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Vaquera's Sublime Subversion of All-American Aesthetics

We preview the S/S17 collection from the winsome trio who, this season, are uniting antiquity and anarchy: from Greek fraternities to Grecian urns

TextJack SunnucksPhotographyRyan PagePhotographic EditorHolly Hay

“It’s Greek vs. Greek. The Greek system, Abercrombie, frat, sorority vs. ancient Greece, Caesar, grapes, Grecian urns and gladiator sandals,” explains Patric DiCaprio, founding member of Vaquera – the NYC design trio that encompasses Dicaprio, David Moses and Bryn Taubensee – on their S/S17 collection. The designers, each in their early twenties, are brilliantly unaffected and enthusiastic, answering all queries in a stream of consciousness that one starts and the others carry as far as they can. Last season, their show was an unexpected hit – at least with the less staid members of the fashion press. Models, comprised mainly of their friends, danced around Chinese restaurant China Chalet in a baroque mix of Harlequin prints, pink fleece and outsized hats. This season, they’re carrying over their historic inspired designs but with a ‘basic’ (i.e mainstream) twist: Vaquera are newly obsessed with what makes an American icon in the mode of Abercrombie & Fitch, and how perhaps they too could become one. As Bryn succinctly puts it, “Abercrombie’s all American, and we wanted to show what we think all American can, and should be.” 

The casting at Vaquera is as much a part of their mystique as the clothes. Designers are always talking about their ‘women’ or ‘girls’, which most often means a stick thin, white model. At Vaquera it’s a person, no gender pronouns needed, and their casting comes in every race and a variety of sizes. They also ask their models to give it some oomph. As David says, last season “we were looking at old Vivienne Westwood shows where everyone was dancing down the runway. So in the casting we had people dancing; we were like, ‘give us your most expressive walk.’ If we put on the music and they gave us that deadpan stare and stomped down the runway, we were like, ‘see ya.’ We like a girl who’s doing a crazy movement with her shoulders instead.” 

Of course, the drawback to this sort of excitement, to the twirling and the shows staged in restaurants or on the subway, is that it’s all anyone can talk about. “Now, let’s talk about the clothes,” says David, when I ask about their choice of venue this season (Red Bull Studios New York). “We want to show people we’re not just another ‘underground’ New York brand,” says Bryn. “That we can also show in a white space and get a real runway photo. We wouldn’t always want to do that, but we want to be able to do it as well.”

To this professional end, they’ve also shot a campaign with photographer Ethan James Green and stylist Emma Wyman. Both Green and Wyman are known for their exploration of the demi-monde in their work, and thus the wholesome casting comes as a bit of a surprise. “We used these two hunks,” cries Patric. “Like real, Abercrombie looking hunks, and to see our clothes on these people was so bizarre and incredible. So I definitely want that for the show.” The campaign also starred three of their transgender friends and a plus size model, which reflects how they want the show to appear: as a real cross section of society. “It’s beautiful people, but instead of a white, male, buff dude. Ethan’s work is so the opposite of that.” 

So, the clothes. Patric, who somewhat corrals the other two like the titular vaquera, or cowgirl, says, “We’ve made a ton of stuff, now we’re just like trying to make our fantasy pieces that we can’t live without for the show. We have enough clothes, now we want more drama!” The trio’s budget is tiny; they estimate that they’ve spent a grand on fabrics for this season, money they make from their other jobs. “I think part of the beauty of Vaquera is we’re doing everything on such a low budget, and that’s where creativity really happens,” says Bryn. “And I also think we half don’t know what we’re doing in terms of patterning, but I think that makes things… like, I didn’t know how to make hats last season but I learnt, kind of by trucking around!” Ah yes, the hats. Whilst the clothes are somewhat under wraps, hats they adore to talk about – last season featured a lovely oversized newsboy cap. Chapeaux will include “Giant mortarboards, giant baseball caps,” says Patric, and “A lot of burlap hats,” adds Bryn. “An extended bucket hat, like Napoleon meets American Eagle.”

Despite their fear that they might one day, in Patric’s words, “Devolve into a handbag line,” they’re also doing bags. David elaborates, “They’re Vera Bradley bags this season, it’s a very American bag. They use really busy paisley prints and quilt them, like an oven mitt. They’re like a sorority girl favourite, a mother-daughter thing.” So far, so hideous. Vaquera have of course taken it even further. “One of them is in the shape of a Greek urn, and then one of them is a paddleboard!”

This is central to Vaquera, like much of conceptual fashion: the gross, the eww, becoming the desired. They just take it a little further. “How dare you find this anything but beautiful?” their shows seem to say, as their joyful models storm out, evidently having the time of their lives. “I think Bryn talks about how she doesn’t want to know how to feel when she looks at a garment if she’s disgusted,” says Patric. “I think we always aim for something to be half repulsive and half appealing at the same time,” she confirms. David hopes this season will “freak them out a little bit” – them being the fashion press. “I love the moment where the first person walks out, and the official press is there and clenching their teeth, and they’re like, ‘Should I be into this?’. That cringe is what really gets me going and to stay in the studio all night.” It is left to Patric to encapsulate their hopes for the reaction to the show, and for Vaquera going forward. “Do I hate this, do I love this, how do I react? I think chic for me, is just confusion.”