. “I have a very healthy risk appetite. Maybe my mom thinks it’s unhealthy,” he said. “I love projects, but this one marries most of the things I want.” His passion for the project made it worth the financial gamble. This passion goes beyond just sandals. Theros describes the design of his shoes as intimately tied to Greece itself. The changes they made to the classic Greek sandal design are meant to reflect Greece today. “We wanted to also imbibe [the design] with the modern Greek lifestyle,” he said. “There’s this kind of DIY creativity, entrepreneurs flourishing.” While the siblings hope the shoes showcase Greek artisanship, they see the story as more complicated. Postcrisis, Greece still faces high levels of unemployment and a weak economy. “[Greece] needs help,” Theros said. “It needs access to capital. It needs all these different things.” Helene Theros feels similarly. In an email to the Voice, she described her vision for the company. “We wanted to highlight Greece not only as a beautiful place to visit, but a vibrant, creative country emerging from a difficult economic crisis,” she wrote. Greece also struggles to accommodate a constant influx of asylum seekers and economic migrants, primarily from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. These groups often cannot land formal employment and are forced into exploitative working conditions with no access to legal recourse. Nickolas Theros feels connected to migrant communities in Greece. He spent much of his childhood in the Middle East, and after graduating from Georgetown, worked for years with the private sector on reconstruction efforts in Iraq. He and his sister wanted Laiik to engage with the situation from the beginning. “We were asking, what are we doing to create added value for groups in need in Greece?” he said. “And that includes migrants.” Laiik is partnering with organizations in Athens that help migrants develop employable skills. The company plans to donate their scrap leather to these groups, where workers can turn it into marketable craft goods. This is part of Laiik’s focus on sustainability, too. They’ve vetted their leather provider for environmentally friendly practices, and are looking to get additional sustainability certifications. They want to minimize their waste, though Theros admits that it’s a work in progress. “If we couldn’t do the social and sustainability side, I don’t think we would do it,” Theros said. “We try never to forget it.” Theros knows that the company is just starting out, both in its social and business ventures. But he’s endlessly optimistic about the future of Laiik and for good reason. The company’s first summer was a success. Their popup shop, at the corner of Georgetown’s 33rd and M streets, drew attention—from shoppers and from fellow designers. “Other boutiques that are way more established than ours were sending people our way and buying our shoes,” Theros said. “It was really validating.” They’ll be back in D.C., he said, once it’s sandal weather again. “We are already lucky to feel that we got what would be considered in the fashion industry as traction,” Theros said. “Which is funny, being in shoes.” He laughed, but proudly. After all, that’s no easy feat.
down the PHOTO: ISABEL LORD ON NORMAN FRANCIS JR.: MODEL’S OWN CLOTHES
rabbit hole It’s an unmistakable feeling.
November 16, 2018
PHOTO: ISABEL LORD
It’s the most awful news. You’re going to love it.
PHOTO: ISABEL LORD ON HANNA CHAN: MODEL’S OWN CLOTHES
[dreams of pineapples and rainbows]
THE GEORGETOWN VOICE
PHOTO: ISABEL LORD
If we stand like this, I can read your mind.
PHOTO: ANNA GLOOR ON ELLY MENG (LEFT): OUTFIT CREATED BY RENEE GAO ON AMY MENG (RIGHT): OUTFIT CREATED BY PANNA GATTYAN
Operation is a go. Proceed to Rainbow Road.
PHOTO: GERITZA CARRASCO ON RAYO ADENUGA: DRESS AND EARRINGS FROM LILI THE FIRST (1419 WISCONSIN AVE NW)
♪ I fall in love every night and out every morning. ♪
THE GEORGETOWN VOICE
PHOTOS: ANNA GLOOR ON ZOEY NEEDHAM: DRESS, EARRINGS, AND BELT FROM LILI THE FIRST (1419 WISCONSIN AVE NW) ON STEPHEN GARRETT: MODELâ€™S OWN CLOTHES
Are you going to tell her? Or should I?
I think we should just be friends.
Tell me more.
A lot’s happened since breakfast.
COLLAGE: EMMA FRANCOIS AND ISABEL LORD PHOTOS: DERRICK ARTHUR-CUDJOE, EMMA FRANCOIS, ANNA GLOOR, AND ISABEL LORD ON ALEXANDRA RIVERA: “THE AMIRA” DRESS FROM MAVEN WOMEN (MAVENWOMEN.COM) MODELS: HANNA CHAN, NORMAN FRANCIS JR., MAYEESHA GALIBA, JJ LARKINS, AMY MENG, ELLY MENG, ALEXANDRA RIVERA, AND DASOO MILTON YOON
THE GEORGETOWN VOICE
A Walk Through the Mulleavys’ Garden
The exhibition ends in a metaphorical garden. In the largest collection, the dresses adorn mannequins frozen in motion, elevated several feet above the ground, leading the viewer to ogle upwards at their many-colored bodies. Deep violets, sparkling yellows, hot pinks, and fierce scarlets emanate from the different dresses in this room, the brightest of the collection. The well-lit room causes the mannequins to cast larger-than-life shadows against the walls. Wreaths of flowers hang on the heads of the mannequins, their arms laced with shawls of branches. In this last room, dresses are used to rejoin the body with nature. With this end, the designers end their commentary on clothing and its wearer, concluding that the clothing acts as a door between the world and the person. Likewise, they finish the exploration of their childhood imaginations, returning to the forests of play in dresses replete with the joy and wonder of their other collections. Finally, the viewer has to turn around, walk back through each room of collections, and leave through the doors from which they came. The experience is like a silken version of Hansel and Gretel; the dark forest lightens as you pick the breadcrumbs back up. The initial journey through each room seems to provide a contradictory lens from which to understand the sisters’ work, with turns in style and theme that can be frustrating and disorienting, like a darkening wood. Moving back through Rodarte reveals the continuity of theme from the Mulleavys, a nostalgia for a girlhood spent outdoors in Northern California reflected onto their pieces. The viewer picks up the breadcrumb design hints that the curator sprinkled along the path. There is a sense of relief, a jubiliance in the final room. It smells like flowers. Reaching the garden at the end, the atmosphere changes and, suddenly, the journey through Rodarte seems clear.
reality, her descent into madness mirrored by her unravelling dresses. On screen this metaphor may have been subtle, but in a vacuum, the effect is so obvious that much of its intended impact is sapped. The design of the room does not allow the viewer to get close enough to appreciate the particularities of each dress, causing them to blend together as sets and again diluting their effect as individuals. While the Woodshock display may be underwhelming, it helps illustrate the way in which the Mulleavy sisters challenge the distinction between clothing and the person wearing it. This theme is picked up in the next room, aptly-titled “Magical Beautiful Horror.” LED lighting adds to the space’s supernatural air, like midnight in a woodland meadow. The dresses are displayed on a circular platform in the center of the room, suggesting a continuity between each piece present. The contrast of knit-wear with unconventional materials returns; a pair of dresses, one a naturalistic brown and green, the other a mildly demonic black and red, are a combination of decaying knit wear with spiked Louboutin’s. Mirrors in the center of the room expose the backs of the dresses and the faces of the viewers. The highlight of this room is a set of dresses, silken and flowy like those from the first room. Each one boasts a white base, and every successive dress features more scarlet dye than the last, like the same model is trying on each dress and bleeding out while she hurriedly finishes her photoshoot. The eerie effect is simple and successful. The dress becomes an extension of the mannequin, the line between the two made murky. The disintegration of that dichotomy coincides with one of the other major themes of the collections: the body as a medium to reflect gossamer, childhood memories. The fifth room is designed around the Mulleavys’ preoccupation with their childhood home in Northern California. The dresses don’t inherently belong in the same room. They all stand next to each other, but only creativity holds them together. Some evoke images of mermaids, fine China, or waves of grain. This playful imagery is true of the exhibition as a whole. These are not terribly serious pieces to be worn by terribly serious people; they are purposefully silly and joyous. In a another room, Star Wars-print skirts are paired with Swarovski-encrusted smocks; sock hop costumes feature a Starry Night print; a mannequin wearing a light-blue overcoat is reminiscent of a deconstructed Jackie O. The dresses pose in front of pleated grey curtains, seemingly pulled from a mid-60s beauty contest. The mixing of high- and low-brow fashion can be challenging, some of the digital prints on their own teeter toward kitsch. But altogether, the space is a rewarding exploration of costume—silk and embroidery transform a model from a person to a walking teapot.
odarte’s place in the National Museum of Women in the Arts is fitting; women started the fashion company of the same name, and its designs are for women. The exhibit showcases pieces from the company’s inception through its 2018 Spring/Summer collection. Founded by Kate and Laura Mulleavy in 2005, Rodarte featured its first collection in New York just weeks after finishing its design. Since then, the sisters have exploded in popularity, making friends with celebrities like Kirsten Dunst and dabbling in film. Their design philosophy ties in elements from their girlhood, purposefully feminine and childlike, curating collections that water a secret garden, hidden away from the male gaze. The exhibit is linear, featuring seven rooms, each with a distinct purpose and theme. The dresses on display are thoughtful and joyous with a composition of rich dyes and natural materials. While parts of the exhibit struggle with thematic cohesion, the sum of the gleeful design techniques of the Mulleavy sisters proves to be greater than the individual parts. It is only after one finishes Rodarte that it becomes obvious that the first room is not meant to be cohesive, but rather to serve as an introduction to the Mulleavy vocabulary of design. Rodarte’s seasonal collections are normally driven by narratives plucked from childlike imagination and hazy recollections. In the first room, however, there are designs from multiple different years’ collections and as a result, there are many ideas present. The center is a runway for three hand-dyed silk gowns, and the two adjacent sides showcase mixed-material dresses. The walls are lined ceiling to wall with mirrors, extending the room infinitely. While the gowns are eye-catching, the intricacies of the mixed dresses are even more mesmerizing. Some of the dresses have no care for human shape, made of leather slats stitched together with crocheted wool and smatterings of jewels. These more formless dresses are juxtaposed with the highly elegant, constrictive dresses directly next to them. This variation of design techniques seems at odds with the runway in the center. On the islands along the sides of the room, the contrast between traditional silk and leather with the abstracted use of the same natural materials for the other dresses, is hard to tear your eyes away from. Directly ahead of the first room is a small display featuring six dresses from Woodshock (2017), the Mulleavys’ debut film. The dresses hang from the ceiling in two rows, the small room they are held in made smaller by the platform underneath that provides descriptions. The pieces come in two sets, one white and one black. Each set begins with one immaculate dress, and subsequent pieces show the same dress slowly disintegrating through multiple recursions. In the film, the dresses are intended to symbolize the main character’s slipping grip on
By Max Fredell
NOVEMBER 16, 2018
BY KAYLA HEWITT AND MAX FREDELL
PHOTOS: MAX fredell design: JACOB BILICH
t’s a high heel race, not a sensible wedge trot,” a drag queen shouted to the crowd on an unseasonably warm October evening. It was the 32nd Annual 17th Street High Heel Race presented by Mayor Muriel Bowser. D.C. residents gathered to watch as people dressed in drag or Halloween costumes strutted down 17th. Spectators lined the streets, some toting small children on their backs, some donning a pair of pumps with sensible suits, while police officers stood stoically at the fringes. This year marked the beginning of a new era for the race. What was once a tawdry celebration for a few drag queens has become an official event run by the city and attended by thousands. An informal space has transitioned into a formal one. The race got its start on Halloween night in 1986, when a group of drunken drag queens gathered and started an impromptu dash between restaurants. Over the years, as the event grew, it moved to the night before Halloween to avoid congestion, and the police began to help block off and shut down the street. As the race increased in size, so did the hurdles organizers had to jump through to hold it. First, the city started requiring permits and fees for police presence. In 2011, to lessen the financial burden, the D.C. government began contributing funds. In 2017, the city became an official sponsor; Bowser added her name to the event this year. “I think that in some ways this is part of the larger cultural shift in the community,” said Ben de Guzman,
the community outreach relations specialist for the mayor’s office of LGBTQ affairs, of the government’s adoption of the race. For de Guzman, this shift is the culmination of years of work by the LGBTQ community. “This is reflective of the victories that our community has fought for, and it indicates the extent to which we have become part of the body politic.” *** About six months ago, on any given weekend, some of the participants at the race could have been found at Town, the former gay bar in Shaw. Town featured weekly drag shows, with all the perfume, loose dollar bills, and fake boobs that come with the atmosphere of a traditional drag show. Town’s success helped draw a whiter, wealthier demographic to Shaw. Eventually, the changing area became too expensive for those who had been living there, and the venue’s landlord sold the property to make way for new, upscale apartments. “Town was monumental,” said drag queen Kristina Kelly. “Now people are still trying to find their place, their next home until something else opens up.” For others, however, the bar was not so welcoming. “The closing of Town is a big deal for a lot of people, but honestly I never felt comfortable there. Even as a patron, it was tough,” said Jorge Escobar, who identifies as a black queer person, and is a member of D.C.’s only drag king troupe, Pretty Boi Drag. “I’ve performed at Town a couple times and it was not fun. It
was like cis gay men don’t want to see drag kings, and they are the loudest proponents of the queer community.” “[Town] pretty much used the gay community to make that place [Shaw] more viable. Gays are the frontrunner of gentrification. Wherever I move, there are some white people that follow me. White gays that are following me,” they added. On the northeast edge of the city, the D.C. Eagle has become a new home for weekly drag shows. Lit on all sides with rainbow floodlights, the gay nightclub stands out from the darkened skyline like the fabulous factory that it is. A few nights after the race, a crowd of locals gathered for the Friday night drag show. The show coincided with the weekly WOOF! Happy Hour at the D.C. Eagle, an opportunity for members of the leather community—a subset of the BDSM community who express sexual desires by wearing leather garments—to gather. Patrons used a darkened space in the back of the club next to a set of well-worn pool tables to change out of their day clothes into harnesses and vented leather chaps before making their way upstairs to the show. Throughout the night, the evening’s emcee, Ba’Naka, playfully invited the group to the dance floor. For those uninitiated to drag shows, they have a particular decorum. Ba’Naka introduces the rules before every show: You must shout, you must clap, and you really must tip your queens. That night, she toyed with the audience like a lioness with her prey, queen of the sweaty, pulsating room. Ba’Naka said she uses drag as therapy; for her, drag is a conduit to explore emotion. She asked couples to embrace, brought out men in leather for questioning, and rubbed fake breasts against those of a female spectator.
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It took a moment for Ba’Naka to introduce the queens, and the crowd slowly grew restless. Suddenly, the first song began, mellow synthesizers peaked through the speakers, crackling a bit. It was a female cover of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.”
Pretty Boi Drag performer Jorge Escobar. She stepped out, toned leg by toned leg, slowly and elegantly, and the crowd lost its mind: This was Evon Michelle. She is new to the D.C. scene, a transplant from Florida and a classically trained vocalist. Men came forward on all fours, presenting cash clasped tightly in their teeth. Others simply waved their bills in the air to be collected by Evon mid-strut. After the show, Evon said she hopes to subvert the expectations for black drag queens, refusing to perform Beyoncé songs with an ombre wig. Her performance was regal, with an intentionally quiet power. When asked about how drag is used to play with gender, Ba’Naka referenced an old RuPaul proverb: “We’re all born naked, the rest is drag.” At the D.C. Eagle, this adage rang true. One queen performed without fake breasts, embracing androgyny in her performance to the tune of the Kim Possible theme song. Others chose to play with more traditional expressions of femininity, with one queen painting her lips with shimmering red lipstick and draping her shoulders with a cape to match. For Zach Landenhur, a member of Pretty Boi Drag, drag is a way to more fully understand himself. “I was struggling with some identity issues. Not just gender identity, sexual identity, that type of thing but just identity difficulties and struggles in general,” he said. “I’m trying now to find more of the in between as opposed to, ‘this is what masculine is and this is what feminine is.’ I think it’s okay to be in between those areas.” Once a week, the kings gather at The Bier Baron Tavern, less than a 15-minute walk away from the site of the High Heel Race. As Zach spoke, his fellow drag kings—a mix of female-identifying, male-identifying, and non-binary individuals—prepared for their show. They bounced ideas off one another and stumbled through their yet-to-be-learned lyrics. On Sunday mornings, the bar becomes a place where the kings can collaborate, commune, rehearse, and perform. Phoenix King, another member of Pretty Boi Drag, said drag can be used to challenge the gender binary. “Before drag was ‘you are a woman dressing up as man, or you’re a man dressing up as a woman,’” Phoenix said. “Now it’s just like people getting on stage in full drag queen makeup and glitter beards and pulling out genitalia and saying, ‘fuck you’ to gender, and it’s really awesome because it wasn’t around even two years ago.” Phoenix’s fellow king, Sebastian Katz, echoed this sentiment. He described how drag gives kings the space to play with the pre-
sentation of masculinity by wearing lipstick or declining to bind “The acceptance of your community and your world far their chests. “That’s still a valid expression of being a drag king,” more outweighs the excitement of doing something dirty,” she said Katz. said.“So if drag is no longer dirty, if it’s here with these beautiFor Zach, drag is liberation from the assumptions of others. “I ful—there are kids in costumes watching drag queens, you don’t used to get really, really upset when people would, what I thought get that. You never get that, so I love it now.” at the time was misgendering me,” he said. UsOthers, including Phoenix King, take issue with the presing drag, Zach became more comfortable with ence of the police at the race and other events celebrating memtheir own expression of gender. “Now it’s like bers of the LGBTQ community. people call me sir, people call me ma’am, as “They don’t need to be there,” Phoenix said, “but the outdated as that is, either way I’m okay now greater community feels like the police need to be there bebecause I’ve become okay in this space.” cause they feel like they will be in danger if the police presence Jorge does not believe that the High wasn’t there.” Heel Race is such a space: A majority-straight audience lined the streets, many leaning over the rails of outdoor bars, small-batch IPAs in hand, watching people dressed in femme attire. “The high heel race can be transphobic depending on the way you do it,” Jorge said. “When PHOTO: PRETTY BOI DRAG it’s, ‘Look at me I’m in a dress and high heels,’ you’re poking fun at somebody’s life, somebody who has to put on high heels and a dress to present as a woman to the world that doesn’t accept the fact that they are a woman.” “That can be painful to somebody who’s PHOTO: MAX FREDELL living a life that you’re making fun of,” Two queens strike a pose at the race. they continued. “And when a large face [like Bowser] puts their name on something like this, it solidifies There was momentary confusion before the real race began. that it’s something to make fun of.” The clock struck 9 p.m., and a horn sounded to corral the runBut for some in the drag community, such as drag queen ners. Instead, someone jumped the start, and the race began as Ba’Naka, the government’s adoption of the race is something to the rest of the participants tried to catch up. Some sprinted, be celebrated. Ba’Naka believes it is a sign that drag has come while others took their time, strutting elegantly. A hairier Thereout of the shadows. sa May made their way down 17th Street quite leisurely. After the race, queens wandered at the bottom of 17th Street. Queen Bambi, a drag queen and former participant, lamented the police shepherding at the end of the race. “Usually it ends and you can mill about and go get a drink, but we couldn’t move down here for 25-30 minutes. So that’s regulation, I guess. We’ve been over-regulated.” When reflecting on the packaging of drag events for a wider audience, Jorge pointed out a salient contradiction. “I think it’s important for us to showcase our bodies, to be out there in the world and show the community at large that we matter. We are here and we matter. We have a voice and you ought to listen to us,” they said. However, they noted the complication that comes with advertising queer bodies. “A lot of us have queer or trans bodies, and they don’t necessarily fit, like, ‘I’m gonna put this on a poster and hand it out to people,’” Jorge said. *** Mayor Bowser’s office now controls this event. The government has delivered its rubber stamp of approval, and it is no longer the back alley race it once was. However, in the same way that Jorge is uncomfortable with the permanence of a simple poster encapsulating drag as it intersects with the complexity of queerness, a final rubber stamp may come into conflict with something as nebulous as drag. We know that complication extends to the Voice as well. The printed word can seem to provide conclusions when, outside, the conversation continues. Whether expressed through government approval or even deadline-driven media coverage, drag resists easy definition. It evades finality.
A lot of us have queer or trans bodies, and they don’t necessarily fit.
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Check out www.georgetownvoice.com for more surrealist pics from the “Down the Rabbit Hole” photoshoot, special Fashion Issue Halftime leisure clips, and podcast episodes of “Afternoon Tea,” “Stripped,” and more. Surreality: A Digital Short Go behind the scenes of the issueʼs cover shoot with interviews from the artists, shadow puppets, and a hammock fail, produced by assistant Voices editor Mica Bernhard. Donʼt try this at home, folks.
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