Elena Velez fall/winter collection 2023
It appears that Elena Velez is not especially bothered by your discomfort. She gave the industry an urgent wake-up call and a challenge to do and be better with her ferocious and forceful performance. Velez made a point by sending a model down the runway while brandishing her CFDA award like a club. Awards are fantastic, but they don’t cover the cost of living.
She stated on a pre-show teleconference that “fashion can’t just be a nice thing anymore; the process needs to be as interesting and important as the product.” In addition to looking after her own staff and her small family, Velez is working hard, cooperating with local metalsmiths in Milwaukie on her collections, and supporting their creative endeavours through her collaborator studio program. The brand, according to Velez, who was raised by her single mother, a ship captain, “has a significant matriarchal component.” It’s easy to picture the designer as a crusader fighting for the greater good and against what she perceives as “disdain and geographical condescension” for the Heartland as you listen to her speak.
The inaugural fashion exhibition at the Crystal Bridges museum in Arkansas, “Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour,” just ended, and Velez’s collection has plenty of both. By looking at “prairie wives, lot lizards, trucker culture, and all of these things that are deemed unglamorous by cosmopolitan standards, and then trying to refract them into a way that feels new and fresh; kind of like the new heroin chic from the Midwest,” the designer claimed she had been inspired.
That’s a sound bite for you; the second glance did a good job of illustrating it visually. Even if Velez toned down the grand romanticism of earlier seasons (which was missed), corsets and panniers were still present. Some of the models had long, flowing hair that resembled that of the Norse goddess Frejya, who also happens to be the name of the designer’s daughter. These are certainly not casual clothes. There were BDSM moments, Hester Prynne memories, and reoccurring motifs from the previous season.
Velez used a lot of materials, like canvas, that appeared to be handcrafted. “I prefer to drastically lean towards the plain.” That seems to be the next zeitgeist that I want to tap into. “I feel like everything right now is just so synthetic, acidic, and frenetic,” she remarked. Actually, the designer looked at both ends of the spectrum. The live, loud industrial music set the tempo for this multimodal performance, which one would characterise as amphetamine-fueled. Models hurried down the runway while being instructed to exhibit “female rage.” Some of them even had a zombie-like appearance. Additionally, Velez experimented with wet and cracked finishes using latex and a paint that, when dry, resembled plaster; neither of these effects are commonplace.
So while there was plenty of drama in this collection, it wasn’t all about showy moments. In actuality, Velez’s real wear items connected the brand to the history of modern American fashion, which had its origins in blue collar workwear before evolving into the idea of athletics. This group includes the shirtwaist outfits that were a staple of the collections of designers like Claire McCardell and Anne Fogarty, as well as Velez’s twisted shirt dresses.
American sportswear was plain, if not drastically so, in contrast to the finery of Paris (which could also be attributed to lingering Puritanism). It was designed for activity, as the name suggests, and consequently for different levels of female emancipation. Velez is not constrained by gender, nor does she aspire to the glossy sheen or façade of perfection that is promoted by the fashion industry. “You have to put yourself in a little bit of a theatrical mindset to be able to generate this kind of work,” she said. “There’s just something to me about the urgency to communicate something, and it’s so urgent that it sometimes transcends the ability and the technical skill to execute it properly.” “And for me, there’s something really tactile, beautiful, and sincere about that kind of hand, so we do as much as possible from the mindset of a maker, prioritising functionality, practicality, and urgency beyond perfection or beauty.” According to Velez, the hands are a direct extension of the heart.