New York Fashion Designer to Debut Runway Collection Inspired by Immigration Crisis

Steven Biccard
Hummel x Willy Chavaria

"With this show, I want to remind us of how important it is to fight what’s going on right now," says designer Willy Chavarria, who will show at New York Fashion Week: Men's.

New York Fashion Week: Men’s kicks off July 9, and though more than 40 designers are holding runway shows and presentations, many of the heavy hitters, including Raf Simons, Tom Ford and John Varvatos, have decamped to other cities or gone dark.

But up-and-coming Mexican-American designer Willy Chavarria promises to deliver an “only in New York” fashion moment with his runway show Monday night, solidifying his growing reputation for mixing politics and fashion.

Coinciding with the growing immigration crisis, the California-born designer has teamed up with Danish sports brand Hummel to launch a collection that posits the game of soccer as a unifying force that transcends borders, race and class.

“It’s really, like, the immigrants' game,” Chavarria says. “Any guy coming from Central America to the Ivory Coast to Croatia — when they come to the States, soccer is a game they all play.”

Chavarria says he wanted to focus on immigration rights as a continuation of his commitment to social justice. (His namesake spring 2018 collection titled "Believers" was a politically charged ode to the working class, complete with a polo shirt with an upside-down American flag; his spring 2017 collection, titled "Cruising," was inspired  by his experience of being Chicano and gay, and presented at the New York leather bar The Eagle.)

“It’s really the core of who we are at our brand,” says the designer, who is part of a growing number of edgy New York brands, including Heron Preston and Pyer Moss, making political fashion statements with their collections. “When I started designing this (season), none of this was going on to the extreme it’s going on now, so it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe how horrific it is.’ So I’m even more inclined to put it at the forefront.”

The designer grew up in the small California town of Huron, an hour outside Fresno, and populated almost exclusively by Mexican farm laborers like his father, who met his white mother when the town’s two schools became integrated during the '60s civil rights movement.

“It was two very Catholic families. I grew up in my father’s family’s house and it was a very Mexican household and I grew up around the farm laborers,” Chavarria says. He added that his parents were always very conscious about racism. “We had a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. hanging up in our living room, right next to the Pope and John F. Kennedy and Cesar Chavez, so I was very aware.”

Chavarria also knew he was gay, and “always a little outside of what was going on, I was kind of always looking,” he says. “So as I grew up, I knew I wanted to do some kind of art work and to leave that small town but I always felt an obligation to be really true to my roots and my people.”

The designer’s interest in social justice dovetailed with his move to Copenhagen with his husband, David Ramirez, a couple years ago (Chavarria splits his time between there and New York.)

“Hummel is an old German company that is now based in Denmark,” he says. “It doesn’t have much of a presence in the U.S. but it’s still pretty big in Europe and Japan. I’ve always loved their chevron logo and their cool old-soccer style.”

Taking the collaboration one step further, Chavarria and Hummel will also offer sponsorship to the Rooklyn International Football Association in New York.

“They’re a soccer league that focuses on recruiting guys who are asylum seekers and refugees and some of them are undocumented,” he says. “They really embrace newcomers who come from other countries and may have had a struggle.”

Chavarria will show the affordably priced soccer styles alongside his high-end namesake collection, which this season he says is inspired by the average working guy. (The brand sells at Barneys New York, and at the designer's own Soho store.) “It’s almost like you have to do a double take before you realize it’s fashion. It’s very borderline literal,” he explains. “But there’s a sense of respect, of giving dignity to the average Joe who just got off work at Home Depot.”

Before launching his own line in 2017, Chavarria worked happily for big brands like Ralph Lauren and American Eagle Outfitters. And though he loves fashion, sending a message is just as important to him.

“With this show, I want to remind us of how important it is to fight what’s going on right now,” he finishes. “But also to have a positive attitude and faith in a future that is beautiful for all of us.”