Those who claim fashion week has lost its edge were clearly not on the guest list for the Willy Chavarrias Spring / Summer 22 show last Monday. Iconic hair salon Astor Place Hairstylists set the scene for the Chavarrias runway presentation, which was complemented by the designer’s oversized Chicano-inspired silhouettes. Chavarria is known, among other things, for his commitment to launching color models in his shows and campaigns, but this year the self-proclaimed “Sad Papi” fashions exceeded expectations last week by releasing a few models on the fly. Below, the photographer and friend of Maintenance Maxwell’s Vice tells how he ended up on the track.
I was backstage with my press card last Monday, photographing portraits of models as they prepared to parade for Willy Chavarria. Just four minutes before the show started, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to find a man with a clean Chicano stasch, a 3 prong bling cap, a tea tree oil toothpick and an oversized polo shirt looking me straight in the eye. Willy wants you to walk. Go meet him in the back. I was then rushed by three young Latino assistants, in front of a line of some of the most handsome Central American and indigenous men I have ever seen in my life. I couldn’t help but think, did they just ask me to join THIS lineup?
The three assistants took me to the dressing room and left me standing in front of a slicked-back man wearing shiny gold aviator glasses and the most stylish leather tracksuit ever. Willy Chavarria, in the flesh! Within seconds, he threw the most luxurious baby blue polo shirt over my head and hung a gold rosary around my neck before pulling back to admire his work. Stylist Marcus Correa came over to join him, and the couple stood chattering their teeth and peering over the clothes. Willy said, Yeah, he’s gonna do the show, and Marcus agreed with a blingy smile. That’s when my new reality set in: I was going to walk the catwalk of the same show I was supposed to cover.
I have to admit, modeling may have been the Hannah montana experience I had always dreamed of, but I didn’t expect it to change my perspective so much. The audience was filled with some of the most entertaining cultural faces: Frank Ocean and Gossip Girls Penn Badgley was seated in the front row, as was Offset, who triggered a joint as I walked past him. During this time, I wore clothes that reminded me of my tios in Guatemala. Looking at the rest of the models in the line, I started to feel like I was at a family barbecue. It was inspiring to see the machismo of our cultures transformed by a collection of oversized chino dresses, perfectly steamed khaki and some of the cleanest Latin hair I’ve seen in my life. I never see a queer outlook on men’s clothing in my culture, but Chavarrias’ designs completely change that narrative by showcasing a reinvented Chicano style while simultaneously embracing the endless variations that make up the Latin identity.
Before I hit the track, I spoke to Correa about challenging the industry’s narrow understanding of what a Latino looks like. When I asked him what made WIlly pull me off the press line and put me on the show, he told me that was what the brand was all about. The models I met backstage echoed this, the brand spotted them in their own neighborhoods, in front of taqueras or while strolling the Lower East Side. They told me how many times they felt symbolized in this industry and that this was the first show they were on where they felt really powerful. Before I entered training, Willy squeezed my shoulders and said: Are you feeling good? When I told him I felt like a million bucks, he winked and said, okay. I want the community to know our value.
Before that night, I had never walked into a room without a designer noticing me, but that is the magic of Willy Chavarria. He loves his family and I am honored to have been adopted there. Chavarrias celebration cholo lifestyle was the dose of joy Fashion Week needed, and seeing that many happy models leave a venue is a rare sight none of us will soon forget.
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