Fashion—and streetwear in particular—is woven into who we are. In the Bag is a column that highlights pieces and collections we’re excited about/have no qualms about popping into our shopping bags, the work of innovators in the scene who are contributing to its evolution, and more. Here’s what’s in the bag.
“Science predicts we have just 11 years remaining to make drastic changes to the way we treat the environment,” anti-streetwear streetwear designer Willy Chavarria says on the other side of the line from his home Denmark.
He isn’t wrong—our world is in dire need of rehabilitation by way of a massive team effort to hit the brakes on the many ways in which we contribute to its demise. But the cascade of sh*t that’s compiled over the last few months makes it rather easy for us to gloss over that fact and get into how that nugget of info inspired his new line. The hustle doesn’t stop because the world is ending. In fact, the pressure to create your best work only intensifies.
“[This] collection is very much about creating a eulogy for the last 11 years we have on the planet,” he says about his namesake’s AW20 line, rightfully titled “Eulogy.”
“Everything is very dark. The silhouettes are black in order to emphasize the space that we’re taking up on the planet and there are a lot of catholic religious overtones because I’m catholic… so you’ve got a lot of that woven throughout the collection.”
From extra-oversized fleece sportswear and jackets to silk tops and raw denim, Chavarria veers into whichever lane he sees fit but isn’t trying to put a label on it.
“Streetwear is a bad word nowadays,” he admits. The 53-year-old is one of the most trusted, political Latinos in streetwear and contemporary fashion, so he’s allowed to say that. And, honestly, even if that wasn’t the case—he strikes me as the type to do as he pleases. “It’s hard to identify,” he expands, “and it’s changing quickly and constantly.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is who’s at the forefront.
“Coco Chanel always said that style starts on the street but for me, much more so than seeing what’s being delivered on the high-end runway, what’s so much more important is what the kids of color and the poor kids are wearing on the street because that’s where you see so much more innovation,” he ponders. “Brown-skinned people have always been at the forefront. It’s a great time now for brown-skinned people to be able to be recognized for that.”
He puts in the work to ensure that’s the case. We’re less than three months into 2020 and Chavarria is hard at work on the concept for his brand’s 2021 collection now that he has *checks notes* one season and two collabs in the bag.
Everything Chavarria puts his fingers on—collaborations included—reflect his politics and perspective on the state of the free world and humanity as a whole. From the talent and kids (as he calls them) that he works with on styling and runways to the clothing itself, Chavarria is unapologetic in his sometimes tacit, often trenchant, textile approach.
In the past, that’s looked like T-shirts with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s face on them, a language-transcending #5683 (aka LOVE) collection, a bold “The Kids Are Not Alright” RAICES-benefitting tee and more.
“Anytime I do something where I’m working with a larger company, we review everything ahead of time. And usually, if somebody approaches me, they know my position on politics and the way that my brand works,” he says.
K-Swiss wasn’t the exception. The American, 54-year-old brand proved to be cool with Chavarria’s messaging and vision. Chavarria took the reins and ran with it, conceptualizing a limited but loud collection that touches on immigration issues and shines a light on first and second-generation Latinos in New York.
The superior crew neck of the “Authentic American” batch reads “No human being is illegal,” while the subtle spin on the Classic 2000 sneaker harkens back to the ‘90s Chicano street style Chavarria knows all too well. His intention here was to balance cozy and luxurious, preppy and street.
“Living in the [San Joaquin] valley in California… [K-Swiss] was this iconic brand that was like a status brand. It represented the epitome of white America and success.” But, it was so much more than that, and—as was the case with other classics from the likes of Dickies and Polo Ralph Lauren—brown and black kids added their flare to the bland basics.
“The white kids would be buying the expensive clothes they saw at whatever store it was at the time…Macys? I guess that was the closest, nice store I had,” he recalls. “They had the money to buy whatever was on the rack and they didn’t really have any soul to it whereas the brown-skinned ppl, we’d be getting our clothes at cheaper stores but we’d be turning it out… Just kind of re-vamping what we could afford and turning it into fashion and I always thought that’s what real fashion was. To me, it starts first with style and then fashion is born from the style.”
That outlook is at the foundation of everything he does. So, when the possibility of a K-Swiss collaboration arose, Chavarria jumped at the opportunity to tell a beautiful story of his own. One that was self-aware, yet hopeful and positive.
The spikes protruding from the sneakers’ tongue seams and foam that peeks out of the shoe’s lining is intended to get dirty right away—a subtle reference to the treacherous journey across the U.S.-Mexico border.
“It collects parts of their character,” he explains.
Nine months in the making, K-Swiss x Willy Chavarria was launched to the general public in February, a few months after its runway debut. It’s vibrant colorways (an ode to California beaches) serve as a sharp contrast to his Fall/Winter line and style, but the message’s all the same.
“That’s one thing that I hope my brand does,” Willy says when asked about putting people of color front and center. “I hope it creates awareness and invites people into an industry that they may otherwise feel excluded from.”