NYFW’s Most Intriguing New Addition: The #metoo Show

NYFW’s Most Intriguing New Addition:

The #metoo Show

In the weeks leading up to NYFW, fashion industry insiders — and both its avid and quasi-invested followers — wondered what the week would look like in the midst of the #MeToo movement. Would it even be acknowledged? In short, yes. But to what degree? That answer is still to be wholly determined, but one thing’s for certain: #MeToo isn’t being swept under the runway rug.

This season, there’s been even more focus on the treatment of models in regard to sexual harassment and their general health and wellbeing backstage and at shoots. This, of course, has been a hot-button issue for numerous years. In the wake of #MeToo, though, models have grown increasingly vocal about which brands, and people, are guilty.

There’s also been a lot of buzz regarding Marchesa’s co-founder, Georgina Chapmen, who was married to Harvey Weinstein for a decade and is currently going through a divorce. Chapmen has been radio-silent since the late 2017 allegations. Marchesa was scheduled to present a collection on February 14, but at the end of January — not even two weeks before NYFW — the designers hit the cancel button. According to the NY Post, a source said, “Georgina couldn’t go through with it. She was too scared.”

The #MeToo Fashion Show

While all this pre-NYFW chatter was happening, Myriam Chalek — the creative director for American Wardrobe —was busy putting together a first-of-its-kind #MeToo fashion show. Though it was not a formal part of the NYFW agenda, the February 9 event was on people’s lips in the days and weeks leading up to the show. It was attended by a wide range of media, and guests flooded the room, inside NYC’s Yotel, with standing room only.

Mixing fashion with #MeToo still seems a foreign idea, and naturally, nobody really knew what to expect. The full event title was, “The #METOO Fashion Show: Slap the Pig Outta Him!!!” which might have led people to believe it’d be a highly aggressive event. That was not the case.

Eight women, only a few professional models, walked the runway wearing American Wardrobe clothing. The collection itself was strong and feminine with armor-like jackets and an assortment of sturdy wings. But pretty clothes weren’t the focus here, and Chalek made that clear. This was about each woman’s story and the #MeToo movement at large.

After their first walk down the runway, all eight women re-entered the room to Austra’s song, “Hurt Me Now,” this time standing next to men wearing pig masks and a pair of handcuffs in hand. Within seconds you could feel a heaviness settle over the emotionally charged room, and the audience was remarkably silent. The music stopped, the women all stood still, and one by one they told their stories with chins held high.

“When I was younger, about 11, I was sexually abused. So, I was working my way around, trying to accept that as a person and to live with it. For a while, I actually thought that it went away,” said Melissa Davis.

The 22-year-old model and actress continued, sharing a recent story about a director in Florida who tried to use his power to “get into a relationship” with Davis while she was casting for an acting role in a show positioned to be sold to Netflix. She did not get the role.

“In that situation, I stood up for myself and was very bold and up front and vocal about what type of work I’m doing,” she said. “I’m an actress, and I hate the fact that in the modeling industry and entertainment industry, women, we get overlooked for our talent, for our beauty. It’s something that happens all the time.”

Alicia Kozakiewicz — who was abducted at age 13 by a 38-year-old man and held chained and captive in his basement for four days — also spoke.

“He shared this abuse, this torture, online. He livestreamed it. And there were those out there, who watched it and drew pleasure from my pain. I knew he was going to murder me, and my time was almost up. Thankfully, miraculously, I was rescued. Those chains from around my neck were cut, and I was given a second chance at life,” she said.

Male and female models walked the runway handcuffed together

Kozakiewicz’s story received international attention in 2002 after the FBI rescued her from Scott Tyree’s basement. She’s since become a motivational speaker and an internet safety educator and advocate.

She continued, “The nightmare didn’t end there. I suffered from PTSD, nightmares, flashbacks, as so many survivors do. And I suffered at the minds of a public who quite literally blamed the victim — certainly something that runs rampant today. And with that, my voice became silenced… but not for long. At the age of 14, I began sharing my story…Here I stand today, on a New York Fashion Week runway, no less, and I declare that I am no longer just a victim.”

The event concluded with Sabrina Piper sharing her story of a consensual interaction that digressed into violent rape by the person she was seeing.

“We started getting intimate … it was consent both ways at first,” she recalled. “About two or three minutes into it, he stuck his fingers into my vagina. I was like, ‘I’m not ready,’ to which he said to me, ‘you feel ready.’ Which is stuck in my mind to this day. He didn’t care that I wasn’t.”

He then physically forced himself onto her and penetrated her, and she repeated that she was not ready to have sex. He apologized and held her, but shortly after penetrated her again from behind.  

Pig-masked male models accompanied women on the catwalk

“I guess he thought it was rough sex. That’s what I was thinking, and I was just trying to blank out of anything in my mind for a couple of minutes. Then he pulled out and he finished,” she said. “It didn’t set in until I get into the car and look down and see just a trickle of blood going down my thigh and my skirt.”

When she got home, she saw blood everywhere — on her underwear, her clothing, her thighs, her vulva and vagina. Her vulva was swollen to “four times” its normal size, she said. Sitting at home in blood-covered clothing, swollen and in pain, was when she realized it wasn’t just rough sex in his mind — she was assaulted.

“I’m not the first girl to go through this whatsoever, and I wish I could say I’ll be the last, but unless we all band together — and we do something about it, like seriously, seriously do something about it — it’ll just keep happening.”

That’s exactly what the #MeToo movement is about. It’s not a phase and it’s not a trend — it’s a movement that requires constant discussion until the issue’s eradicated. To some, the runway may seem an awkward or unlikely place to convey such a powerful message, but the #MeToo fashion show demonstrated that every voice, every story, and every event that furthers the mission is helping to put an end to all forms of sexual abuse and inequality.

Wendy Rose Gould

Wendy Rose Gould is a reporter based in Phoenix, Arizona. She covers women’s lifestyle topics for numerous digital publications, including Refinery29, InStyle, xoVain, Headspace, PopSugar and ModCloth. You can learn more about her at WendyGould.com.

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