Purple Magazine
— The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

elena velez

Elena Velez s/s 2024 show. Photos Maya Stolenbesos

Elena Velez s/s 2024 show. Photo Joel Evey Elena Velez s/s 2024 show. Photo Joel Evey Elena Velez s/s 2024 show. Photos Maya Stolenbesos


interview and portrait



Elena Velez is a young American designer from Milwaukee, based in New York City. Her post-industrial collections are known for their artistic synthesis of metalwork, salvaged textiles, and high fashion. She offers poetic and radical commentary on today’s dystopia.


OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s start with the fantastic show you did in New York for spring-summer 2024. Can you tell us about the idea behind the show? 

ELENA VELEZ — To set a bit of context, I think it’s helpful to describe the landscape around the concept of the show. I think good fashion exists when you’re able to plug into the zeitgeist and be informed by a subculture that isn’t necessarily specifically about fashion. It’s a really exciting time to be a young New York-based creative. We’re really on the precipice of a cultural shift. Fashion until now has been so ideologically homogenized. There’s a really disingenuous and superficial value system that fashion is meant to adhere to, and I think we’re all growing exhausted of the hollowness of this messaging. We’re craving more meaningful and authentic conversations around the women we want to see out in the world. I think a lot of the success of this last show was due to the relatability of feministic catharsis that I was experiencing. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your show presented the collection and destroyed it at the same time, with mud. It pushed it to another level of visuality because mud is not far from your colors.

ELENA VELEZ — Yes, it’s very earthy and industrial. I think a lot of it has to do with the stark contrast that I wanted to make between the brand and the ecosystem it’s existing in right now. It’s a discontinuation of the self-aware and contrived woman who we’ve come to know all too well in cosmopolitan cities. It was about soiling this image of womanhood that is manipulative, cynical, and dishonest, a sort of exorcism of the feral female energy that I miss in popular culture today. The concept around the show was inspired by a literary allegory called “the longhouse,” often used to represent a space or a system that accommodates diverse forms of family and social relations, contrasting with the nuclear family model. It’s a critique of the all-enveloping destructive lava of feminine influence. It’s a powerful and beautiful thing, but also a dangerous and destructive miasmic force that can draw people in and corrode their complementary masculine yang. What I really wanted to do was have a paradoxical critique and celebration of a kind of “toxic femininity” that feels stifling. As a woman, I want to believe in a more introspective archetype of female aspiration. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, in a way, your fashion is an expression of what it is to be a woman.

ELENA VELEZ — Well, my creative process is really about understanding my own womanhood and my own journey of self-actualization through this really specific medium. And as somebody who’s not from the “creative coasts” and who isn’t used to this cultural temperature, I don’t recognize myself in this identity of womanhood that is so prevalent in polite society. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you transfer this idea into fashion?

ELENA VELEZ — I think beauty and aesthetics are less of a visual thing and more of a mindfuck. So, I think about creating fashion spectacles that are existential and visceral and sensory-driven.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Does fashion express your own experience of womanhood?

ELENA VELEZ — I don’t like it when people ask me about my children or my marriage or my relationship or my breakups in my work. Nobody would ask a male artist that. For me, it is about reconciling with my own coming-of-age and my own experiences in the world, mourning for what I wish I could see more of in terms of womanhood, and expressing that through fashion. But in that same regard, I don’t necessarily want my collections to be about things that are typical of female artists.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, this show and the collection were more of an expression of feminine complexity…

ELENA VELEZ — And the capacity for multiplicity as women, which I don’t see reflected in society these days.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you include also an element of madness? Because the models ended up attacking and fighting each other.

ELENA VELEZ — That wasn’t planned. It was really a more organic experience. I told the girls: “You’re welcome to do whatever you want when you go out for the finale. If you want to push each other down or throw mud at someone, that’s fine.” So, it was really about giving them the agency and creative permission to interact among themselves in a special way. It was choreographed very spontaneously, to say the least.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is fashion an investigation of your own self-expression, and is it also political in a way?

ELENA VELEZ — Definitely. Existence is political. Existing as a woman in New York City as a creative is political. To be a good fashion designer, you have to take the temperature of the times that you live in. Otherwise, it’s not fashion, and it’s not relevant, and it won’t add to the progressive culmination of the human experience. I think it’s important to connect to my context, and my existence is undeniably and inherently political.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How would you define the times we’re living in?

ELENA VELEZ — I think we’re living in an era of post-progressivism, where a sentiment of stifling cultural homogeneity is starting to grate on people’s psychology. It’s exhausting and unsustainable. I think we’re on the precipice of a sort of natural cataclysmic event, where the fall of one canon of thought is imminent, and a new one will begin.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are we on the border of a more liberating period?

ELENA VELEZ — I hope so. I don’t know what it will lead to or what’s on the other side of this. I just feel like we’re on the precipice of a lot of reactionary energy. Obviously we’re coming out of the Covid era, out of all of these disillusioning and authoritative experiences socially, politically, and creatively, and people are just craving something raw and loud: a sort of defibrillator for a lifeless culture. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — My feeling is that people are actually lost. It’s very difficult to navigate a world that is changing drastically every week and every month. We have no possibility of really understanding where this world is going. Plus, when we express our opinions on social media, we are attacked further by people who don’t even understand what we’re saying.

ELENA VELEZ — They don’t care to understand. It’s such a cynical exchange. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — And so, in this context of confusion, do you think that fashion is an interesting medium to capture the humanity or the integrity of who people really are?

ELENA VELEZ — I think it is, definitely. Fashion is similar to comedy in that it’s unthreatening, welcoming, and visceral. You can’t monitor or premeditate your reaction toward it. It touches you and affects you in a way that you can’t necessarily predict. In a way, it’s different from another medium you might consume, like writing or documentary filmmaking that has a more literal interpretation. It’s important to me for these shows to get people to experience the way I feel when I conceptualize this collection, and how it feels to simply be me in this world today. I wish for catharsis and the ability to exist in the world as an agent of good and evil, and to expand this definition of female virtue to encompass our capacity for multiplicity.

OLIVIER ZAHM — This is why doing a show is very important for you, even though it’s super expensive.

ELENA VELEZ — Yeah, it’s true. You can’t build a world
without a big bang. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — And it’s the moment where you are fully an artist because you create a unique situation and a moment. 

ELENA VELEZ — I think the idea of the ephemeral is essential to fashion. It really is about contextualizing the zeitgeist in the here and now. The shows are important for that exact reason.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And that’s not easy to capture!

ELENA VELEZ — No, it’s not. I’m very sensitive and perceptive to the shifts in culture, and I feel like I can see, for better or for worse, the four-dimensional chessboard. I think that’s what makes me good at fashion. I’m a creative person, and I’m not necessarily somebody who can speak very articulately about how I experience the world, but I can interpret and manifest it via the senses, which is almost more effective.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And the music is important, too. You had a very specific choice of music for the last show.

ELENA VELEZ — Some of the references that I gave our sound designer Jason Tibi were very Catholic and Byzantine but also feral and animalistic, with a little bit of a Viking tribal component as well. I think these disparate audio universes have throughlines that make sense viscerally but not necessarily intellectually.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Should we not go too far into intellectualizing fashion?

ELENA VELEZ — I think it’s a disservice to the audience to dictate how they should experience the show, including my references. You should be able to come to the show and project your own universe onto it.


[Table of contents]

The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

Table of contents

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