This article is taken from the Autumn/Winter 2022 issue of AnOther Magazine:
Wearing Vaquera is a joyful experience. Slipping into the label’s pouffy, ten-tiered party dresses, big, blown-up tailoring or cartoonishly wide-legged denim evokes a childlike thrill – and that’s before you’ve perched one of its pillowy, bonnet-like derby hats or XXL bows on your head, or affixed a Vaquera stuffed teddy-bear key ring to your bag. The collections it has been putting out for almost a decade now are a rallying cry against the banal.
Founded in New York back in 2013 by Patric DiCaprio, with Bryn Taubensee, David Moses and Claire Sullivan entering the fold three years later, the house has fantasy at its heart. From day one Vaquera set out to write its own intoxicating brand of what it termed “fashion fan fiction”, its collections paying homage to Jean Paul Gaultier, Martin Margiela, Yohji Yamamoto, Vivienne Westwood and more – campy love letters to long-admired designers, rendered in salvaged silks and satins. “When you’re getting started it’s so hard to find your signature,” DiCaprio says. He’s Zooming in from Vaquera’s New York studio alongside Taubensee, with samples piled up behind him. “It was a way for us to wrap our heads around conceptualising a collection – like, what if Rei Kawakubo made a collection about Abercrombie & Fitch?”
New York’s underground caught on quickly, with the label amassing a loyal following thanks not only to its offbeat, wildly creative clothing, but also its raucous, DIY shows and the electric energy it brought to the city’s widely perceived commercial fashion landscape. Critics, however, were not so enamoured – the collective was called out for “ripping off” some of the industry’s most revered names. “It was never about outright copying,” Taubensee says. “It was about us loving fashion and feeling like outsiders looking in.” Vaquera offered a two-finger salute to naysayers via its Autumn/Winter 2018 collection, a tribute to Westwood and Margiela, as well as Miguel Adrover and Andre Walker, whose faces were printed across a series of oversized white polo shirts.
Like those aforementioned designers, Vaquera struggled to make ends meet. Moses and Sullivan amicably departed the collective, while DiCaprio and Taubensee worked day jobs in retail and catering while still somehow managing to craft two well-received collections a year. “In the beginning it was exciting to get all this attention,” Taubensee recalls. “But it was also difficult because people misunderstood what we were capable of. They assumed we were rich kids who could just pay to have our collection shown. In reality we were working second jobs and in here every other moment, pulling our hair out.” DiCaprio adds, “Just, like, living and dying for fashion.”
The truth is, Vaquera wasn’t selling – it was stymied by production and delivery issues, its runway looks didn’t translate on the shop floors where they were displayed, and DiCaprio and Taubensee were exhausted by the reality of their living and financial situations. There were times when they came close to throwing in the towel. “And then we met Adrian [Joffe],” Taubensee says. They were introduced to Joffe, president of Comme des Garçons and Dover Street Market (DSM), by the curator Andrew Bolton after Kawakubo spotted their Autumn/Winter 2017 Tiffany pouch dress in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2019 exhibition Camp: Notes on Fashion. DSM began stocking Vaquera the next season.
The following year, the label’s financial situation came to a head. “We hit a wall,” DiCaprio says. They were unable to stage a New York show and Vaquera asked DSM for help. The retailer offered its Midtown store and DiCaprio and Taubensee staged a last-minute guerrilla style salon show among the racks during NYFW Autumn/Winter 2020. The Paris-based brand-development branch of DSM went on to partner with them later that year to support their label and help it grow.
“They assumed we were rich kids who could just pay to have our collection shown. In reality we were working second jobs and in here every other moment, pulling our hair out” – Patric DiCaprio
After a rough couple of years amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, this gave them the confidence and access that was fundamental to elevating the craftsmanship of Vaquera’s latest collection. It landed on the catwalk this February at 35-37 rue des Francs-Bourgeois – the location of DSM’s long-awaited Parisian outpost – with the designers swapping supersized frou-frou for a slicker, more streamlined silhouette that sat closer to the skin.
The looks were inspired by the cult 1990s film Irma Vep, the models in gleaming, wipe-clean latex bodies with matching hoods, twistedly coquettish see-through slips and teddies trimmed with lace, and tactile, tinselly cropped tops that twinkled under the runway lights. And they travelled through the space at breakneck speed, that rapid pace being a Vaquera hallmark, as is its diverse casting of friends and, occasionally, the designers themselves. This latest offering was darker than anything the designers have shown before, and felt more urgent, too. “You know how people say goths dress all in black and are perceived as miserable, but actually they’re some of the happiest people you’ll meet?” DiCaprio says. “I feel like darkness is often misunderstood. To me it feels like a way to exorcise negative feelings, and that’s a positive thing. We were really hopeful and happy this season – we’re showing in Paris, we’re finally feeling momentum.”
Above all, the collection was about love, which Vaquera has touched on frequently in the past: from its very beginnings and those early love letters to fashion, to its more literal heart-shaped chocolate-box inspired looks. It seems particularly appropriate, given that the designers’ arrival in Paris – first professionally, and perhaps soon more personally, as DiCaprio and Taubensee are considering a move – feels like the first chapter of an all-new romance. “Autumn/Winter 2022 was a celebration of our love for New York, for Paris, the city of love, for each other, for our team. It was a celebration of how far we’ve come,” Taubensee says. With the support and love of its community, and that of nurturing partner Comme des Garçons, perhaps Paris will also be the place where Vaquera gets its happily ever after.
This story features in the Autumn/Winter 2022 issue of AnOther Magazine, which is on sale internationally now. Buy a copy here.