New York Fashion Week: Six Questions w/ Imitation of Christ’s Tara Subkoff

Nostalgia can be a corrupting influence on the memory, leaving us with a hazy, rose-colored view of what actually transpired a short or especially a long time ago. But then again, as anyone responsible for the Florentine Renaissance would tell the Mannerists who came after them, sometimes your shit is just better than what follows it, and still very much holds up many years after.

If you weren’t there, New York City from 2000 to 2010 (a mini-Renaissance, if ever) was as electric as everyone who was there has told you it was, and possibly even a bit more than that. Mostly, social media hadn’t come along and initiated the Cultural Apocalypse just yet (let’s go on record right here that TikTok will ultimately be our doom), and at least until about 2005 or so, people still mostly looked up, instead of staring down at a screen on an insidious little device (the continuous disposal of which, btw, is one of the more serious threats to the survival of our planet). And while you were looking up, you probably caught a few memorably provocative shows / performance art pieces by the ideological fashion label Imitation of Christ. Founded by Tara Subkoff and Matt Damhave just after Y2k didn’t actually end the world, it also boasted indie “it” girl Chloë Sevigny as Creative Director.

The name was nicked from the ominous Psychedelic Furs track, the lyrics to which suggested that we all might be living through our own personal crucifixions, and that Christ may not actually be what he seemed to be (“Jesus is a woman too / He looks like all of me and you”). But IOC the fashion brand had taken up the cross of sustainability, long before it was something that was de rigueur for designers to go on and on about, though the latter mostly insincerely, surely. The project would end up on hiatus by around 2011, and Subkoff would go on to become a very cool mommy a few years later.

But the forced self-reflections of COVID quarantines inspired her to, um, resurrect the label in 2020. And for IOC’s Spring/Summer 2022 New York Fashion Week presentation, another perception-altering performance piece was staged at St. Mark’s Church in the East Village, spilling exuberantly out onto the streets. It featured a Buddhist monk, 19-year-old-songstress Blessing, and 78 dancers in red, white and blue upcycled, re-re-issued cotton jerseys, in tribute to all those we lost during this terrible pandemic. Dancer/artist Breanna Helders also spray painted a slash across her womb, in protest of the odious, deeply misogynistic new Texas abortion law.

Post-show, we engaged Ms. Subkoff on what it all means. And with 2003 swirling around in our minds once again, we have to admit we couldn’t help but wonder…what did ever happen to Carlos D?

Imitation of Christ helped to define a kind of agitprop post-millennial cultural zeitgeist. What is its purpose and/or mission statement in 2021?

The environment has spun out of control and is much worse in 2021 than it was in 2000. We started one of the first “upcycling” and re-cycling of textiles and old clothing to use what exists and not consume and create more waste…and my mission is to raise awareness and encourage action by transforming waste creatively and sparking alchemy such that it is perceived as “new again.” By putting the human hand back into a world that manufactures fast fashion, I am attempting to create one-of-a-kind objects that are understood as wearable art, like an artwork that one appreciates each time and that is cared for.

We’ve all been cooped up for nineteen months, attempting to substitute digital communication for actual human interaction. Did it feel cathartic to carry out a real, visceral physical experience during Fashion Week?

Yes! Exactly! It was a performance celebrating life, as well as a tribute and memorial for the friends and family we have all collectively lost due to the pandemic over the past nineteen months – to not pretend that everything is “back to normal,” as if this did not traumatize and affect us all. The humble monk creating a sand mandala in the center of the church to the singing of Blessing and the dancers moving in different directions creating a human mandala was a profound moment – dancers who have not been able to dance together in over nineteen months! The joy and feeling in the room was palpable. People were crying. I was crying. My young, super talented guest creative directors Asia Caldera and Daisy Bourez were crying. Then we took our “last looks” out onto the street to be truly inclusive, inviting everyone in the East Village to walk to Tompkins Square Park with us and celebrate life and our resilience – true participatory art. My friend, director/writer Darren Aronofsky, who came to the show said, “It was such a celebration. Thank you for that and the hope” – that’s exactly what I wanted to convey.

Ideology has nearly been bludgeoned out of fashion by corporate intervention, save a few nods to “sustainability”. What do you hope Imitation of Christ can do right now to kick against this ever consolidating system?

I think all we can do is try our best – giving up is not an option. I have a five-year-old daughter and I have to work harder at having hope and creating real ways to push for sustainability and upcycling / recycling / re-using our waste and hopefully inventing some new frontier that will inspire other companies to want to do this too. Whatever platform it is though, it has to make sense for the companies…which means it has to be commercially feasible so that other companies want to upcycle it too.

What do you hope people took away from your Fashion Week experience?

Hope. Inspiration. A desire to reconnect with the live. I spoke to a real hero yesterday – RoseLee Goldberg. She runs Performa, and they are about to have the Performa Biennale in October. She has done so much to support performance and create awareness so that we can understand and know what it is. We are losing humanity by only looking at screens. After nineteen months of not being able to connect in real-time or see a live performance, it was incredible to feel that human connection and feel that energy. It is so much a part of being alive!

Can you describe the day to day life of Tara Subkoff in 2021?

Which day? There is no typical day. Every day I wake up without enough sleep after being up in my studio working, so I can make breakfast for my daughter and take her to school. I am a mother first and foremost now, everything else comes after. I named my daughter Grace so I can say this word fifty-plus times a day. It is such a constant reminder that it is not what happens to us that defines us, it is how we handle it, how much empathy we can cultivate towards other people and ourselves…and what it takes to get through these sometimes excruciatingly hard times. To do it with kindness and to be gentle when it feels impossible. Some people call it…grace. This is how I spend every day.

And finally…what is your favorite Psychedelic Furs song?

‘Imitation of Christ’ – hahaha.

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