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Rosario Dawson’s Studio 189 brings West Africa to New York Fashion Week

Brand focused on sustainability celebrates West Africa and its artisans

4:39 PMNEW YORK — During a Fashion Week in which Gucci faced public condemnation for selling a blackface balaclava, a label co-founded by two black women celebrated the African diaspora and the Ghanaian Year of Return.

“This year we celebrate the idea of going back home and returning with love and compassion,” said Studio 189 co-founder Abrima Erwiah after the presentation of its first fall/winter collection. She noted that 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the first arrival of enslaved Africans to North America.

The brand responded to Gucci’s racist flub with a picture of the balaclava in question and a caption that simply read, “Seriously?”

The clothes and accessories of Studio 189 come from artisans in Ghana. The country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, declared 2019 The Year of Return, an invitation to members of the African diaspora to visit their roots, especially those descended from enslaved people forced to cross through Ghana’s Door of No Return.

The brand, co-founded in 2012 by actress Rosario Dawson and Erwiah, a former Bottega Veneta marketing and communication executive, aims to push social change through fashion. Last year, Studio 189 won the CFDA + Lexus Fashion* Initiative prize, which provides funding for brands focusing on sustainability.

Instead of walking down a runway, Studio 189 models stood in a line that ran the length of the catwalk Monday morning, kitted out in the batik prints and indigo-dyed wares for which the label is known. The results were twofold. Showgoers could get close and linger long enough to absorb the craftsmanship of the clothes and get a sense of the various weights and textures of the fabrics. But the arrangement also erased the traditional social hierarchy of a fashion show, in which who is seated and where can make just as significant a statement as the clothes themselves.

Designers Abrima Erwiah (left) and Rosario Dawson (center) attend the Studio 189 presentation during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery II at Spring Studios on Feb. 11 in New York.

Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

“This is our Sunday Best collection,” Dawson said. “It’s really about recognizing where we come from, so you’ll see a lot of ancient techniques that are still so beautiful today. It’s about being present in this moment in the Year of Return and being together. … It’s really about going, ‘Let’s make this something we can continue celebrating.’ We don’t have to have lots of things, but we have to have quality things.”

Studio 189’s presentation also included an installation on the provenance of the line’s clothes, tracing the supply chain from artisans in Ghana to the brand’s physical and online stores. Studio 189 has a physical store in New York and another in Ghana’s capital, Accra. The brand sources its indigo from Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali, continuing long-established textile traditions established in West Africa.

“We have brought Africa here to you,” Dawson said. “We hope you come back to Africa with us.”

Models pose for the Studio 189 presentation during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery II at Spring Studios on Feb. 11 in New York City.

Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Telfar brings black punk rock hip-hop to New York Fashion Week

Black. Queer. Street urchin. Punk. Telfar Clemens designs for the kids.

11:38 AMNEW YORK — Thursday night at Irving Plaza, the Manhattan music venue, had all the trappings of a typical punk show: plenty of ripped hems, safety pin earrings, tattoos, Doc Martens, Manic Panic multicolored hair, uncomfortable-looking piercings and unconventional makeup.

But there were two important differences:

  1. The crowd was almost entirely black.
  2. It was actually a fashion show.

Leave it to designer Telfar Clemens to once again upend the mold of just what a fashion show — a trade exhibition, first and foremost — can be. This year, Clemens debuted the fall/winter collection of his eponymous brand in a show created in collaboration with Slave Play and Daddy playwright Jeremy O. Harris. With all the sonic and atmospheric flourishes, the clothes were, frankly, the least important part of the show.

Designer Telfar Clemens walks the runway at the Telfar Fall/Winter 2019 Collection on Feb. 7 in New York City.

Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images

Rather than sending models down a traditional catwalk, Clemens sent his models lifted through a crowd that magically parted like an Afro whose sides have been divorced with the expert flick of a rattail comb.

It was difficult to see the clothes, but Clemens’ message for “COUNTRY,” the name of this year’s show, was absolutely clear. The stage at Irving Plaza was framed with a hollowed-out American flag. The models were beckoned with the deafening sounds of trains — whistles and a chugga-chugga-chugga enhanced with the sort of bass one might expect from Hank Shocklee, conjuring associations with the Great Migration.

Out they came, to the sounds of Total Freedom, followed by Robert Randolph, Oyinda and Butch Dawson. Strums of an Afrofuturist country guitar melded with strains of Janet Jackson’s “Any Time, Any Place.”

With his wares presented, Clemens came onstage and threw himself, back first, to surf the crowd of adoring fans.

In his presentation statement, Clemens wrote that “we are all a little bit country. So all our music is country music, like all our bodies are objects. If you can carry that weight — then you know what it is to have an objective. Pick up a stone and throw it.”

The show concluded with performances from the hip-hop punk group Ho99o9 and Na-Kel Smith providing the soundtrack to a jumping, sweaty, testosterone-powered mosh pit, most immediately, but also to the untamed rage of a new, black punk rock generation. It, too, sings America.

Gregg Popovich: Colin Kaepernick ‘was very courageous in what he did’

The Spurs coach believes the former NFL quarterback will be celebrated one day

10:23 AMOAKLAND, Calif. — San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich recalled how Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos are now celebrated despite being vilified after their civil rights protest during the 1968 Mexico City Games. Popovich also recalled sports icon Muhammad Ali being heralded long after being vilified for fighting for his human rights.

In time, Popovich believes former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be revered instead of vilified for fighting for social justice.

“He was very courageous in what he did,” Popovich said of Kaepernick before a game against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night. “He did it for the right reasons. I think the same story will unwind as time goes on.”

Colin Kaepernick (left) and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneel in protest during the national anthem before their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi’s Stadium on Oct. 23, 2016, in Santa Clara, California.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As part of the Warriors’ Black History Month celebration, the Warriors honored Smith during the Spurs game and gave him a jersey. With black-gloved fists raised to the sky and heads down, Smith and Carlos gave a Black Power salute on the medal stand after winning the gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the 200 meters at the 1968 Olympics. Smith and Carlos and their family members received death threats when they returned to America. Now, the former San Jose State track stars, who have a statue on campus, are revered nationally.

Popovich had Carlos speak to the Spurs in October 2015. The longtime Spurs coach also vividly recalled seeing the Black Power salute.

“Those are two special people, for all the obvious reasons,” Popovich said before Wednesday’s game at Oracle Arena. “To speak truth to power, especially in ’68, was pretty special. I can still remember watching that. It was quite dramatic at the time. They paid for it in a lot of different ways. …

“Now they’re basically being lauded for their courage, which is appropriate. Just like Muhammad Ali, everybody hated what he did in the beginning with Vietnam. So they’re two very important figures in our social history and the history of justice in this country.”