Fashion loves nothing more than churning out one-off oddities that challenge the imagination and defy logic. The fashion industry also loves nothing more than a collaboration, and there is no greater proponent of the unexpected collaboration than Virgil Abloh, the founder of the street-style brand Off-White. Abloh has partnered with Nike, Vans, Levi’s, Moncler, Ikea and host of other companies to make a wide variety of items, including designer sneakers to ready-to-assemble furniture. He has now moved on to hospital scrubs.
Abloh is among a group of designers who worked with the fitness brand Equinox to create a collection of eccentric, symbolic and not-at-all-practical products to benefit an array of charities during 2018. The campaign, Commit to Something, begins Jan. 2, and each product will be used to raise money and awareness for a cause through auctions, donations or gift-giving.
To benefit cancer research, Abloh has designed a sweatsuit constructed from the medical scrubs worn by oncologists from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. They look a bit like costuming for a hip-hop video set in an operating theater.
Shayne Oliver, formerly of Hood by Air and most recently of Helmut Lang, created stilettos from pleather that was pulled from the benches at the Stonewall Inn. (Equinox had the seats reupholstered.) The Greenwich Village bar, where a protest in response to a police raid sparked the modern gay rights movement, was named a New York City landmark in 2015. Oliver is known for a surreal aesthetic that blurs gender lines. In his last collection for Hood by Air, he created double-footed cowboy boots. (Was the model coming or going? Torn between two directions?) To benefit LGBTQ rights, he created glossy mid-calf boots with heels like daggers. They are art objects, rather than footwear — unless one happens to be a glutton for podiatric bills.
“Fashion is a wonderful thing. If you want to wear a shoe with a 10-inch heel, go for it,” says Elizabeth Nolan, executive creative director for Equinox. “Your friends will have to wheel you around in a wheelbarrow. But everything is wearable.”
The initiative is the latest iteration of Equinox’s “Commit to Something” marketing campaign, which typically includes high-gloss portraiture that wraps physical fitness in the warm embrace of individuality, personal growth and empowerment. In years past, the campaign has included a photograph of model Lydia Hearst bedazzled in jewels and standing in the middle of a white-tablecloth restaurant while breast-feeding two infants. Another image had mother and artist, Samantha Paige, displaying the scars left from her double mastectomy — her steady gaze fixed on the viewer and her hands planted solidly on her hips. A tattoo artist hovers off to the side, etching an elaborate corsage of flowers onto Paige’s chest.
The images for the 2018 campaign, photographed by Steven Klein, are not as intimate as in the past, but they are arguably just as personal as they touch on issues of sweeping social, cultural and political significance. They speak to gender and sexuality, health care and the environment, veterans affairs, the fourth estate and racial justice.
The design team Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta, whose brand Eckhaus Latta is part of the artsy wing of New York fashion week, crafted a paper business suit from the case files of environmental lawyer James Thornton who founded Client Earth, one of the most influential environmental law organizations in Europe. Y/Project is behind an oversize work jacket made from parts of uniforms belonging to veterans participating in the Heroes Project, which supports wounded service members. And designer Adam Selman, known for outfitting Rihanna in his sexy sportswear, created a pair of glasses incorporating the camera lens of Ruddy Roye, who has been celebrated for his Instagram feed filled with photos that humanize the complicated issue of race relations. (Much of the creative groundwork on the campaign was done by Mel Ottenberg, who also works as Rihanna’s stylist.)
Two of the most challenging items, however, had Equinox tangling with the bureaucracy of the Food and Drug Administration. A perfume is infused with the DNA of Kathrine Switzer, who in 1967 became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon. If the FDA gives its approval, which is still pending, the fragrance can actually be worn. If not, it will simply be an evocative potion in a bottle that will benefit her foundation, which focuses on empowering women through running. Either way, Equinox gives its word that the perfume actually contains Switzer’s genetic code.
And The Washington Post cooperated on a lipstick that is the color of newspaper ink, which is black. It contains ground-up bits of virgin Post newsprint and celebrates speaking truth to power.
“We’ve always been know for putting brave, provocative work into the world,” Nolan says. But “given the climate we’re living in, simply having a brave, provocative viewpoint isn’t enough.”