More than 20 years after launching her anti-fashion eco-conscious brand and design collective, Imitation of Christ, Tara Subkoff returned to New York City during NYFW for her first live presentation post-COVID.
The designer and industry critic famously launched Imitation of Christ back in 2000 as a means to turn an unblinking eye on the increasingly worrying use of non-sustainable products and processes in clothing production. Made entirely of reclaimed and recycled bits and scraps, the one-off couture pieces from Imitation of Christ all fetched hefty, luxury-level sums while also making a statement about the damage fashion was — and still is — doing to our world.
Subkoff's clothes became hits with the in-crowd of New York, including with her longtime friend and collaborator Chloë Sevigny who championed the label and ethos for years. Well before the fashion industry was aware of its carbon footprint, Subkoff and her band of rotating young designers were calling for large-scale change and awareness for the dangers ahead. The decades-old messaging around Imitation of Christ is tailor-made for 2021.
Photography: Lu Lu Syracuse
This season, Subkoff held her show at St. Marks Church in downtown Manhattan, where editors, eco-warriors and friends of Subkoff were ushered outside to a courtyard for the first portion of the show. On a grassy knoll, as a singer in black softly sang a haunting sonnet about human kindness and rebirth, dancers performed a modern piece, each wearing a red, white or blue recycled cotton outfit with activist slogans embroidered onto the garment. A particularly powerful message on a floor length white kaftan, worn by Rosenaldo Benitez, read, "If love is under siege, it is because it threatens the very essence of commercial civilization."
"This is a peaceful protest," an emotional Subkoff told PAPER of the public display. "These are actually a reissue of a collection I did in 2002, right after 9/11. I did this really gray and somber collection, all using recycled tensile material made from plastic water bottles. We were making a statement back then and people did pay attention, but not like they do now. Now people understand a bit better. Back then we were the Greta Thunbergs of our time. We knew something was wrong. How can we be doing this to our planet, to our people? Where is this headed? Stop consuming!"
The spirited performance then moved inside the church, where a Buddhist monk had been situated in the middle of the hall floor on a pillow, bent over to create a rainbow sand mandala. "Impermanence," Subkoff commented, "that's what that is about. The idea of life and death, and appreciating the moment, not trying to hold on to something. You can't take it with you. Imitation of Christ is that."
The lights dimmed, and a new set of dancers emerged, wearing the kind of Imitation of Christ we've come to love over the decades — an eclectic mix of fabrics and fits, all made completely with recycled, upcycled and vintage materials, meant to be worn by anyone. Subkoff usually tags in young, up-and-coming designers to lend their fresh eyes to her collections, and this season's line was creatively directed by newcomers Daisy Bourez and Asia Caldera, whose multicolored sequins, tulle, reclaimed mesh and spandex mixed together in a psychedelic cacophony of style. As the model-dancers writhed and twirled around the church floor in their colorful couture fits (with choreography by Dead Serious), 19-year old singer Blessing sang three of her own songs from the altar just above, each tune as haunting and beautiful as the last.
Finished, the exhausted dancers collapsed to the ground in a spiral of sweaty, chic bodies. True to form, Subkoff herself ran out onto the floor to thank all those who attended, as well as the many collaborators who helped make this presentation special.
"It's about passing the baton," Subkoff told us breathlessly after the show in the church courtyard, where well-wishers crowded around. "Carrie Fisher encouraged me to make my own work. And I'm sure someone encouraged her to do what she did, to forge her own path. So this is about giving a platform to young talent, to the future. I believe in affirmative action. I believe in Black Lives Matter. I believe women. I believe that you have to be conscious. And I want to create space for everyone at the table, so we can tackle what's ahead together."
Photography: Deborah Jaffe/ Photos courtesy of Imitation of Christ