By Erin Cabrey
Fashion designer and Fordham alum Rachel Antonoff’s fiercely feminist New York Fashion Week show, complete with a gender-reversed musical production, swapped the typical runway formula in favor of a girl power infused performance that transcended trendy couture.
Fashion Meets Feminism
Fashion Week shows seem to follow the same template: skinny, exotic models with skyscraper legs and clad in outfits that no mere civilian would dare try to pull off, who strut down a sleek runway to a flawlessly-mixed techno beat. That isn’t, nor has it ever been, the style of Rachel Antonoff. Her NYFW show, that unveiled her Fall/Winter 2016 collection, was anything but ordinary. With a secretary theme, Antonoff’s models performed a gender-swapped version of “A Secretary is Not a Toy” from “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” a typically male-dominated show. The models weren’t the average fare either. They were a diverse selection of Broadway dancers. The lead was played by Ali Stroker, Antonoff’s childhood friend whose role in the revival of “Spring Awakening” marked the first time a Broadway show featured an actor in a wheelchair. To top it off, Antonoff’s brother, Jack, who is the lead singer of Bleachers and the guitarist for Fun., played the object of the female workers’ objectification. He was clad in a Rachel Antonoff graphic tee which read “Equal Pay Now” in the brand’s signature cursive font.
The designs were whimsical, fun and, most importantly, something that people could actually wear. A prominent motif was lipstick, with dresses featuring swipes of all different shades and collars embellished with lipstick tubes. Other designs featured checkered pants and 70s-inspired denim skirts. One t-shirt, my personal favorite, featured the phrase “I’ll be right on that, Rose,” paying homage to Christina Applegate’s Sue Ellen Crandell in the movie Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. Playful, candy-colored and just a little bit raunchy, this Rachel Antonoff presentation is perhaps leading us into a new feminist fashion frontier.
Rachel Antonoff is no stranger to the Fordham community. She was a member of the FCLC Class of 2003. In fact, a little digging led me to a front page article in the April 24, 2003 edition of The Observer in which she and her brother were both interviewed regarding the loss of their cousin, a Marine in the Iraq War. A grainy photo depicted Antonoff with her cousin and brother, who she cited as her best friend and muse.
Antonoff was born and raised in suburban New Jersey. During high school, she commuted to the Upper West Side to study theater at the Professional Children’s School, where Scarlett Johansson once studied. Antonoff graduated with a degree in Communications and worked as a writer for various publications including Nylon and Teen Vogue. She co-founded the short-lived clothing line Mooka Kinney in 2007 before her self-titled label in Spring 2009. Since then her designs have been featured in magazines like Vogue, ELLE and InStyle. Her collections have been modeled by actresses like Aubrey Plaza, Mae Whitman and Jenny Slate, and her looks have been rocked by everyone from Hailee Steinfeld to Lena Dunham.
Antonoff also works with The Ally Coalition, an organization she co-founded with the members of Fun. The organization works within the entertainment industry to support LGBTQ equality. In December, she hosted the second annual TAC Talent Show, which featured an array of performances by celebrities, like Sara Bareilles and Fred Armisen, to benefit and support homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City.
The Every Girl
Antonoff’s unique voice and vision sets her work apart from the rest. She uses her designs to make waves and strong statements. Recent graphics include tees saying “Feminist” and “You Don’t Own Me” in the classic Rachel Antonoff font. But her most prominent work was the Female Reproduction Sweater from her Fall 2015 collection. Her website shows the look modeled by her mother, and it’s been worn by celebrities like Rowan Blanchard and Jamie Lee Curtis. Fallopian tubes never looked so cool.
This New York Fashion Week was dominated by buzz around Kanye West’s latest Yeezy designs but, while those looks might not look quite as good on people who aren’t members of the Kardashian clan, Rachel Antonoff’s pieces are for everyone. “I think she’s kind of an ‘every’ girl. I really like that my mom, my grandmother and my 13-year-old cousin can wear my clothes,” she told Elle. “But definitely, she’s silly—she doesn’t take herself or her fashion too seriously. She’s not afraid to get her clothes dirty.”
Now, it seems, her work has extended beyond just women. Her designs are modeled by men, babies and even dogs, making Antonoff’s vision one of the fashion industry’s freshest. It’s inclusive and real. Its purpose isn’t to make women value beauty standards and high fashion looks that are both unattainable and unrealistic. Its purpose isn’t to construct an image, but to reflect one. Rachel Antonoff is our designer.
She helps us feel confident enough to sport a lipstick frock or a science fair-inspired tee and reminds women to take pride in who we are. Rachel Antonoff encourages us to wear our ovaries on our sleeves. Literally.