Willy Chavarria’s runway shows have become the hottest ticket at New York Fashion Week. This season, Chavarria’s first after being crowned Menswear Designer of the Year at the 2023 CFDA Awards, he almost didn’t have one.
Instead, the designer directed his first short film, inviting his recurrent cast of friends and family to participate. It was poignantly titled Safe from Harm, and rather than follow a specific storyline, it contextualized his fall collection in the spaces and on the people that make the Willy Chavarria world a singular one in fashion. There was a steamy and erotic workout space, an apartment with Catholic imagery where couples fought or embraced, and a dilapidated church where everyone danced. “The whole story is about love, protection, and our need to protect each other,” Chavarria explained to my colleague Laia Garcia-Furtado. “I felt like the best way to tell this story was through an intimate film where you can see people, feel their emotions and tell a story that reflects how we feel in the moment.”
In the end, Chavarria decided to put on a show—and to reverberating effect. The featurette was the evening’s curtain raiser, playing before the show and serving as a mood-setter, its emotionally charged scenes and performances by a cast including Paloma Elsesser and the Italian singer Mahmood put the room into a trance.
Much of what makes Chavarria an important player in fashion at the moment is who he puts the clothes on. He has evolved the look of his collections of late, moving away from the casual and street and leaning further into potent tailoring silhouettes and opulent fabrications and detailing. His casting, however, has not changed. “I always want to make sure that I celebrate the beauty that isn’t the one we see projected everywhere in the world,” he said at his studio. “I want to raise people up that aren’t usually seen on the pages of glossy magazines.” The people in question are Latinos, queer folks, immigrants, and those who are not the usual subjects of casting calls.