For over a decade, designer Telfar Clemens envisioned his own line of genderless clothing designed “for everyone”. But his Fall 2018 show New York Fashion Week proved he was more than just an innovative designer.
The designer’s gender fluid collection showcased at last months New York Fashion Week, introducing a show of force from New York’s multi-racial and LGBTQ creative community. The display was a celebration of a community coming into its own, drawing a standing ovation from fashion editors as well as members of Telfar’s family and local fan base.
The entire production, however, was presented as a concert instead of a traditional runway. The show saw Clemens’ connections in the music industry cashed in, with Dev Hynes, Kelela, Ian Isiah, 070 Shake, Oyinda and Kelsey Lu performing onstage. Telfar joined the group onstage for a heartwarming rendition of ‘Grateful’ by Hezekiel Walker, which seemed more than fitting for the fashionable affair.
“Telfar has always showed [his collections] in a way that brings together fashion, creativity, inclusivity and as well as heart and humour,” said Julie Gilhart, a fashion consultant who has been a long-time supporter of the brand.
Although it took Clemens 13 years to receive press for his collections, he has built a strong following from the community he calls his family. Speaking with Business of Fashion, Clemens explained,
“These are people I’m genuinely friends with and people that I respect”
Clemens was born in Queens, New York City and raised in Liberia before returning to the USA in 1990. Inspired by his grandmother and aunt’s handcraft and personal style, leaning towards the womenswear, Clemens began to make his own clothes, deconstructed and repurposed, later creating clothes for himself and his classmates at the young age of fifteen.
“I used to be obsessed with girl clothes, the style that ‘90s girls used to have,” Clemens said in an interview with Document Journal.
“Guys and girls wearing crop tops, it was universal. I wanted to get that look. Remember the baby tee that said ‘Bitch’ on it? I couldn’t get it because it was in the girl’s section. I remember being so pissed! So when I started to make clothes, I decided I’d make clothes that had no assignment to them.”
Clemens launched his unisex line in 2005 and sees fashion as democratic; a vehicle for creating horizontal relationships between people, something always challenging judgments and prejudices, be they social, racial or economic.
“It’s deeper than ‘Oh, he’s just wearing dress.’ It’s not just based on femininity. It’s not based on a man in a dress. That’s not unisex. That’s just style. Unisex is military, a uniform that everyone is wearing. That’s the place I’m coming from. Utopian vibe. Something a baby can wear, a man, a woman,”
The brand won the CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund 2017 award and has dressed more than 10,000 White Castle employees, the famous American fast food chain.
Watch Vogue’s exclusive behind the scenes footage from Telfar’s NYFW musical fashion show below.