WILLY CHAVARRIA, THE DESIGNER THRIVING IN 2022
The Mexican-American designer’s latest runway show was a celebration of American BIPOC culture and sexuality, and showed the changes he is set to bring to Calvin Klein later this year
Willy Chavarria is a busy man; running his own eponymous line while acting as the Senior Vice President of men’s design for Calvin Klein worldwide might overwhelm anyone. But Chavarria has proven he can’t be kept down by obstacles.
“I’m just not doing video today,” Mr. Chavarria proclaims saucily as we get on a Zoom call together the weekend after his show at the Prince George Ballroom. Then I tell him I will if he will. “Okay, then! Let’s do it.” Our little lights go green, and when we meet each other face-to-face on-screen, the designer is lounging in his Manhattan townhouse on a plush couch, with a smart black hoodie on and thick, horn-rimmed glasses. Contrary to his prior protests, with a thoroughly youthful vibe and look, the handsome 54-year old’s energy is tangible, even digitally. And to be sure, the man seems totally up for the professional juggling act he is now handling.
For the F/W 2022 season, the California-native and industry stalwart (he’s held positions at American Eagle Outfitters, Joe Boxer, Ralph Lauren, Dickies, and Yeezy) showed signature hulking coats, oversized trousers, overalls, and re-engineered workwear in materials like denim, latex, and stiff cottons. As is his way, the show was a thoroughly thought out cultural experience; guests were immersed in a heavy haze of palo santo, sage, and weed smoke, as thumping dancehall, house music, and reggaeton played. Entitled “UNCUT,” the cast of BIPOC and largely LGBTQ model guys was legitimately inclusive—many sizes and shapes and shades of men came down the runway—and each glistened with a sheen of body oil mixed with sweat, as they briskly stomped down the long, winding runway.
Notable public figures like celebrated photographer Marco Ovando, dancer José Lapaz-Rodríguez from the House of Telfar, and actor Jason A. Rodriguez from “Pose,” all made appearances (Rodriguez wore an impressive black latex overcoat and modified Nike Air Force 1 cowboy boots, as he twirled and sashayed down the catwalk… It was quite the moment).
The entirety of the Willy Chavarria show experience—from the models to the clothing to the music—was Black and brown and queer and beautiful and sexy as all get out. Even the venue itself felt authentic to Chavarria’s brand ethos; the Prince George Ballroom was constructed in 1904 as an upscale hotel, but fell into disrepair for decades, only to be restored to its Neo-Renaissance glory by the non-profit Breaking Ground years later. Today, it provides 416 units of affordable housing for low-income, formerly homeless, and persons living with HIV/AIDS.
Chavarria, who is gay and Mexican-American and one of only a handful of Latin designers to reach his level of success in this industry, has been putting his clothing on an extremely diverse set of male models since his beginning. Truly, he has been a catalyst for the evolving fashion scene we are seeing today. But, he’s a bit hesitant of diversity’s popularity, as well.
“Yes, things are changing,” Chavarria opines on our call. “But at the same time, all of this inclusivity stuff has been hyped up to such a level that it’s become a trend. I would say it’s too much of a trend right now, because a lot of brands are just using it externally. Bigger brands and companies, their boards [board of directors] are still predominantly white, male, and very patriarchal. It’s how they stay in power. I think the real trick is to build for people of color and queer people. We need to build teams from within. We need to make sure all the power comes from within. That’s where real strength comes from.”
In addition to designing his own line and leading menswear for Calvin Klein, Chavarria has also recently launched Community Center Creative Collective (CCCC), a concentration of creative industry folk, many of color, who have either worked with Chavarria in the past or are looking to do so. “CCCC is all about supporting the incredibly supportive people around me,” he explains, “and if one of our people gets poached by a major brand, like they did recently to style for Bottega Veneta, then we couldn’t be prouder of that.” And this week, it was revealed that select pieces from Chavarria’s last collection have been included in the Costume Institute’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
But all of this, all the success and recognition Chavarria has achieved, has been in aid of promoting Americans. All Americans, including immigrants and displaced peoples. “It’s very important to me to really show pure beauty, pure self expression, and pure realness. Uncut realness,” he says, “of the people that are of these two continents, the Americas. The people who come from this land, who have helped to form this American culture of ours.”
With his first collection for Calvin Klein coming this year, as well as a Willy Chavarria brand x Dickies collaboration on the horizon, the fashion world is waiting with bated breath for Chavarria’s next moves.