New York, N.Y., Feb. 10—The origins of the phenomenon known as Fashion Week come from France with the first “haute couture” (high fashion) house in Paris in 1858. The concept of Fashion Week, however, didn’t take hold until 1943 with the first “Fashion Press Week” in New York City. What we know as Fashion Week today takes place annually in the four fashion centers of the modern world: New York, London, Milan and Paris.
On the eve of New York Fashion Week, which ran from February 11 through the 18th, Rolling Stone and Harley-Davidson teamed up to debut their New York Fashion Week event. The gala was held at Harley-Davidson of New York City’s Tribeca dealership to celebrate H-D’s Black Label Collection. The event promised to be a star-studded occasion, with a mix of celebrities, industry VIPs and an impressive array of the press.
This was an exclusive invite-only affair, with artists, musicians, stage and screen stars, producers, designers and others who, one at a time, stepped onto the red carpet, posed for photos in front of the step-and-repeat backdrop, gave interviews, and even participated in live Periscope streaming as camera flashes lit up the showroom. The Motor Company had brought with them a Low Rider S, so new that it hadn’t even been shipped to dealers yet, which was used as a red-carpet prop by some of the celebrities.
Within two minutes after I found my assigned spot, Tonit Calaway, Harley-Davidson’s global vice president of Human Resources and president of the Harley-Davidson Foundation, stepped onto the red carpet. Later she told me, “I’m wearing Black Label, except for my custom-made jacket that Karen Davidson made for me. The pants are Black Label, the shirt’s Black Label. The fabrics are wonderful and soft and they feel good. But it’s cutting edge; it’s fashion.” And there was Karen Davidson, creative director of Harley-Davidson MotorClothes, to celebrate the Black Label Collection. Interestingly enough, the collection was introduced during the reveal of Harley’s 2011 Blackline motorcycle in New York City exactly five years ago. The Blackline was discontinued as of the 2014 model year, but the Black Label Collection is still going strong.
It seemed like a never-ending procession of talent stepped onto the red carpet, some of them garbed in their own versions of motorcycle apparel, prompting one of the fashion media to comment, “Isn’t that cute? Everyone’s all bikered up.” Actors from TV shows such as Blindspot, Orange is the New Black, Nashville and more graced us with their presence, some rocking black leather, chains, buckles and zippers. Rock band Karma Killers, singer/songwriter Zella Day and rapper Caskey stepped on the red carpet as well. Most of the talent was there either to promote a show or an album or a film production, or if they weren’t working on a project, to keep their names and faces in the limelight.
Then the night’s first entertainer made an appearance: DJ Cassidy, one of the most sought-after deejays in the music world. It was his first time playing a gig at the Tribeca dealership, and he told me as soon as he walked in he noticed, “There’s rock ’n’ roll energy here. As a DJ, I can tell you that when you say rock ’n’ roll you don’t just mean rock ’n’ roll music, you mean rock ’n’ roll energy. Rock ’n’ roll energy has infused itself for decades into all genres of music. My favorite hip hop group of all time, Run-DMC, epitomized rock ’n’ roll energy. Black leather suits, kicking down speakers. They were actually way more anti-Michael Jackson era, and way more ‘fuck the world we’re burning down the house’ type of rock stars. When you walk in here, you feel that rock ’n’ roll energy.” Interesting comment, because DMC’s Darryl McDaniels learned to ride motorcycles at Barb’s Harley-Davidson. See a connection here?
Finally, another special guest appeared—rapper/hip-hop artist and actor Ludacris, who also happens to be a Harley rider. Ludacris is promoting the latest in the Fast and Furious movie franchise, and had accepted our hosts’ invitation to perform a special show at the party, which was already well underway on the lower level of the dealership. Once Ludacris stepped away from the red carpet, I made my way downstairs where DJ Cassidy was spinning records to set the party vibe.
But what would a Fashion Week kick-off party be without a fashion show? Sure enough, 10 lithesome young things descended the stairs onto yet another red carpet that formed the catwalk, modeling the latest fashions in the Black Label Collection. Shortly afterward, Ludacris took the stage, holding everyone rapt with his, well, rap. Surprisingly, even though the majority of the crowd was fairly young, everyone there seemed to know the words of every one of his songs, including his very first hit that was recorded nearly 20 years ago.
The entire evening was out-of-the-ordinary Fashion Week fare, and highly entertaining as well. Tonit Calaway might have put it best when she commented, “I don’t think Harley was expected to have this presence during Fashion Week. That’s the beauty about Harley-Davidson; we always do a lot of things that are unexpected. But we do it our way and we do it authentically and we have a lot of fun.”