"My visual references are always the same," said Chris Leba backstage after R13's spring show. Much like his colorful punk- and grunge-infused fall collection, the designer took inspiration from the music and designers he grew up listening to and following — but with a decidedly more gothic rock spin. See the long, skinny ties, waist chains, culottes, grommets and calf-high chunky boots. "I like to think that there's a consistency about [what] we're trying say and what we're trying to express."
The presentation marked R13's second runway show ever and the second season since Leba came out of anonymity as the brand's designer after leaving as Vice President of Design at Ralph Lauren in December. (He launched the denim-focused brand in 2009.) Fittingly, Leba took a bow at the end of Wednesday's show with his team.
"I love to take the idea of all these things that are sort of low-brow, and then taking [something] really high-brow and sort of collapsing them together," he said. Leba cited an organza shirt featuring a distorted print of the English punk band Bauhaus's first single sleeve art, taken from the 1920 German silent horror film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari."
"Bauhaus is one of my favorite bands, so I'm into that whole '80s goth right now," he said. "I've always wanted to use their music, and now it gave me an opportunity to use the graphics and all that stuff as inspiration." The band Joy Division also got a shout-out on another soft, transparent oversized shirt. "It's always that girl; I love that edgy girl. I also like clothing to be very simple. The whole idea is to have a very dramatic look without a lot of tricks."
There were also no tricks in the eight looks that kicked off the runway show — the only pieces that weren't black and white. Models in star-spangled combat boots wore slip dresses, bikinis, oversized T-shirts and leggings covered in graffiti-type lettering reading "Fuck Trump" and "God Save America." With two months to go before the presidential election, the effect was kitschy but powerful.
"I'm a huge Stephen Sprouse fan, so I love all that graffiti stuff," said Leba. "It's sort of an homage to him and a statement to right now." Did he worry about the impact of such a political statement? "I did for a second, but I felt strongly enough about it — that's what it is to be American." The response in the audience was very positive, and Leba said he's been getting the same feedback. "You get to say what you want to say and people can have their opinion."
Between R13's anti-Republican party dresses and the high participation of designers at Anna Wintour's Hillary Clinton fashion fundraiser on Tuesday, we have a feeling this isn't the last political declaration of New York Fashion Week.
See R13's spring 2017 collection in the runway.