Elena Velez held her show at the Freehand Hotel, transforming its Georgia Room, typically a bar, into a bare-bones space, accompanied by a soundtrack that began with a woman repeating “She was a disgrace to all women.” It was a cheeky way to start off a presentation whose theme celebrated women and their different forms of femininity. As for Velez’s version of femininity, it’s tough and gritty. She’s from Milwaukee, the only child of a single mother who is a ship captain. Velez stresses that she has her own unorthodox perception of womanhood, which, through her creations, has turned out to be wildly confident, a bit aggressive, and very hot. Much of her success can be credited to her great handle on the “tough femininity” dichotomy in her designs. The Parsons graduate uses fabrics that are made to last and have a military-grade toughness. Some of these materials include army canvas, Lake Michigan ship sails (a nod to her mother), and parachutes. More often than not, Velez doesn’t cover the original serial numbers on the fabric but instead keeps them in the final design, another grit-factor addition. According to the designer, the use of these materials is to show tension within womanhood. While Velez stresses toughness in her design ethos, there is no clunk in the pieces. The silhouettes are sensual and curve skimming. Corsets were a theme in the collection, sometimes deconstructed with sliced-off sections. Peasant tops, once romantic and woo-woo, were incredibly alluring, cinched at the waist with a boning motif. Even the long and loose and flowy ivory dresses, which could have been the nightgown of every bedridden Victorian woman, had sex appeal thanks to the artful way a strap hung off the shoulder or how the boning traced the body. The final image of the collection has all the essense of Velez’ vision: a striking model closed the show while carrying a cherubic baby and wearing a black dress with a sharp oval cutout stretching from the sternum to below the navel. Truly a stunning version of femininity.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.