The fashion and art worlds collided on Sunday afternoon at The Whitney Museum—for two consecutively-staged runway shows by New York-based artist K8 Hardy. A photographer, sculptor, and rogue stylist, Hardy (who adopted the nickname “K8” as a teenager) has become known for her eccentric works that draw on tropes of fashion and question existing assumptions about taste and class.
Show attendees were shuffled into an elevator and sent to the museum’s fourth floor, where they were quickly released into a vast and dimly-lit room blasting loopy, ethereal music. The seating arrangement alone assured guests that this was not your typical fashion show: There was no front row—only a press section.
The show began abruptly with the lights flashing on. The first model trotted across the runway (designed by fellow Whitney Biennial artist Oscar Tuazon) wearing a striking headpiece and colorful face paint. Subsequent models walked backwards, spun, and waved their arms side-to-side—all appearing as if in some hypnotic trance. And their trappings were even more out-there than their movements. “[I wanted to] do a fashion show so that we can look at [fashion] in a different context outside of commercialism and outside of the marketing that’s usually associated with a fashion show,” Hardy said. “[I wanted to] make a statement with the looks of a more democratic expression outside of luxury.”
The clothes weren’t the least bit luxurious—on purpose. Hardy used mass-produced, factory-made clothes, and reconfigured them into outfits that included blowtorched bras, splashed paint, chain-link garters, and larger-than-life wigs, reminding the audience that what they were seeing on the runway was in fact wearable art. After all, none of the looks are for sale in retail stores. “I’m an artist, so each piece to me is a sculpture,” Hardy explained.
The soundtrack, created by the DJ Venus X, included samples of Neutrogena ads, laser hair removal infomercials, and nail art tutorials—adding to Hardy’s atmosphere of subverting fashion and its commercialization. “[Fashion] is always tied to a brand and marketing, and it can’t breathe,” Hardy said. “I hope I complicated things a little bit. I hope I shifted the balance.”