The world of Jahnkoy exists at the unlikely intersection of streetwear and traditional Russian culture. Taking over the atrium at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Brooklyn-based designer presented her latest ready-to-wear collection, ME$$ENJAH:01, with an elaborately choreographed theatrical number that combined elements of hip-hop, spoken word poetry, contemporary dance, and folklore in a flurry of ecstatic energy.
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Part of an ongoing collaboration with Puma, ME$$ENJAH:01 sees Jahnkoy embellish classic sportswear with intricate beading, hand-stitching, and vinyl application that draws on imagery from traditional Russian culture, both real and imagined. "The idea was to translate the language of traditional clothing into contemporary everyday-wear," Jahnkoy said. "This was my first project where I realized, 'Ok, I have to use sportswear to bring culture forward,' because that is what we are wearing across the globe right now"
The collection was as much a community effort as it was a celebration of one. Jahnkoy worked with artisans from India and jewelers from Burkina Faso to create various elements of the collection, which were then constructed with upcycled materials in her Crown Heights studio. Backstage Jahnkoy muttered aloud that she really hoped more people would be dancing following the show, peering through the glass doors to see if anything had changed. She had teamed up again with choreographer Nathan Trice to plan out the show, which was meant to convey the story of how the designer came to America. For the first time, this ultimately required her to step out of her comfort zone and take a starring role in her own production.
"The idea was to translate the language of traditional clothing into contemporary everyday-wear, Jahnkoy said. "I see this [collection] as a stepping stone for people to enter, to start learning, to make people interested and start studying different types of dress. It's really important for us that we are open to this knowledge a little bit more."
At the crux of Jahnkoy's practice is a search for the middle-ground within cultural exchange. Borrowing from the history of indigenous cultures and weaving it back into the contemporary fashion landscape, the designer aims to restore traditional craftsmanship and "heal mankind." Given the ongoing refugee crisis around the world and continued political animosity aimed at immigrants, ME$$ENJAH:01 feels like an incredibly urgent collection for our times.
Photos courtesy of Jahnkoy/Getty