On the Tonys red carpet, designer Willy Chavarria delivers a message about representation — Andscape
On the Tonys red carpet, designer Willy Chavarria delivers a message about representation — Andscape

On the Tonys red carpet, designer Willy Chavarria delivers a message about representation — Andscape

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When Jaquel Spivey, star of the “big, Black, and whimsical American Broadway show”, Strange CircleStepping onto the red carpet at the 2022 Tony Awards in Willy Chavarria’s royal blue suit, she’s all about representation — from an Afro hair clip worn as a pocket box to a pearl necklace designed by a whimsical activist to a special black velvet Del Toro smoking loafers emblazoned with fists. Black Power.

It’s touching when you think about it. The guy who plays the character about being excluded is wearing designer work who knows a thing or two about being excluded, and Chavarria understands his job perfectly. After deciding which colors would stand out on the red carpet — and on the big stage should Spivey, who was best lead actor in a musical, win whatever — the designer opted for a jacket with an exaggerated collar and flared wide-legged pants. bend down only enough to make Spivey look cool yet elegant.

Jaquel Spivey arrives at the 75th annual Tony Awards on June 12 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Evan Agostini / Invision / AP

Chavarria needed Spivey to look “fantastic and customized”, because it’s all about representation. Not only for the Mexican-American designer, but also for Chris Habana, a queer activist, who created a pearl necklace for Spivey with a large heart charm inlaid with pearls, and rubies. “I think it’s good for him because he has a warm heart,” Chavarria said.

Spivey makeup artist Dalia Younan completed the suit with a matching Maybelline cobalt blue eyeliner.

Fashion, like the Great White Way, can be exclusive and there aren’t many plus size black men on the industry’s red carpet. Chavarria was thrilled to be a part of Spivey’s moment celebrating his role as Usher in the musical of writer, lyricist and composer Michael R. Jackson. Strange Circle was nominated for 11 awards, the most for any show in the 2022 Broadway season, and took home the award for best musical.

“You know it’s funny because the characters on Broadway are dressed up on stage,” Chavarria said. “Even the treatment of her hair and face — it was on purpose very dress. So he’s a star on Broadway and he walks around New York looking like a poor man. We raise the collar on her collar around her neck so it feels like an old Dior gown.

“I’ve always known that blacks and browns influenced fashion,” says Chavarria. “Always like that. I’ve always felt like, if there’s inclusivity, it’s one thing. But I don’t always want to be included in everything. I don’t want to be put in a place that won’t let me in because I’m not wearing the right shoes.”

Here we have a whimsical designer who has carved out a safe space in the industry, both for himself and his consumer base. Through her work, Chavarria brings us who have been or are still excluded from living an aspirational fashion life.

Her runway shows celebrate everyone whose glamor is flaunted in plain clothes, reimagining blue-collar workwear on bodies that are often perceived as less beautiful. Chavarria aims to honor where these styles came from. “I’m not a big brand that’s going to come off the streets and try to own it,” he said. “I design for a street with a street.”

Chavarria has worked for brands with tremendous commercial appeal, such as Joe Boxer, Ralph Lauren, and American Eagle, so she knows what it’s like to create a space designed to exclude people of color. (He also worked for Dickies and Yeezy.) However, working at those brands early in his career helped him gain experience launching his own company.

Since launching her business in 1996, Chavarria has designed all of her collections with social progress in mind. Chavarria was raised in a “very, very” separate community divided between Mexicans and whites. He is half Mexican and half white and raised with the Mexican side of his family, who advocated for the peasant rights movement as well as the Equal Rights Amendment, instilling in him “the strong backbone of social justice.”

In February 2021, Chavarria joins Calvin Klein as senior vice president of design, tasked with injecting inclusivity into the brand’s DNA. “I feel like there are a lot of changes going on, shifting the value system within the company,” he said of his role.

“Everything is very new. I am proud to be an influential part of that change. It’s not just myself, there’s a team here, but that’s a big part of my goal working with this company.”

He says design is definitely a big part of the work but beyond that, it’s about having an influence on Calvin Klein’s social values.

“Fashion has always been driven by money,” he said. “It will always be like that, it’s a business. But fashion has for so long been telling people that they have to look a certain way to be valuable or acceptable.

“I want people to look beyond that and just wear whatever they want,” Chavarria said. “If it’s dad hoochie’s shorts, then cool.

“Hopefully, in the end, it won’t always be a man in a suit and a woman in a stretch tank dress.”

Channing Hargrove is a senior writer at Andscape covering fashion. That’s easier than admitting how strongly she identifies with the lyrics “Single black women are addicted to retail.”

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