Elena Velez, the Designer Embracing “Unglamorous” Americana Tropes

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Elena Velez Autumn/Winter 2022
Elena Velez Autumn/Winter 2022

As Velez makes her New York Fashion Week debut, the American designer discusses her midwestern upbringing and forging her own path in fashion

  1. Who is it? Elena Velez is an American designer dissecting the elegance in her Midwestern heritage with femininity and force
  2. Why do I want it? Garments are aggressively delicate and artfully decomposed, “like a song by The Cure,” the designer says
  3. Where can I find it? Coming soon to elenavelez.com

Who is it? Elena Velez is supremely calm for a designer on the verge of her New York Fashion Week debut. “If I stopped to think about the impossibility or improbability of what I'm trying to do – become a fashion designer in New York City with no money, no business experience, no network connections – I would be crippled with discouragement,” the 27-year-old tells AnOther. “So I don't.” 

“I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as the only child of a single mother who worked as a ship captain,” she continues. “My childhood was spent in spaces that were very industrial and utilitarian – ship yards, docks, engine rooms … I’m sure it has influenced my aesthetic.” Sights like this from her childhood, from the metal industry that is local to Milwaukee, are seen not only in the hardware and buckles of her designs, but even in the destruction and dissection of the fabrics themselves. In the look of a brutally shredded hem, you can imagine sparks flying as the material meets metal – even if, in reality, it’s simply linen meeting scissors.

A mother of two, Velez looks to the essence of maternity as a representation of the might within women. “My mum is a woman who has had to command respect from men as a profession,” she says. “She also had to assume the role of both mom and dad when I was growing up. Her strength, independence, and unconventional femininity have really inspired me as a person and a designer.”

Why do I want it? Velez describes her ‘girl’ as a cast of characters. This season, she explains, they are Belle Epoque Harlot, American Gothic, Ancient Alien, Forklift Certified Industrialista, and Coven. “They all have different attributes that relate back to the central themes of the femininity I love the most – iron-forged, erotic, extraterrestrial, esoterically burdened, and communing in dark-magic sorority.” It’s within this exploration of unexpected – and “unglamorous” – Americana tropes, born from the designer’s connection with her home, that both softness and strength is revealed in her designs. 

The functionality and utility of her clothes are offset by the use of gauzy linens in corsets and chemise dresses. Her sharp tailoring is roughened up and re-set, askew. Indeed, Velez prioritises a sense of urgency over perfection and beauty. Her pieces are tied, bonded, fastened and draped to give shelter and protect the bodies they’re on, while maintaining space for vulnerability, at times showing soft flesh that refuses to hide.

“I think the fact that I embrace and reject the notion of an unglamourous midwestern upbringing in my work lends itself to some degree of differentiation from other American designers who might think that creative assimilation is the key to success in a luxury industry.” It’s exactly this unapologetic inclusion of the unexpected that has made Elena Velez’s show one of the most anticipated at New York Fashion Week, and her garments coveted far further than the United States. 

Where can I find it? Coming soon to elenavelez.com.