A week before their Paris Fashion Week debut, young designers Patric DiCaprio and Bryn Taubensee, who design under the name Vaquera, seem calm, although one fabric has yet to arrive, two outfits have yet to be started and they have to ship their entire collection—and themselves—across the Atlantic. The label is based in New York, although its name is Spanish – it means “cowgirl” and was chosen by founder DiCaprio because he was reading Tom Robbins’ 1976 novel, Even cowgirls have the blues at the time.
It was in 2013, when he was only 22 years old; a group of friends, including Taubensee and two others, Claire Sullivan and David Moses (neither of whom are yet involved), joined them in 2016. They collectively designed and physically built Vaquera’s collections in their spare time so that they were all working second jobs, mostly in retail. Now, however, Vaquera is a full-time concern for the remaining duo.
The creators of Vaquera describe their work as “fashion fan-fiction” – essentially amateur, fan-made, unauthorized work based on existing work. Probably the most famous example is that of EL James Fifty shades of Grey novels, a fantasized and sexualized account of the relationship between Edward Cullen and Bella Swan of the dusk books and films, which have taken off.
What does this mean in terms of fashion? Tributes to great designers of the past, nods to Martin Margiela and John Galliano, a clasp-clasp grandma’s handbag transformed into a pinafore dress that recreates a design by Yohji Yamamoto from 2001, and a series of T- shirts with avant-garde faces. on-call designers, including Vivienne Westwood, love group t-shirts.
“In music, it’s so normal to do a cover,” DiCaprio, 31, explains via Zoom. (Taubensee is 32) “It’s something we want to bring to the fashion world. It’s something we struggle with – this idea of ownership. The brand has indeed drawn grassroots criticism on social media for close tributes, like this dot-to-dot Yamamoto redux. It’s an idea that’s always more delicate in fashion than music, or even art, where appropriation is a form in its own right.
Ironically, it was one of their “covers” that caught the attention of Comme des Garçons, who now support their business through their brand development division named Dover Street Market Paris (DSMP). In the Spring 2019 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Camp: Fashion Notesthere was a Vaquera mini dress fashioned to look like a gargantuan Tiffany & Co velvet jewelry pouch – Vaquera often likes to make clothes that look like other things, puffed up big, like a heart-shaped box of chocolates in padded satin wrapping the whole body, or a fabric pouf topped with a rosette of Christmas gift ribbon one meter wide.
Kawakubo admired the bag-lady look in the museum, which Met costume curator Andrew Bolton passed on to designers. “We were amazed that she had any idea who we were, let alone that she was interested,” DiCaprio said. Bolton then put them in touch with Adrian Joffe, Kawakubo’s husband and chairman of Comme des Garçons and Dover Street Market. They succeeded.
A year later, Vaquera was in dire straits. “We had hit like a wall in New York, no money, barely had a collection done,” says DiCaprio – lamenting the lack of support for young talent in the city. They reached out to Joffe and Dover Street Market – which started stocking Vaquera in spring 2020 – for help. The retailer suggested hosting a cocktail party at its New York store. Vaquera instead held a guerrilla fashion show around the shelves, having done a collection in a week. It caused a stir and DSM loved it. “Then they came to our showroom that season and said, let’s work together. How can we help you?” recalls DiCaprio. DSMP announced support for Vaquera in September 2020.
“I don’t think we would still be here without them,” adds Taubensee. “For so long people were really interested in us – but I think people didn’t have much faith in us either, at the same time. Comme des Garçons actually understood better than anyone what we needed. And it was a help with distribution, marketing, press inquiries and sample production. Nearly half of Vaquera’s upcoming Fall/Winter 2022 collection was produced by Comme des Garçons factories, and the designs include puffer jackets, handbags, fashionable knitwear and jewelry, “things that we could never have made it ourselves,” Taubensee says. “One thing we struggled with was that our shows are exciting. But we weren’t selling anything, really. Since DSMP got involved in making and wholesaling their clothes, the number of Vaquera’s global stockists have grown to 40. And alongside fantastic rolling chocolate boxes, its apparel includes more business-savvy pieces like oversized suits, bras and easy T-shirt dresses.
The collection, unveiled tonight, riffs on the city of Paris – Vaquera will show in the new Dover Street Market event space there, a 17th century mansion in the Marais, now named 3537. “It’s about the vague idea of love,” says DiCaprio. “The city of love and our love for fashion, our love for our friends, our family and ourselves. And you know, what do you sacrifice for love? How is love inspiring? What is Is that limiting? And what does it look like, in a garment? Now DiCaprio and Taubensee are going to show us.
Check out our latest stories first – follow @financialtimesfashion on Instagram