In the middle of Broad Street, designer Naheli Juliana Ortiz-González and the models stepped on the runway with posters advocating for reproduction rights.
Against the backdrop of the Philly Independence Day festivities, this weekend took a turn like Friday. Supreme Court decision overthrow Roe v. Wade protests quickly materialized from City Hall to Independence Mall. Fashion designer Naheli Juliana Ortiz-González, who was part of the presentation portion of the podium at Wawa Welcome America’s Avenue of the Arts on Broad Street, had a particularly important platform as a result of this juxtaposition – and did not let the moment passes by her.
Instead of simply showing their models, Ortiz-González and the models stepped on the track holding posters protesting the SCOTUS decision and advocating for reproductive rights.
But the mix of couture and civil rights was nothing new to Ortiz-González.
The designer behind the brand Naheli Juliana and the new executive director of Puerto Rican workshop he has always positioned his work at the intersection of fashion and social justice. A native of Puerto Rico, she began studying fashion at the age of 13, eventually earning a master’s degree, starting her own line and teaching at Moore College. “Throughout history, fashion has been used in various movements to empower and create a neutral vision,” explains Ortiz-González, giving a particularly relevant example. the green scarf which came to represent the South American abortion rights movement. “Clothes can create this movement, this power, this energy.”
Previous Naheli Juliana collections have explored Ortiz-González’s legacy and exposed human rights issues. In 2018, she created prints that, at first glance, look like gorgeous, kaleidoscopic models, but seen with 3D glasses, reveal photos depicting “the eight atrocities the United States committed against Puerto Rico,” says Ortiz-González . She likened the collection to Puerto Rico itself – on the surface a place of beautiful beaches, arts and people, set against the backdrop of pain and injustice. “This is America. We have a lot of injustices going on, but the beauty is that we can talk about it. ”
Describing her mission, she says: “I think I am taking a privileged place. Fashion has always been linked to a very specific socio-economic context. It is important for these spectators who have the economic power to acquire fashion to understand how much is behind their clothes … behind the action of sitting at a fashion show just to see clothes. So I like being that disturbing voice. ”
That disturbing voice received a central stage last weekend. As part of the Welcome America festivities, the block party in and around the Kimmel Center included free concerts, children’s crafts, a zip line, food trucks and a “Art meets fashion”Component, in which the designers of Philly Fashion Week were exhibited on a podium in the middle of Broad Street.
The range – which also included local designers such as These Pink Lips, URBANE and Prajjé Oscar – had long been established, but the SCOTUS decision and subsequent protests profoundly affected Ortiz-González, who took part in Friday’s protest at City Hall.
Ortiz-González decided to incorporate the symbolic green scarves in her show and end it with her wearing a sign of protest. Then she reconsidered the solo poster: “I take the voices of the models,” she says. Instead, she offered panels and markers to all the models before the show, asking everyone to make a statement they were passionate about. “It was just to give voice to the women on my track,” explains Ortiz-González, something particularly notable in an industry that often uses women’s bodies as cloth.
“Assault rifles have more rights than my WAP,” he said. Another model said, “I’m a woman, not a belly.”
“It was beautiful behind the scenes,” Ortiz-González recalls of the post-show experience. She describes how many members of the public were girls and their mothers. “A lot of young people said ‘thank you.'”