When it came to shooting Vaquera’s spring collection, the first location that came to mind was a rock show at Wembley. Obviously. True artists, the sort who fill arenas, come with a rabid fandom, and that’s what Vaquera’s designers see themselves as – fans. They’re extreme fans of fashion, or at least the idea of fashion they had when they were teenagers, before the jadedness of adulthood could descend. That’s why they call what they do “fashion fan-fiction”, transforming a plethora of references, but also their collected dreams, into a living, breathing, possibly screaming collection.
Since becoming friends with Vaquera, I’ve come to think of them as those little angels and demons that sit on Donald Duck’s head – at a certain point, all I can do is quack. Vaquera, Spanish for ‘cowgirl’, is the name given to the brand’s founder, Patric DiCaprio, by the cooks in the kitchen he used to work in. The name is apt, both for the way he herds the unique talents of co-designers Bryn Taubensee, David Moses and Claire Sully, and the pioneer spirit that the gang bring to their work. Together, they are truly the most maddening and rewarding people I’ve had the pleasure of working with.
We first met in 2017, when I was freshly arrived in America from London and unsure I would ever get to interview young designers as exciting again. I quickly fell in love as they shouted at me all at once that true chic was about confusion, which I didn’t understand back then, but now recognise as the Vaquera modus operandi. So much of the label’s work returns to those ideas about fashion that you have before you come to New York (DiCaprio, Taubensee, Moses and Sully are from Alabama, Indiana, New Jersey, and Virginia respectively). Net-punks and surfers, housewives and career women, chefs and patriots – all of these concepts collide to ask what clothing means when anyone can cobble together an identity online.
Vaquera had just started working with Dazed senior fashion editor Emma Wyman, who had moved back to the US after a decade living down the road from me in London. When she asked if I’d write their press releases, it turned out Vaquera didn’t want press releases at all – they wanted poems. “Make it questioning,” they told me in a group text encompassing lobsters, mall couture and fantasies of French chic. The only people I’ve had to do more rewrites for are Dazed, except while the magazine wants everything to be more explanatory, Vaquera are loathe to explain anything – they want the audience to leave in a heightened (and hopefully blissful) state of confusion. I actually came close to missing that AW17 show, because it was snowing and I don’t fuck with that, and then sat rapt as the models ran out in chef’s whites and an American flag gown. Vaquera’s last directive for their SS18 press release? “Surprise, bitch!”
I’ve since gone on to write two more pieces for them, including a take on their powerful collection themed around The Handmaid’s Tale, shown off-season in June 2017. In this time, they’ve also revealed themselves as individuals. Patric is the titular Vaquera or cowgirl, talkative and in charge and determined that everyone does their best work. He has a gentle southern charm, and a way with hats. Bryn is quiet, with big eyes like an animal that hides quietly in the forest, and motherly words to offer when you’re having another mental breakdown. David, who never seems to be wearing much clothing at all but is covered in tiny tattoos, has taken me out clubbing and introduced me to all his friends and made me feel very special. Claire has an outsize talent for design and even bigger earrings, and is prone to hugs.
Now, after fittings, shows, after-parties, and all the trials and tribulations that come with being finalists for the CFDA Fashion Fund but being pipped for the top spot, I could not love them more. I love hearing their stories, as I hope they like hearing mine. We all grew up sharing the same grand ideas of what fashion might be. When Vaquera didn’t find what they were looking for, they decided to make it for themselves. If that isn’t the American dream, I don’t know what is.
Vaquera shows have the best energy of any that I’ve been to – how come?
David Moses: It’s always been like that. Patric, Bryn and I did that show (for AW17) together and 90 per cent of the audience was friends. Everyone has been so supportive. I don’t know what we would have done without them, our friends and family.
Patric DiCaprio: There are people who’ve come before – Imitation of Christ, Bernadette Corporation… There’s a rich history we’re tapping into. But, you know, when we did our CFDA meetings they said, ‘Tell us what you do in one sentence,’ and we’d always say, ‘We make fashion fan-fiction.’
Patric, take us back to the very beginning of Vaquera, when you bought that fateful sewing machine…
PDC: …on a whim, in a bar, on my phone. I was like, ‘I’m just gonna do it – I don’t know how to sew but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.’ And then I started watching cosplay tutorials, to teach myself how to sew, and bought all this fabric for a dollar a yard. The first collection was made up of all the first things I’d ever sewn, basically.
“When we did our CFDA meetings they said, ‘Tell us what you do in one sentence,’ and we’d say, ‘We make fashion fan-fiction’” – Patric DiCaprio
When did everyone else get involved?
PDC: Bryn came on for the China Chalet AW16 collection. I’d gotten to a point where I couldn’t sew what I wanted. Bryn and I were on a job. I said, ‘I’m looking for people to work with, I’m sick of doing it myself. I need someone else to help, and someone else’s vision.’ So I asked her, ‘Do you want to join?’ and she said yeah!
Bryn Taubensee: He actually texted me about it, like, ‘Hey, do you want to join Vaquera?’, and I was like, ‘OK!’ We’d discussed it (before). We were dreaming of making beautiful things one day.
PDC: David was friends with me and my ex. I knew that he wasn’t happy at Moses Gauntlett Cheng. A month before fashion week, we said, ‘Why don’t you join Vaquera too?’ Then David and I started sewing at my house, and Bryn at her house, and we’d have meetings at mine.
How do you make it work with more than one designer?
PDC: It’s a blessing, but it’s also really difficult.
DM: We like to be really transparent. We’re a fourperson team, so it’s all of us working on one thing.
Claire Sully: We’ve definitely started to grow into our roles a bit more. It’s very Vaquera-style to let things happen naturally. And I think we’re getting there now.
Do you all get to express yourselves in the collections?
CS: I do identify more with some of the characters (we create) than others. But that’s a difficult question.
BT: I feel like we all do design slightly differently.
PDC: It’s like a Frankenstein; often the characters have pieces made by each of us in them, then they’re put together at the end. It works exquisite corpse-style: one person will say, ‘What about this crazy lady who goes to the grocery store with rollers in her hair?’ and (another will say), ‘What about that yellow dress you made?’
CS: My mom was able to pick out stuff I made from the first season I was doing Vaquera. I think the individual pieces are where we’re most identifiable. And then the characters are a combination.
Do you feel like New York is a character to you?
DM: I mean, it’s hard not to be inspired when you’re in New York. But I think Vaquera is a nationwide thing. We’re all from different parts of the country.
CS: I feel like New York is made up of people who are obsessed with New York.
BT: I think New York inspires me in a negative way! When I moved here I was really excited to get into fashion, and it just wasn’t what I thought. It didn’t suit me, I couldn’t find like minds. And I think (Vaquera) is very New York in that sense, too.
PDC: Or the fantasy of what New York could be. Being that person who doesn’t actually live in NYC, but fantasises about it.
“It’s so boring to say, but I think a Vaquera lifestyle brand would be really funny and interesting.” – Patric DiCaprio
Were you those people growing up?
DM: I grew up really close to New York, and as a teenager I was always there. I really wanted to live there and I was just waiting for the minute that I could.
BT: I’m from Indiana. I was always just a weirdo because I grew up in the middle of nowhere; I’m an only child. And, being that, I guess New York seemed like the best option.
CS: I was absolutely obsessed with New York from when I was little. My mom always jokes that I used to strut down Fifth Avenue and act like I owned it. I was obsessed with Gossip Girl, and all the things that we talked about in our AW17 collection. I think part of that was because I felt really out of place where I was growing up. And I fantasised about New York, because (I felt like) I could be me there.
PDC: When I was growing up I was really into music; I was in bands and it was more about Lou Reed than it was about fashion. I had this obsession with fashion via music, and New York was where everybody was playing – the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were never going to come to Alabama. I imagined being able to go to these shows, and how cool that would be. And it wasn’t until I got to New York that I realised I wanted to use fashion for something else.
How do you find your ideas for a collection? Like SS18, which brought together surf and punk.
PDC: We start with opposites; that’s kind of how it’s worked before. Last season, the first thing we thought of was surf. But we didn’t want to do a collection just about surfing or surf clothes – that would be really boring. (It’s more about) what can we do to flip it?
CS: My personal experience is that the fabrics are what get us excited because we can see what the collection is going to look like, and that influences it a lot. Everything else just kind of happens as it happens. There’s very little planning from that point.
BT: We often think of characters, though. It helps to inform things more for us. Imagining the specific characters, like the divorcé who doesn’t know how to do his own laundry. We have a really distinct idea of what that person looks like. Having the idea of that person gives us a lot of energy. When we aren’t overthinking, we’re just making something for our character.
Vaquera seems to be at a crux – in between underground and ubiquitous. Since whatever’s next is going to be important, it seems like a good time to ask: what’s your favourite memory so far?
PDC: The Handmaid’s Tale show was really emotional to me. The show played out even better than we could have imagined, it was so emotional and intense. I was peeping through the curtains, seeing all the models doing their choreography, and I was crying. I looked at Bryn and she was crying, too.
CS: I think my favourite Vaquera memory is actually being asked to join Vaquera. That was a nice moment. Bryn, David and Patric took me out on to the rooftop and told me they wanted to whisper something to me, and they said, ‘Do you want to be part of Vaquera?’ That was really special.
DM: I remember after the SS17 show, which was a huge transitional moment for us, we’d just spoken to (Vogue critic) Maya Singer who was asking, ‘What are you guys doing?’ We didn’t have a good answer for her, so we all got kind of upset. I was so anxiety-ridden. Then the WWD images came out, and it was the first time we were on WWD, and the first time we’d had runway images. We were all so excited.
CS: Bad moments are just as valuable as crazy ones.
BT: I feel like I have less of these moments as we go along because things seem to get normalised. But I remember when we first got accepted into (New York) fashion week, we were at Veselka, which is an old Ukrainian restaurant and bakery. We were standing in line and we got the email; it was just so shocking because I always felt like we were just kids fucking around. I mean, obviously, we were serious about it. But we were so not fashion week. And it was so exciting to get that affirmation from the CFDA that they support what we’re doing; it means it’s going to be recognised by other people. I also think just being with everyone, being together, was exciting too.
And looking forward?
PDC: It’s so boring to say, but I think a Vaquera lifestyle brand would be really funny and interesting.
PDC: Bedding, or liquor, or lighters. Whatever!
Hair Teiji Utsumi at Bryant Artists using Bumble and bumble., make-up Daniel Sallstrom at CLM using Kevyn Aucoin, model Jess Cole at IMG, photographic assistants Sam Henry, Joseph Reddy, styling assistant Ioana Ivan, hair assistant Kanae Kikuchi, production Elise Lebrun at D+V, casting Walter Pearce at Midland Agency