When we were invited to attend Los Angeles-based designer (and oil heir) August Getty's spring 2016 "Thread of Man" show, it was billed as an "experience" and no details were provided. (Seriously, there was a pick-up from a Beverly Hills hotel Wednesday night and a scheduled drop-off at a mystery location an hour later.) We weren't really sure what to expect. But 21-year-old Getty, who showed his first collection just last year, teamed with famed (and scandal-prone) photographer David LaChapelle for the presentation, so we were intrigued. Almost 90 minutes after we were swooped up in a Mercedes van, we arrived — a little jaded, and slightly carsick from LA traffic — somewhere deep in the backlots of Universal Studios.
Guests streamed through a dusty "road" in an Old West ghost town set that Getty and LaChappelle had transformed into a dystopian, multimedia, beautiful wasteland. 1940s parlour music played in the background as clips of Donald Trump speeches from Fox whirred together in a stack of junk TVs. The refreshingly diverse models were trapped in deserted buildings (with conveniently large windows to indulge voyeurs) lining the short road. Getty said he used "the skin tone of five iconic women as a foundation" for the collection, and it was sometimes hard to tell where his sexy, body conscious pieces stopped and the models' own skin started.
There is no doubt that Getty admires, and designs for, the female form. His clothes are hyper-feminine and he claims "a female army representing strength and empowerment is at the heart of the collection." (He counts his fashion-loving mother Ariadne Getty, a daughter of J. Paul Getty II, as a huge inspiration, and she was at the event, proudly singing his praises.) The last building housed trans YouTube star — and Getty muse — Gigi Gorgeous, in a glamorous recline, surrounded by a group of shirtless male models. Gigi is breathtaking, but her repose surrounded by men almost gave off the feeling that she had been... captured.
Which leads to our conflicted feelings about the show's message. Femininity was being worshiped, but the models, in their matching pageboy wigs, trapped in abandoned buildings wearing beautiful clothes and blank expressions, appeared more strung out on benzos than "strong and empowered." The only agency we felt in the experience was our own (as evidenced by the sea of iPhones in the air taking in every highly 'grammable moment) — this was not a sea of happy amazons taking selfies down the runway.
The show ended with a black Pentecostal choir hand-chosen by LaChapelle. They killed it, but we didn't think most of the crowd really knew what to do with them. (As we sang along to "Oh Happy Day," we heard a blonde stylist behind us ask a singing and dancing LaChapelle, "do you remember me, I worked with you years ago with Paris Hilton?").
The models had been freed. Moving outside of their abandoned buildings and no longer carrying their robotic affects, visions of the strong woman Getty designs for emerged. By that point, we were converted.
See images from inside the "experience" below.