Vibrators and a Girl Gang Fuse Fashion and Feminism at NYFW

This is the finalized version of an article published by The Creators Project on September 15, 2016, found here

Justin Bieber and Bondage-inspired fashions redraw the lines around feminine sexuality in Namilia’s S/S17 line, ‘You’re Just A Toy.’

Mounted on the top bunk in Hotel On Rivington’s Owner’s Suite, I can hear a muted ripping sound as I register that I’ve turned the tiny hole across my backside into two entirely separate pieces of fabric. As a model in a NYFW presentation, this is basically #1 on the “You Are Now Fucked” list, but being a part of the presentation for Namilia’s newest collection, You’re Just A Toy, I have numerous reasons to shrug it off and just enjoy my evening bare-assed.

“I think there’s such a mainstream visualization or idea of feminism [and] femininity,” says Nan Li, one half of the Namilia design team, made whole by Emilia Pfohl (Nan + Emilia = Namilia), to The Creators Project. Referencing last year’s Pirelli calendar, Li puzzles over Annie Leibovitz’s desire to feature women who’ve “achieved something in their lives” while portraying them the way she did. “Why do they need to wear suits?” he probes. “Why did [she] portrait them in such a way? Like, for me it was such a step backwards.”

Imagery conveying success and intelligence being inherently masculine and patriarchal, and notions of sexy and smart being mutually exclusive are precisely the collective mentalities Namilia fights with You’re Just A Toy. The collection's stills of Justin Bieber as Jesus and Donald Trump in bondage surrounded by patches that read “You Can Put It Anywhere,” recast the roles of subject and object. “In this line,” says Li, “It’s about the message [...] turning the whole thing around and making boys into these sexual playthings, and [we] sexualize and objectify them instead of the girls.”

Mixing together the political, the religious, and the culture of celebrity fandom, the German-born Li and Pfohl take a unique stance on the -isms of American and patriarchal culture. Mocking conflations of the sacred and the celebrity, as well as revisualizing notions of feminine sexuality, You’re Just A Toy rearranges American ideals. On this eve, it's a girl gang clad in latex masks and collars, ripped, ragged denim, and heavy, steel-reinforced motorcycle boots, surrounded by tubs of vibrators and lube. “Playing with these references, we kind of did the whole fetish/bondage thing,” remarks Li, noting the propensity for submission to be viewed as pandering to men. “But we really wanted it to empower these girls,” he says, “and to use those references and make them into kind of, like, these warrior girls.”

Crucial nuances and intersections exist within the lives of all who identify or express themselves as feminine, and the oppression a gender fluid person of color faces is experienced in ways I myself will never encounter. You’re Just A Toy, however, turns objectification into subjectification, making room to explore the grey areas between the black-and-white binaries encouraged by a heteronormative American patriarchy. “I don’t know why it’s like, ‘Oh you’re a strong woman if you dress up as man, or if you do a manly job,’ and I just think that’s so over, I think that’s so irrelevant... For us, it’s really about freedom,” says Li. Namilia’s extreme style reverses the male gaze, recasting the sexually-empowered woman as the subject—not the object—of the evening.

“It’s really about celebrating that moment,” echoes Li as we discuss the freedom felt in having a safe space to affirm and honor difference. “It’s okay to feel good about yourself, with other people, and to stand out and not feel bad. Express yourself however you want.” Communal self-love and empowerment on one’s own terms abounding, my night spent with Namilia makes the evening breeze at my backside feel all the more refreshing.