Analysis: Opening Ceremony’s ‘Changers’ dance performance was a New York Fashion Week spectacle done right


Eyeballs, attention, bandwidth. Call it what you want, but the reality of New York Fashion Week is that if you’re a designer trying to stand out on a cluttered landscape of runway shows and presentations, you must engage in a little showmanship.

The challenge, of course, is not to let the flash overshadow the fashion.

This season, Philipp Plein’s Hammerstein Ballroom extravaganza stands out as a cautionary tale of all sizzle/no steak, with Ralph Lauren’s trek to his Bedford, N.Y., garage show and Rihanna’s Fenty Puma show threatening to go the way of Plein’s but ultimately delivering the goods.


But it was Opening Ceremony that won our attention — and stole our hearts — with “Changers: A Dance Story,” which presented the label’s pre-spring 2018 collection through a 30-minutes-plus performance at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in Manhattan’s East Village on Sept. 10.

Written and directed by Spike Jonze, choreographed by Ryan Heffington and starring Mia Wasikowska (“Alice Through the Looking Glass”) and Lakeith Stanfield (“Atlanta”), it could have easily collapsed like a celebrity-filled soufflé in the fashion week oven by pulling focus from the clothes.

However, it didn’t.

Using dance and movement instead of dialogue, but for a brief voice-over and a song performed live by Abraham Boyd, the performance was wordless.

“Changers” charted the flows and eddies of a young couple’s relationship — the deepening, fracturing and healing — with a supporting cast of dancers serving as muses who helped dress, undress and redress principals Wasikowska and Stanfield several times during the course of the performance.

With most of the wardrobe changes coming on stage, the layering and building of looks underscored the effect of clothes on the psyche.

For Wasikowska that included shrunken toggle-button coats and striped dresses that were donned and then doffed, plaid-print mini-dresses, roomy boyfriend cardigans that evoked cocooning comfort and, toward the end, a sharp, strong-shouldered double-breasted blazer paired with leggings meant to signal strength and confidence.

Stanfield’s character arc went the other direction, signaled by a shift from button-front shirts and dark jeans to sweatpants and a hoodie and windbreaker, pulled on and off by valets/muses clad in plaid shirts, jeans and shearling-trimmed denim jackets.

What made this particular format work — from a practical fashion-week point of view at least — was that one was really able to see how the clothes moved. And, with Wasikowska’s plaid-print mini dress — and a second look that paired a bright yellow pleated skirt and cropped pinstriped top — still lingering in the memory days after the actors took their bow, Opening Ceremony’s Humberto Leon and Carol Lim clearly knew what they were doing.

The duo even managed to leverage this exercise in innovative fashion storytelling for a good cause. After the Sept. 10 premiere, “Changers” opened to the public for a four-night run at LaMaMa, with 100% of proceeds going to the Greater Houston Community Foundation’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

Pieces from Opening Ceremony’s pre-spring 2018 collection can be seen in more detail — and pre-ordered now — at the label’s website

For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me at @ARTschorn.