Vaquera Turns MoMA PS1 into Oz

Looks from Vaquera’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection.
Looks from Vaquera’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection.

Vaquera garments are both surreal and instructive, naive and knowingly-naive. Innocence, the kind of wide-eyed quality found in fairy-tales, is a key note. Models teeter under the heft of oversized chef’s hats, blown-out graduation gowns and chainmail constructed from gym-class whistles. There is a Beetlejuice stripe. There is a cropped, lamé cape competing with a quarterback’s shoulder pad. A dark, ghoulish charcoal ringing the models’ eyes recurs as a Vaquera signature. There is the suggestion of eternal adolescence.

Cuts vary between being skimpy and oversized. The clothing either swallows, or skims, the body. And accessories appear larger than life, as if having undergone an overnight growth spurt from gulping an enchanted bean. Fiction is the muse.

Scanning the online Vaquera boutique, one can buy a bedazzled crucifix and tie-on devil horns just as easily as a shirt, positioning Vaquera as the ideal brand to approach a performative retelling of the musical Wicked, and hence the literary fable The Wonderful Wizard of Oz they are presenting at MoMA PS1 in April. The three designers, Clare Sully, Bryn Taubensee and Patric DiCaprio, in collaboration with Leah Victoria Hennessy and an ensemble of artists, are preparing garment production and scripting for Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, in which the allegorical world collides with Vaquera’s spectral pubescent costuming.

Essential to the aesthetic is Vaquera’s origin story. In 2013, designer Patric DiCaprio ordered a sewing machine on a whim and learned to sew through online tutorials. Beginning the fashion label with one blind eye, the designers taught themselves to tailor, to hem and alter, and to materially cultivate coming-of-age. Since then, the designers have expanded from crafting ephemeral fashion held together by a bare thread to a fashion line in full production, made to last. And since 2017, Vogue has covered their runway shows.

Garments generate a literary narrative all their own. A harlequin trouser meets a rococo hat meets a flamenco sleeve meets a ballet legging. And this, all playfully staged upon the carpeted stairway of a Chinese restaurant, composes Vaquera’s 2016 lookbook. Clicking through past seasons online, in the midst of what might be performance art or what might be a runway show, a model gathers the hem of his skirt in a high school gymnasium. Another model approaches, the hair underneath a headband becoming more and more disheveled, the band of ribbon as if slackened and retied several times a day. Loosely tied in a looped knot on a hooded sweatshirt, the next model wears a bow for closure around the neck. Down the line enters a flat way of wearing a bow, securing an Amish collar. Sharp bows, round bows, detachable bows and attached bows. Bows to the side, bows underneath, bows every which-way, nothing else but a bow. More bows all of the time.