Ira Lupu

Telfar Goes to White Castle

DIS Magazine USA
March 2016

After a rabidly loud party crusade at America’s most iconic fast food chain restaurant last fall, fashion designer Telfar Clemens has become the king of White Castle once again. To celebrate the FW16 Tricolor collection, he brought the Telfar squad back to the White Castle Times Square haunt.

This February, not only the “banquet hall” was conquered but also the “dungeon” — the White Castle’s stifling utility basement exclusively given to provide more dancing space at the party. Among the crusaders were musicians Venus X, Asma Maroof of Nguzunguzu, and Joey Labeija — with a mission to shake the club kids. Fatima Al Qadiri and Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) cheered everybody up with their mere presence. There were also the brand’s models — just to enjoy some of their usually forbidden fruits, namely the generously served oily fries and White Castle’s original sliders. The additional mission was to express their love for Telfar himself. “It’s not normal — last season the models lifted him on their shoulders and chanted his name after the show”, tells Babak Radboy, creative director and main cerebral force behind the brand. “That’s not a thing that happens at fashion shows.”

No ATM for time — seeking the sublime of brown. Black. White. Tonight. Back. Amen. Jamie Richardson, the Vice President of White Castle, wrote his Telfar-inspired poem on a hamburger carton.

Well, and hosting a throbbing aftershow party at a “crave cave” with certain stoner street cred, even if the place is owned by the brand’s warm-hearted sponsor, is not a thing that (normally) happens during fashion weeks. “Is it true they are having a fashion week party at White Castle now? Really?” — a cashier of nearby deli asked me in low whisper and with fluffy eyebrows curiously raised. (I found myself in that deli after sipping vodka from soda cups and jumping to the beats of Labeija’s raggaeton, when me and my friend, six-foot Ukrainian model, suddenly had a $1-honeybun crave alert.)

Such an unlikely synergy is not a big deal for Telfar, a brand that, number one, proclaims it has nothing to do with mainstream fashion notion of luxury. Number two, it has an element of merging the unmergeable in its DNA. And also… It all was not to happen. “Originally, [this season] we were going to do [the party] in Brooklyn”, explains Babak. “We even considered the Bronx out of fear of repetition — but then I asked to see the basement of the Times Square location and we were pretty excited… The feeling of the party last year was really that something was wrong — that it shouldn’t be happening and the basement had that in spades. But you have to understand it is not a special effect — it really shouldn’t be happening.”

In the end, the spontaneous party may have resulted in pragmatic success — some clever and easy PR for both ingenious Telfar and a bit frumpy, 95-year old White Castle. Yet on the intersection of fashion and fast food worlds which are both intrinsically linked to craven profit and commerce, it was the most sincere event possible. According to Radboy: “The collection was about clothes and the party was about enjoyment. Imagine that!”.

Photos by Sean Schermerhorn