Five years ago, with bold attitude and confidence, Vaquera started out in New York and quickly became the most-talked about and hard to classify emerging brand in town. In 2022, the brand opens Paris Fashion Week and is backed by Dover Street Market, and yet it’s still difficult to put a finger on it. Patric DiCaprio and Bryn Taubensee aren’t doing conventional, mainstream fashion, but somehow manage to keep their avantgarde-ness commercially attainable: think great, over-sized jackets and too-cool-to-be-true denim. “We’ve really been pushing toward having more commercial clothing and that is still really important to us,” Taubensee said backstage of the spring-summer 2023 fashion show. “But it’s also important to remain true to what we did this for, which is expressing ourselves.” Enter American flag dress, made from faded flags that were stolen by DiCaprio’s friends from houses on Fire Island, its construction more ambitious than the one from their debut. A deconstructed wedding dress – safety-pinned at the bodice, spliced down the middle, and worn over pink stretch satin athleisure and denim cut-offs – once belonged to DiCaprio’s mom. They aren’t likely to put these pieces into production, but they are representative of the Vaquera spirit, which is irreverently anti-establishment. That irreverence came across in metallic “polo” shirts stitched with a lassoing cowboy instead of a mallet wielding polo player. Meanwhile, the acid wash denim’s faint yellow cast came from what Taubensee described as soy stain; “we actually use soy sauce,” she explained.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
“Fashion fan fiction” is how Patric DiCaprio and Bryn Taubensee used to describe Vaquera: tribute clothes for a world obsessed with referential dress. Bringing their runway show to Paris and showing at Dover Street Market’s 35-37 space for autumn-winter 2022 is the ultimate fashion fan fiction come true. Now instead of idolizing runway legends from afar, these American designers have “started becoming the people who we idolized,” said Taubensee. Their craftsmanship has been on a steady uptick since linking with Dover Street Market Paris in early 2020, and this season they’ve made padded moto jacket puffers, tinsel-like sequin dresses, and airy angora knits that feel as high quality as they look. Bags have been developed for the second season and footwear is a collaboration with Vans alongside the same vintage shoes the brand has used for six years, repainted each season to coordinate with the collection. Love, in fact, was the driver for the Vaquera this season. Romance was never really a feeling one got at their all-bass, hurried catwalks back in New York, but a transatlantic journey, coupled with ideas of Maggie Cheung’s sensual performance in 1996’s Irma Vep, has made the Vaquera tone gentler. Now their big ruffles seem less campy, more tender. Their plaid skirts and schoolgirl jumpers feel like the clothes of teenage crushes, and their suiting is covered in professions of love. Even a hair clip reads YOU inside a jet black heart. The brand’s signature teddy, elongated into a dress, is now translucent and trimmed in white lace, an invitation to come closer, to see, and to be seen.
Vaquera is growing up, but it keeps on being true to its core identity of one of New York’s most daring and intriguing brands. Where the label had once used real trash bags and duct tape as textile stand-ins, it is now using specially developed fabrics. And spring-summer 2022 saw the first Vaquera handbags – shaped like classical instrument cases including shrunken carriers for a violin, snare drum and flute. “It’s changed everything, as we headed into the pandemic we probably wouldn’t have been able to keep this business open without them. We owe everything to them – it’s been an incredible partnership,” Bryn Taubensee said of Dover Street Market Paris’ September 2020 pledge to help the brand’s development. “I think this brand started with a DIY spirit and now we have this structure with Comme and have come so far with sales,” Patric DiCaprio added. The designers, which recently saw their third counterpart Claire Sullivan depart to work on personal projects, said their overall mood was swayed by notions of “luck and superstition and trying to take control of a situation that’s out of control – the rituals you can do to make yourself feel powerful”. Between the lace tights, leggings with a heart cutout perfectly aligned over the buttocks and ballooning gowns tiered in the formation of a New York City sidewalk trash heap, Vaquera delivers its underground quintessence in a less amateur manner.
The dancing theme, whether it’s Erdem‘s ballerinas or Dries Van Noten‘s emotional contemporary dance production, is having a moment this season. It’s natural: we’re year in global lockdowns, and we all want to shake it off. For autumn-winter 2021, Vaquera‘s Claire Sullivan, Patric DiCaprio and Bryn Taubensee were inspired by the sensation of “waiting to go back out in the world, to go onstage.” That’s why you see an oversized tee that reads “Runway Star” and Tonya Harding–style leotards. Of course, performance is central to the Vaquera mystique and they’re hoping to be back at it by showtime in September, but the downtime of the last year has helped them to grow in other ways. New York’s perennial cool kids are growing up. The latest line-up marks their second season under the Dover Street Market umbrella and the Vaquera lifestyle is expanding. There’s without a doubt a new level of finesse to the new season’s vegan leather motorcycle jackets; they call them “real” pieces. The collection also takes cues from the way the designers themselves are dressing. There are sweatshirts fused with bras and slip dresses, and the front panel of one skirt is embellished with a pair of satiny panties. A turtleneck collaged with found scraps retains the DIY spirit that has defined their work since the beginning, and a very large brassiere worn as a tank is an example of the proportion play that is another hallmark of their earliest collections. Many designers this season end up with offerings that are somewhere between WFH comfort and optimistic vision of finally going out to the world. Vaquera checks all the boxes.
Although digital-live Paris Fashion Week has officially started today, there are still some great collections coming from New York. One of them is Vaquera, a line-up that ironically muses on different kinds of elegance, created by Patric DiCaprio, Claire Sullivan and Bryn Taubensee. Over the summer, one of the most “outsider” brands out there got suddenly certified by the upper echelon of fashion – but not the most common one, though. After hosting their autumn-winyter show back in February, Dover Street Market added Vaquera to the roster of brands it supports through its Paris showroom slash incubator. DSM will help with production and handle all sales and distribution, “the backend stuff that takes us away from being creative,” as DiCaprio put it. The point of the arrangement is that with DSM handling the commercial side of the business, the Vaquera trio can focus on creativity. But the partnership has already impacted how they’re channeling that creativity. “Knowing they’re going to be there on that side helping us with sales was really inspiring, for me at least,” DiCaprio continued. “We were like, ‘Let’s make this skirt perfect and the fit really nice and make these fabrics really good so they look good in their showroom.’” Their new collection is a sort of codifying of the Vaquera ethos and aesthetic. Wearability has been emphasized without forsaking too much of their hold on weird. So side by side there are washed denim jeans cut to fit both guys and girls and a Little Bo Peep cosplay outfit in white canvas and croc-stamped vinyl. Mixing with twisted bankers stripe shirts and oversized suiting is a tutu explosion in an amorphous body-obscuring shape of the kind you might see on a Comme des Garçons runway. “We were inspired by what we want to wear, what our friends are wearing, who we’re with,” Sullivan elaborated. “That’s so much of what Vaquera is: context, reference, culture. What do you wear, what do I wear, how do we make it Vaquera?” In certain neighborhoods of New York this summer it wasn’t unusual to see women wearing their bed clothes on the street, one of the many impacts of months in lockdown. In the look-book, that translates from innerwear to evening-outerwear. What makes it Vaquera is that all genders sample the retro bra tops and the satin and lace teddies affixed to T-shirts. New, never-average, edgy elegance for whoever feels it.