“Willy Wants You to Walk”: Willy Chavarria Scouts His Models From the Press Line
Those who claim that fashion week has lost its edge were clearly not on the guest list for Willy Chavarria’s Spring/Summer ‘22 show last Monday. The iconic Astor Place Hairstylists barbershop set the scene for Chavarria’s runway presentation, which was complete with the designer’s signature oversized Chicano-inspired silhouettes. Chavarria is known for, among other things, his commitment to casting models of color in his shows and campaigns, but this year, fashion’s self-proclaimed “Sad Papi” surpassed expectations last week by casting a few models on the fly. Below, the photographer and friend of Interview Maxwell Vice tells us how he found himself on the runway.
I was backstage with my press pass last Monday, shooting portraits of models as they prepared to walk the runway for Willy Chavarria. Just four minutes before the show was scheduled to begin, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find a man with a clean chicano ‘stasch, a 3-tooth bling cap, a tea tree oil toothpick, and an oversized polo shirt looking me straight in the eyes. “Willy wants you to walk. Go meet him in the back.” I was then rushed by three young Latino assistants, past a line of some of the most gorgeous Central American and Indiginous men I’d ever seen in my life. I couldn’t stop thinking, “Did they just ask me to join THAT lineup?”
The three assistants brought me to the fitting room, and left me standing in front of a man with slicked-back hair wearing shiny gold aviator glasses and the flyest leather tracksuit of all time. Willy Chavarria, in the flesh! In a matter of seconds, he tossed the most luxurious baby blue polo shirt over my head and hung a gold rosary around my neck before standing back to admire his work. The stylist Marcus Correa came to join him, and the pair stood there clicking their teeth and looking over the garments. Willy said, “Yeah, he’s going to walk the show,” and Marcus agreed with a blingy grin. That was when my new reality set in: I was going to walk the runway of the same show I was supposed to be covering.
I have to admit, modeling may have been the Hannah Montana experience I’d always dreamed of, but I didn’t expect it to change my perspective quite so much. The audience was filled with some of the culture’s most distracting faces: Frank Ocean and Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley were seated in the front row, as was Offset, who sparked a joint as I walked by him. Meanwhile, I was wearing clothes that reminded me of my tios in Guatemala. As I looked at the rest of the models in the lineup, I started to feel like I was at a family cookout. It was inspiring to see our culture’s machismo transformed by a collection of oversized chino dresses, perfectly steamed khaki, and some of the cleanest Latin hair I’ve seen in my life. I never see Queer perspectives on men’s clothing in my culture, but Chavarria’s designs change this narrative completely by presenting a reimagined Chicano style while simultaneously embracing the endless variations that make up Latin identity.
Before I found myself on the runway, I spoke to Correa about challenging the industry’s narrow understanding of what a Latino looks like. When I asked him what made WIlly decide to pick me out of the press line and put me in the show, he told me that it’s what the brand stands for. The models I met backstage echoed this—the brand scouted them in their own neighborhoods, in front of taquerías or walking around the Lower East Side. They told me how often they felt tokenized in this industry, and that this was the first show they’d participated in where they felt truly powerful. Before I stepped into the lineup, Willy squeezed my shoulders and said to me, “You feel good?” When I told him that I felt like a million bucks, he winked and said, “Good. I want the community to know our worth.”
Before that evening, I’d never walked into a room and had a designer notice me, but that’s the magic of Willy Chavarria. He loves his family, and I’m honored to have been adopted into it. Chavarria’s celebration of the cholo lifestyle was the dose of joy that Fashion Week needed, and seeing that many happy models leave a venue is a rare sight that none of us will forget any time soon.