Flying solo tests outs the runway’s new normal during the pandemic. Models walked on an icy runway in cold weather. Is it worth suffering for fashion?
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted Fashion Weeks worldwide, but this past Saturday, Feb. 13, fashion fans got a treat from Flying Solo that hosted an in-person runway show on a SoHo rooftop. Even though it was 30 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the models and guests braced the cold, hungry for beauty and a sense of normalcy.
There were six one-hour outdoor shows, and by the beginning of the sixth show, it started snowing a little bit and the runway became icy, making it almost impossible for models to walk in heels. A staff member tried to wipe down the runway without pausing the show, cleaning with the cloth in front of walking models. They slipped many times, but were able to close the show strong, encouraged by the supportive guests who cheered. One of the models was seen crying from the frustration and the disturbing scene raised a question — is it worth suffering for fashion?
“We tried our best to wipe the runway down but it was still very slippery for models in heels. They were really the heroes of the show and did an amazing job despite the cold conditions,” said Katie Lares, one of the original designers who helped build Flying Solo.
Flying Solo is an innovative company that gives brands that are ready to expand into new markets a platform to succeed through membership-based retail stores, leading-edge PR-showroom, and Fashion Weeks in New York, Paris, and Milan.
During a time when a lot of retail stores have closed down due to the pandemic, Flying Solo not only stayed afloat but has also expanded in size, moving the old flagship location to a bigger venue on 420 W Broadway, formerly a Karl Lagerfeld and a DKNY Store.
Managing Director and Co-founder of Flying Solo Elizabeth Solomeina said they always knew that their innovative membership-based retail model was the only way forward, and this year has proved that correct. “Small brands have no resources to afford standalone stores in areas like Soho, NYC. They also can no longer afford to do quality large-scale shows on their own,” she said.
“We chose to do a live NYFW show even though it meant significantly more work for us at Flying Solo. It was also extremely challenging to execute in order to comply with all the safety regulations. It would’ve been much easier to organize and host a virtual show but we believed that this was a big moment for independent brands. It was their chance to get significantly more attention so we could not let them down and let the opportunity slip through their fingers,” Solomeina said.
One of the Australian designers, Vijay Naidoo of Tattva/Truth Desi Streetwear, said she received the invite to NYFW last minute and questioned if she would be able to pull off the show. “Of course with the pandemic at hand, I wasn’t able to fly to New York. Not being able to go meant I had to design a new collection in 10 days! Being under that pressure was both challenging and enlightening. But we successfully managed to get everything to New York on time.”
Planning the fashion show during the pandemic presented unique challenges. In the past years, Flying Solo presented their fashion shows indoors, but for the past two seasons, they showed outside. “Safety was definitely our number one priority, and we wanted to make sure that we kept our guests and staff safe during the event. Everyone was required to wear a mask and temperature checks for staff were mandatory,” Solomeina said.
Flying Solo showcased 83 brands from 18 countries including clothing, jewelry, shoes, bags, and other accessories. The clothing in the collections ranged from everyday streetwear and athleisure to more extravagant pieces and even swimsuits. Some of the looks that stood out to us the most were the dramatic and provocative designs by Prey Public, vibrant and colorful by Alexandra Popescu-York and Amari Monee, and stunning, dreamy pastel pieces by Hala Al Mamari.
Romanian-born designer Alexandra Popescu-York, established in New York for more than a decade, said the message behind her collection “HOT mess” was a feeling of hope and vitality– hence, the bright colors. “I think we all came out from a year of pandemic a little shaken up, a little afraid, a little bored, a little messed up but that doesn’t mean we cannot be A HOT Mess. I am very emotional and emphatic with the situation that the whole world is in, and the situation is not a “pink” one. 2020 was a terrible year for all humanity. I chose to rise up and fight in my own way, as an artist and designer, to fight fear, to try to inspire myself and others for a better and beautiful future,” she said.
Popescu-York gave credit to Flying Solo for putting up a show during these challenging conditions. “Personally I didn’t feel the cold because my adrenaline was very high and all I felt was happiness and excitement!”
Multiple models that we spoke to also said that the adrenaline rush helped them endure the cold.
As for the question of whether fashion is worth suffering for, opinions vary.
“I absolutely love fashion and the creativity that goes into it. People work hard for their vision, designers dream of seeing their work on display and I enjoy seeing and hearing about their success. As long as I am treated respectfully and they know my worth and believe their vision would not be harmful to their model then yes, it’s worth it. It makes you want to try harder to do your best if you feel valued,” model Janine Tondu said.
“Would I do it again? Yes,” she said. “The runway was slippery but the team was backstage trying to attach rubber soles to our shoes to aid us.”
Model Aleka Ward had a different opinion. “People say beauty is pain, but that’s a different type of pain. Personally, I wouldn’t do it again in those conditions but it was definitely worth the experience,” she said.
After all, everyone’s testing out a new normal during these unprecedented times, and learning as they go. Perhaps in the future, Flying Solo can install a carpet on the runway or fake grass so the runway has better grip. Only time will tell.