Since Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale dropped in April, the parallels between the dystopian society of the Gilead—in which women’s rights are completely controlled by the totalitarian government—and our current political climate have not gone unnoticed. (Just look at what happened in Texas recently, when women marched into the halls of the Texas State Capital cloaked in blood-red robes and white bonnets to protest the state’s sweeping anti-abortion measures.) And last night, at a former Gothic Revival synagogue in downtown Manhattan, the stark similarities between Atwood’s fictional handmaids and the women of today felt even more palpable.
In collaboration with Hulu, indie label Vaquera—which showed for the first time during New York fashion week for Fall 2017 and is helmed by Patric DiCaprio, David Moses, Bryn Taubensee, and Claire Sully—decided to play on Atwood’s fictional-but-not-so-far-off universe, presenting 21 looks inspired by the frightening tale. “We were talking a lot about the spirit of the handmaid,” Moses said backstage, “as well as oppression and empowerment.”
The New York-based design collective worked with Midland Agency’s Walter Pearce to cast unconventional, androgynous models (think Hood by Air types) who stomped out one-by-one as an unsettling mix of heavy breathing, birds chirping, and a phone ringing—what Moses calls a “modern rainforest”—echoed throughout the interior. The whole scene was just as disturbing as the series, which stars Elisabeth Moss and will conclude next Wednesday.
But this wasn’t just a runway show with interesting clothes—it was more performance art, with many of the models carrying props like bras, books, and pillows (a riff on the idea of handmaids being “props” in their houses, said Sully) and doing a brief act in the middle of a lit-up platform. One model shredded white flowers all over the stage; another peeled oranges. “It was loosely choreographed, but [the models] could do whatever they wanted with those items,” she said. “We wanted to allow each of them to show their identity because we were talking about the character of the handmaid, who is homogeneous.”
Ane Crabtree, the show’s costume designer, walked the runway. Standout looks included a suffragette dress with “Votes for Women” on the front, a red leather coat that completely engulfed the model’s body, and a jacket that spelled out “MAIDEZ” on the back—something the label teased on Instagram before the show.
“We always like to discuss political issues or issues we think are important or relevant,” said Taubensee. (Indeed—Vaquera’s last collection, which featured an American flag dress that dragged along the floor and a piece inspired by Tiffany & Co., explored America’s love affair with capitalism.) “The Handmaid’s Tale is a really amazing story, and very relevant. It was a collaboration, yes, but it felt really right for us.”
The brand’s next move will be to show in New York again for Spring 2018. If last night’s chilling spectacle is any indication, the Vaquera kids are ones to watch.