The runway is typically a place of a stylized, idealized beauty—cold and exclusive. It’s a place, typically, of thinness and whiteness. That was not the case on January 25th.
The V–Day fashion show is an annual event that centered around the theme of identity this year. In Houston Hall’s Hall of Flags, models walked down a homemade runway lined with flamingo–pink feather boas and chairs of cheering spectators. The show was something of a happy conglomeration, with each participant walking in drastically different ways. Some held hastily–made signs emblazoned with Sharpie and glitter. One proclaimed “Muslim and Proud.” Another, made by Nick Silverio (W '17), stated “If the Heel Fits.” He held it as he walked down the catwalk wearing a pair of high heels.
Some dressed up and stalked sulkily down the walk in the spirit of traditional models, while others wore pajamas and slippers. Each model walked to a different song of their choosing, so the event was set to an eclectic mix of song clips that faded into one another. The show’s events chair, Syra Ortiz-Blanes (C ’17), walked twice. First, she walked while wrapped in a billowing Puerto Rican flag, the country she is from, and then later she stepped out wearing comfortable–looking blue pajamas. “I also think it’s really valuable to have a fashion show that breaks walls, even if it’s just a small event," she said. "It’s not an anti–fashion show. It’s a fashion show to show that fashion can be like this.”
The event was a collaboration between the UPenn V–Day Campaign and Penn’s fashion magazine, The Walk. V–Day is a global movement with the goal to end violence against women and girls. For the past 15 years, the UPenn V–Day Campaign has sought to raise awareness about violence against women and girls and to raise funds for its beneficiary organization, Women Organized Against Rape, the only full–service rape crisis center in Philadelphia. Along with the fashion show, the campaign is also known for its popular production of The Vagina Monologues.
The theme of this year’s show isn’t just about presenting different identities, but also showing that all different identities are valid, especially in a time when many are being denigrated by politics and media. There is a clear relationship between fashion and identity. The inherency of performance and self–expression in fashion suggests that it should be an open and inclusive field. That’s hardly the case, though. Regarding this fact, Syra argues that the V–Day show “brings the opportunity to strut down the catwalk to everyone, no matter what they look like or who they are.”
The show’s goal? “To celebrate anyone and everyone,” Syra asserts. “Just to celebrate people in a time when people aren’t really being celebrated."