'Pose' Star Jason Rodriguez on Walking Willy Chavarria

'Pose' Star Jason Rodriguez on Walking Willy Chavarria

Willy Chavarria's latest collection rolled out like a history lesson in American fashion, delivering the designer's takes on everything from preppy menswear polos to all denim outfits. This was a statement relating to the way immigrants or first-generation Americans connect to these traditional codes of style; Dickies workwear, football jerseys or Nike sneakers become symbolism for "The American Dream," and Chavarria interpreted them with even more fantasy for Fall 2022 (sequins, couture silhouettes like bulbous sleeves or extra wide trousers).

Titled UNCUT, the show took place outside Fashion Month scheduling at the historic Prince George Ballroom, which has been restored to provide 416 units of affordable housing for low-income, formerly homeless and persons living with HIV/ AIDS. As a queer Latinx designer, who uses his namesake brand to celebrate community, Chavarria's collection offered commentary about living on shared land, despite division happening everywhere. "We are UNCUT from our siblings worldwide," a press statement reads.

Beyond the clothes, Chavarria's casting — a mix of models, brand regulars and street cast newcomers — makes for a uniquely authentic display each season. PAPER caught up with one, Pose star Jason Rodriguez, who brought his experience as a movement coach and choreographer to the catwalk. He's also a New York native and House of Xtravaganza alum, which explains the way he confidently "pumped" throughout the Ballroom — hands on hips and bouncing with flair — like a pro.

How did you get on Willy Chavarria's radar to walk this season? What’s the story behind the casting?

A friend of mine from the dance world, Marlon Taylor Wiles, reached out. He was helping produce the show. I said, "Fuck yes!" I’m a big fan of Willy’s work; being Latinx, I connect to his work. And, of course, why would I not want to walk with all those beautiful tradey people?

Willy said, "The garments this season tell a story of empowerment and opulence.” Did you feel empowered and opulent in his clothes on the runway?

I felt like Trinity’s gay son down that runway, so yes I felt empowered by the garment and also the intention behind Willy’s show. From selection of place, the Prince George Ballroom, that is connected to a residential that helps house homeless and low-income folks to how hands-on he was with this production.

The show was called UNCUT, alluding to "our siblings worldwide" and how we cannot be separated "despite political and geographical distances." How do you relate to that, personally, and why is this sentiment important, right now?

We are not separated because we carry the same weight as members of this community. My experiences and traumas as a queer Latinx man can relate with others in Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Brazil, etc. Our trials and tribulations are what connect us. My story is one that others have or might experience. It’s important at all times of the day because one’s success and confidence can be passed to another during a time of need.

Assuming this isn’t your first runway, what previous experience did you bring to this season’s catwalk?

I honestly felt I brought freshness this time around. I’ve walked for Patricia Field, Landeros, Laurence and Chico, and Romeo Hunte, but not walking a runway since pre-pandemic left me with a hunger. Hence all those turns and facial expressions during my entire walk.

How do you typically prepare mentally before going in front of an audience? How’d you prepare this time around?

I prepare my body. I stretch, do crunches, push ups, have a green juice followed with a smoothie, and I just wait for that moment to destroy the runway.

What went through your mind while you were walking Willy’s show? Are you aware of the people in the audience?

I’m aware of all my flaws, failures, traumas and faults. I recognize them and pump across them. Without these, my road to success would never be paved. I see some people and wave hello in my head [laughs].

You described your performance on Instagram as your "usual walk to the bodega." What’s your go-to bodega order while "pumping," as described?

Omg! Okay, here we go cause it depends the time of day and night. Let’s go with night and coming back from a club or bar. I order a chicken cutlet: lettuce, tomato, mayo, black pepper, on a whole wheat hero... fancy. A bag of Wise Honey BBQ chips, Oreos, FIJI water and a Bruce Cost Ginger Ale. It seals my night.

Describe what you wore from Willy’s collection. Did you love it?

I wore a long, black shiny jacket, black wide pant and dress shoes. Simple and chic.

What do you love about Willy's designs and overall sensibility? What does he bring to fashion?

I love that his clothes can still hug you and create silhouettes. Baggy, big and oversized will make you look fabulous, which is what I’m use to being from Washington Heights. He brings his culture and people to fashion. I was inspired to hear some of the models were street cast. That it was their first time walking a fashion show and how much they were being supported and encouraged. Having models from down the street walking a runway, people seeing everyday people in fashion. Not a construct of what fashion is, but whom it belongs to: the people.

What does fashion need more of?

It needs more play. I love the play in Thierry Mugler’s shows back in the day and may he rest in power. How The Blonds add many elements to their show. Like, play — be chaotic and let people want to go online and purchase all your chaotic clothing. They will.

Photography: Selwyn Tungol