During the spring 2018 fashion season, Paris’ brands tried walking forward while carrying a heavy ball and chain labeled “past” at their feet. Good thing an exciting fashion crew arrived unannounced straight from New York with an energetic performance. Even better that it operated around the “fashion imigration” trend turned into media frenzi before the start of the new round of fashion weeks (“New York is ruined!”).
The show was an open, free for all experience with no borders. Still, only a few publications covered what was a guerrilla operation that broke rigid traditions of french’s (fashion) etiquette. Place de la Republique, a traditional meeting point for public manifestations, was used as location. The movement on that Friday was headlined by Gypsy Sport, a fresh label creatively led by Rio Uribe. The native-american designer was born in Los Angeles, is proud of his mexican origins, has spent years working in Europe and dreams of weaving the pancultural thread of his work around the world from his basement-headquarters in the middle of renowned (and under attack) Garment District, in Manhattan.
Paris is not new for Uribe. He has worked for six years in Balenciaga during Nicolas Ghesquière’s tenure. Unlike familiar timelines, his job wasn’t on the design team, but in visual merchandising. After moving to New York and a series of retail opportunities, he was initially hired as a stockist, an official capacity between visits from close city friends (Shayne Oliver, from Hood By Air, and Telfar Clemens, from Telfar, amongst them) to the brand’s Chelsea address. Trips to Europe were part of the subsequent position in the company, which required regular visits to Paris every new season to translate Ghesquière’s vision to US stores.
“I was hoping Nicolas would put my hats on the Balenciaga runway, but they weren’t into them, a little too scrappy I guess”, he shared with Fashionista about the pieces he first created. It was also hats that kickstarted his personal project, officially launched with a DKNY collaboration and an order from Opening Ceremony. Two days before they hit the shelves, Rio came up with the brand’s name and logo that depicts the side views of a pair of caps.
For the new journey to Paris, now with five years of history behind Gypsy Sport, Uribe traveled with one idea in mind: to recreate the vigorous energy of his first NY solo show, in 2014, by occupying a public space known for the protests it has hosted (in Manhattan, it was Washington Square Park, a central location in LGBTQ+ rights history). Instead of a simple address change, he envisioned a broader cultural exchange started by the already traditional casting call, this time with french captions, recruiting an exciting and diverse group of local style activists.
On clothing, disruption was the imperative word, and it made for a perfect choice. Using fashion as vocabulary, disruption hardly gets lost in translation in a different country that lives under the same style grammar. It also easily holds its defying traits, positive or negative, depending on who is looking. Once faced with pieces that have been sliced, reappropriated or worn out (by chance or choice), one usually reacts in two antagonistic ways: sympathy or rejection.
Under its theme, Rio created a new type of order through chaotic dis-embellishment. Corporate logos (like Coca-cola’s) became proactive messaging (“co-exist”). News, in its print version for the collection or those in real headlines that surrounded fashion week, had multiple meanings according to which leader had its control. Gypsy’s version went against the week’s world events (mainly US vs. North Korea) by championing unity instead of division. Denim, the original worker’s textile, gave a new kind of glamour for those who broke away from the heavy burden of binary identities. It was also turned into underwear worn with no cover.
Vintage fabrics, scraps, knitting and crocheting referenced familiar safety while covering emaciated bodies or uncovering real curves. Kitsch souvenirs like Eiffel Tower keychains left their marks on the skin of those who defiantly represented people who are rarely perceived by tourists. From the underground walls, advertisement posters were torn and turned into party dresses a la trash couture.
Uribe’s grandmother crochet patches, clothing from his own archive (by creation or by collection), the plurality of the collective group… seeing matter extracted from the designer-in-chief’s personal history and convictions parading across the square signaled to a much more powerful message than, for example, a new version of a baroque jacket on the runway carrying with its own set of dubious traditions on the caves of the Louvre – one of the biggest Instagram moments from the giants of the season. In opposite direction, Gypsy Sport celebrated urgent propositions, the special qualities of what’s common and those who live outside fixed limits that are supposed to protect whatever’s ate the core of fashion’s elite.
If unravelment doesn’t seem new anymore, its power remained as fiery as ever here. Rio Uribe rejected tradition on a landmark of its poster city. Looking beyond simplistic divisions, he strived to speak to people who find themselves in the periphery, bonded to different knots of the urban fabric. For this new kind of consumer – active, opinionated, digital -, D-I-Y are three letters that resonate in a much more powerful way than V-I-P.
The show called for a review of every reason why fashion giants from Paris Fashion Week insist on isolation. Each step into a new and more exciting environment seems like a fad, takes too long to be taken, is cautiously calculated. Risk management becomes the rule when you’re dealing with revenues on the billionaire level. The problem is that at the other side ofthis is stagnation, lack of creative power that coudl appeals to new consumers – and it’s exactly this type of client that is seen by the old (fashion) world as saviors of their businesses. If Paris fashion measures the world from a pedestal, Gypsy Sport points to an urgent detour around its margins.
A simple and bureaucratic change of location would not serve Gypsy Sport well. By itself, it’s doest not seem that challenging from a narrative point of view. What interested Rio Uribe’s crew in crossing the ocean is the possibility of new merging points. Of course, freedom comes as an advantage for those who are small, who don’t need to be defined by particular (or superfluous) details. That is part of the appeal of fashion’s youngest talents. The choice of the city of fashion lights was precise for its debunking aspect, but this is a show that could find its audience all around the world just like Uribe wishes. Challenges affecting those who are excluded from main narratives are increasingly universal.
Under attack, values represented by Marianne, a symbol for France’s republican ideals situated in the middle of the square, found direct correspondence with the message carried by the naked breast of one of the stars of the show, words that were shouted on the previous round of protests that took Paris’ streets days before the presentation. Also, words that sound crucial both for fashion and for the geopolitical moment that surrounds it (just like every other genius idea that has ever crossed the catwalk): “it was the people who beat the kings, it was the people who beat Nazism”.