By
Ashley Simpson
Photography by
Jai Odell

Styling by Katelyn Gray at Frank Reps. Model: Jess Cole at IMG Models. Hair by Braydon Nelson at Streeters using Redken. Makeup by Chiho Omae at Frank Reps using Giorgio Armani Beauty. Photographer’s assistant: John Griffith. Stylist’s assistant: Whitney Patterson. Set design by Hans Maharawal. Digital technician: Ward Price. Casting by Liz Goldson at AM Casting. Production by Floriana Castagna at Trouble Management.

VAQUERA'S DIY SENSIBILITY IS INJECTING DIVERSITY AND FANTASY INTO NEW YORK FASHION


The origins of New York-based label Vaquera sound more like the tales of the city’s artists and poets of the Seventies than what you’d find in the brand bios for the vast majority of today’s design houses. “I started Vaquera in 2013 without any formal training,” says Patric DiCaprio—who grew up in Mobile, Alabama, “where fashion doesn’t exist”—over the phone from the group’s Greenpoint studio. “I was a stylist before and I wasn’t able to get the clothes that I wanted for shoots. They just didn’t exist. So I bought a sewing machine and I started to make the things that I wanted.” These clothes were handmade following YouTube tutorials, full of fantasy, and crafted from found fabrics. An early show, inspired by an increase in the MTA fare, was put on guerrilla style in the subway; DiCaprio offered the resident performer his wages for the day to relinquish his long-cherished spot. “I started making more clothes and getting more attention, then it got to the point where I didn’t really want to do it alone anymore and wanted other people’s voices in it,” he says. These days, Vaquera is a team of four, with Bryn Taubensee, David Moses, and Claire Sully co-designing alongside.

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DiCaprio grew up, in his own words, unaware of fashion and looking to either dress like David Bowie or go full goth or screamo. He studied photography in school. His co-designers also came in from the outside. “David grew up in New Jersey and I know that he was obsessed with fashion from an early age,” says DiCaprio. “I think he had a fashion-themed bar mitzvah. He had like a Rolex cake with Chanel symbols on it or something.” Taubensee grew up in Indiana and studied fine art and sculpture in college. “I think I was always interested in stranger types of fashion,” she muses. “Coming to New York, I became disillusioned with the fashion industry as it was. I kind of didn’t want to be involved in it, but then I decided that I wanted to help change it.” Sully, from Richmond, Virginia, studied art and fashion at the Art Institute of Chicago. “I was kind of starry-eyed about living in New York and always wanted to do [this],” she says. She started interning at the brand in 2016 and soon after joined the team full-time.

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The quartet works hand-in-hand, with a design process that is at once fairly traditional and not at all. The team begins by creating a mood board and jumping off from these images and references together—but you’d be unlikely to see expected style icons like Nastassja Kinski or Jane Birkin on the wall. “People are always like, ‘What celebrity would you like to see your clothes on?’” says DiCaprio. “That’s great. We love a lot of celebrities and it would be cool if they want to wear our clothes, but it’s not what drives us. I think we’re one step away. We’re inspired by the person who is inspired by the muse—that weird lady you see on the subway and that person you saw in the grocery store.” This could mean the elderly, pink-locked woman who wears a ballgown to the bodega, or, as Sully mentions in the case of their last collection, a man going through a divorce who shrinks his sweater doing laundry for the first time or “a guy playing the slots at a casino and his wife.” An extra-large Tiffany’s bag transformed into a mini dress, a Handmaid’s Tale–themed hoodie with floor-length sleeves, and a terry cloth gown are other esoteric looks from past seasons. The items are all about identity crisis, self-expression, and everyday absurdity. There’s something very John Waters about Vaquera’s humor and æsthetic. “We have these invented characters,” says Sully. “It’s all about the fantasy.”

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The attitude, the honesty, and the raw energy driving the group are catching on—it was a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist last year. When Vaquera’s Fall 2017 collection included an American flag-printed cocktail dress with a massive dragging tail, the runway images went viral. Irreverent, political, proudly bizarre, ironic, and rebellious all at once, Vaquera knows how to make a statement. “It’s about finding a really disgusting, seedy fabric or something,” grins Sully. “That really excites us.”

“I think for all of us, fashion was a fantasy and a gag,” reflects DiCaprio. “I think we all realized that the fashion happening in New York doesn’t do any of these things and it’s pretty boring and focused on money and sell, sell, sell. We’re having a good time! We’re making a point with fashion.”

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The point they’re making—about storytelling, humor, and a value set—speaks to Vaquera’s point of view, but also that of their community. “We’re not interested in being, ‘Look at us! And hear our perspective!’” says DiCaprio. “We have this platform and it’s getting larger and [it’s about asking] who around us needs to be a part of it. Whose voice isn’t being heard that should be?”

For more information, please visit Vaquera.nyc. Read about two other brands remaking New York’s fashion scene in our features on Eckhaus Latta and Telfar.

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By
Ashley Simpson
Photography by
Jai Odell

Styling by Katelyn Gray at Frank Reps. Model: Jess Cole at IMG Models. Hair by Braydon Nelson at Streeters using Redken. Makeup by Chiho Omae at Frank Reps using Giorgio Armani Beauty. Photographer’s assistant: John Griffith. Stylist’s assistant: Whitney Patterson. Set design by Hans Maharawal. Digital technician: Ward Price. Casting by Liz Goldson at AM Casting. Production by Floriana Castagna at Trouble Management.

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