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‘Exceedingly deep convictions’: Inside Xavier Becerra’s quest for health care for immigrants

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‘Exceedingly deep convictions’: Inside Xavier Becerra’s quest for health care for immigrants

As if to illustrate the fury with which the GOP regarded the issue of health care for undocumented immigrants, even Obama’s sharp disavowal of it prompted Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) to scream “you lie!” across the chamber.

Obama’s decision to cave in to the Wilson wing of the Republican Party was “more than disturbing,” Becerra told POLITICO at the time.

“I’m not sure what the White House is doing with this. Shadow boxing helps no one,” he told the Associated Press.

Now, as Becerra prepares to assume a new role as Joe Biden’s health secretary, he will have the power to make public benefits for undocumented workers a reality. With a stroke of his pen, he could issue first-of-their-kind waivers reversing the very policy that Obama torpedoed and allowing undocumented immigrants, roughly half of whom are currently uninsured, access to state health care exchanges. There are some compelling policy reasons to do so — undocumented workers often contribute payroll taxes, and giving them benefits would not only help prevent the spread of infectious disease, but ease free-care burdens on hospitals.

But even as Becerra readies himself for the start of his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, the toxic politics that Obama bowed to remain strongly in force.

“His interest is in trying to get illegal aliens on government-subsidized health care options,” said an aide to outspoken Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who has been lobbying colleagues against Becerra’s nomination. “If he was confirmed, he could weaponize HHS as a mechanism to push for open borders, and legitimize the illegal alien agenda that he’s pushing for. That has gotten some attention on the Hill.”

Then there’s the question of whether Democratic moderates, including Biden, are willing to back Becerra on the issue — or whether the White House, in an attempt to turn down the temperature, would ask Becerra to proceed cautiously on immigration issues.

Asked about Becerra’s past and current views, as well as how he would approach the new role of HHS secretary, Biden transition spokesman Andrew Bates said, “He will follow the law and pursue the President’s agenda to expand the Affordable Care Act and reduce costs for the American people.”

Becerra declined interview requests.

Interviews with lawmakers suggest that there is wide, though hardly unanimous, support among Democrats to allow states to use federal funds to cover undocumented workers, either by allowing them to buy into the ACA exchanges without any government subsidy or, more controversially, to utilize Medicaid. But there are moderates, including some Hispanic lawmakers, who sense that any such moves would be flashpoints for grass-roots opposition.

“This issue about non-citizens receiving health care has been contentious for years,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a moderate. “U.S. Citizens should receive welfare and other benefits, that’s my position and my position is what helps Democrats. If you’re undocumented, you shouldn’t be getting health care and other benefits.”

“My district is heavily Hispanic, and I hear it,” Cuellar added. “‘You know congressman, you can’t let those undocumented people get assistance — we’ve got a lot of people here who need help. There’s long lines at the food banks.’ I hear that all the time.”

But interviews the 15 Becerra friends, colleagues, and allies, as well as health care experts, suggest that health care for undocumented immigrants is an issue close to the heart of the 63-year-old son of a Mexican immigrant mother who, despite a diplomatic demeanor, can be forceful in pushing issues that align with his value system.

A POLITICO review of his 24-year House career and four years as California attorney general found that Becerra has repeatedly advocated for undocumented immigrants to have more access to health care and other government benefits, whether through Medicaid or Obamacare.

“He’s one of those individuals that had exceedingly deep convictions about the need to cover the undocumented individuals in all of our communities,” said former Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), who worked with Becerra during the Obamacare debate. In the case of the health care bill, Gonzalez said, “It did not make any sense not to, as long as they went ahead and paid for the coverage.”

Ultimately, the Affordable Care Act shut undocumented immigrants out of both receiving government-subsidized health insurance and buying any insurance on the new exchanges.

Soon after Obama’s speech to Congress in September 2009, Becerra was one of a handful of lawmakers who had a heated meeting on the issue with Obama in the Oval Office.

“[Obama’s team] were there to tell us they weren’t going to be able to do it,” said Gonzalez, the Texas Democrat. “We walked out, and people were frustrated and still upset.”

If confirmed as HHS chief, Becerra would have multiple avenues to assist undocumented immigrants, according to health care specialists. The least complicated path would be to give them access to the Obamacare exchanges without any government subsidies. He could also encourage states to expand in-state Medicaid programs to cover undocumented immigrants, which California is in the process of doing. Or he could choose to expand health insurance for DREAMers, who have temporary legal status in the United States but do not qualify for government health care programs or other assistance.

That’s if Republicans in Congress don’t manage to grind Becerra’s nomination to a halt in the narrowly Democratic Senate, and if Biden — once thought a moderate on immigration — doesn’t waver on his campaign-trail pledge to allow undocumented immigrants to buy into a “public option”-like health plan.

Becerra’s friends and former colleagues say that while he would follow Biden’s edicts, he would at the very least be a committed advocate for undocumented workers.

“He wants everyone who works hard to have the opportunity to get ahead, and part of that is access to health care,” said a former Becerra aide. “His touchstone is always that our nation is built on immigrants, and people come to this country to make a better life for their families.”

* * *

In discussing health care, Becerra often analogizes the plight of undocumented immigrants to the struggles of his own family.

When, in 2019, he was asked to prioritize the more than 100 lawsuits he filed as Golden State AG challenging the Trump administration on topics from gun control to the Endangered Species Act, Becerra cited two: Reversing Trump’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and his elimination of DACA, which gives undocumented immigrants who arrive in the U.S. as children temporary residency.

DACA recipients, he told California Healthline, “had to go through so much like my parents did. So, it’s very personal.”

Growing up, Becerra’s father worked as a farmer and, later, a construction worker, a union job that gave his family health insurance. He remembers the vital importance of having insurance after his mother suffered a miscarriage and had to go to the hospital.

“We knew we could go to the doctor — and everybody should know that,” Becerra said in his interview with California Healthline. “For me, health care is a right. I’ve been a single-payer advocate all my life.”

After filling out a high school classmate’s discarded application to Stanford, Becerra got in — and earned both a bachelor’s degree and law degree. He won election to the California state assembly at the age of 32 after a boss and mentor in the legislature encouraged him to run. Two years later, in 1992, Becerra won election to Congress and began a nearly quarter-century stint in the U.S. House representing multiple Los Angeles-area districts.

He arrived in Washington with his fellow Democrats in the 36th year of unbroken control of the House, but the political tide was about to turn against him. Republicans swept Congress in 1994 and turned their focus to then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” bills. These included more restrictive immigration policies and sweeping welfare-reform legislation that placed new bans on legal immigrants’ access to welfare, food stamps and other programs during their first five years in the country.

Becerra worked on developing a Democratic alternative and testified against the GOP-proposed immigration measures in front of the House Ways and Means Committee, arguing that “cutting benefits to immigrants is not welfare reform, rather it is a budget-cutting measure that is certain to adversely impact” immigrants and the states where they live.

The Republican-backed welfare bill passed, including the restrictions that Becerra had cautioned against. But within a year, Becerra was elevated to two significant posts in the House: He became a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee and chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. And he used those roles to lobby the Clinton administration on immigration policy, pushing the president to restore funding that had been stripped in the welfare law and to bring more Latinos into his cabinet.

By the time Obama took office in 2009, Becerra had become a key member of House leadership and close friend of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — as well as a possible successor to her. At the time, Becerra was seen as a wonky and thoughtful, if sometimes too eager to placate his various allies in the House, garnering skepticism from some Hispanic lawmakers who dubbed him “Mr. Stanford” for his intellectual approach.

But when he went fiercely to bat for immigrants during the fight over Obama’s health care bill, Becerra earned new loyalty from his colleagues, according to a former House aide who was involved in the ACA negotiations.

His relentless campaign to change lawmakers’ stances on the immigration issue sparked a tiff between Becerra and Pelosi, who told colleagues, “I understand I have tire tracks on my back from Xavier throwing me under the bus,” according to Congressional Quarterly.

But Hispanic lawmakers saw Becerra in a new light.

“Members became more appreciative of the roles he was taking. Because he did have the [Hispanic] caucus’ back,” said the aide. “I don’t think people really appreciated that until the rubber hit the road. He took on positions that leadership wasn’t on board with.”

Only a year later, after Republicans regained control of the House, Becerra would again have to navigate between ensuring benefits for immigrants and moving a larger piece of legislation along. This time, he was a member of a “Gang of Eight” House lawmakers trying to come up with a workable proposal for comprehensive immigration reform, a political quagmire that has proved unbridgeable in Washington for decades.

Working in secret over the course of months, the group of four Democrats and four Republicans tried to sketch out what an immigration compromise might look like. The president was spending much of his time focused on the Democrat-led Senate where a more high-profile “Gang of Eight” effort was taking place — but House lawmakers felt any Senate bill would be too liberal to pass the GOP-controlled chamber.

In the spring of 2013, the group had hashed out many of the biggest stumbling blocks, according to people involved in the effort. But a few topics, namely health care, divided them.

“It was the ACA that became the stumbling block,” said then-Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), one of the Democratic negotiators. “That was what broke down our conversation.”

Then-Rep. Raúl Labrador, a Republican from Idaho, felt strongly that taxpayers should not have to foot any bills for immigrants who are in the country seeking citizenship. And he was concerned about the possibility that immigrants could rack up bills in emergency rooms — shouldn’t immigrants, he argued, be responsible for their own health care?

One solution Labrador proposed: Change the ACA so that immigrants could buy cheap “catastrophic” health care plans designed to cover them in an emergency — a no-go for Democrats, who did not support such insurance. By mid-May, the group was frustrated, and Labrador threatened to quit if they couldn’t solve the health care conundrum soon. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) put forward a proposal: vague language saying immigrants need to pay for their own insurance and would be ineligible for citizenship if they relied on the government.

Becerra, who was also responsible for relaying the group’s decisions to Pelosi, refused to sign on. Within days, Labrador announced he would write his own bill. The Gang of Eight had collapsed.

* * *

As Joe Biden started his presidency, he issued half a dozen executive orders to begin to unwind the hundreds of hardline immigration policies put into place by the Trump White House, like building a border wall. He also started to advance his own plans, which include raising Trump’s cap on refugees. And Biden rolled out his own immigration reform plan, which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

But the political parties have only diverged on immigration issues in recent years, making benefits like health care more difficult to navigate than ever.

Republicans, who drifted to the right on immigration in recent years with Trump, argue that offering government-subsidized health care or food stamps for undocumented immigrants only encourages more people to come to the U.S. illegally. Providing benefits to recently arrived, legal immigrants is also contentious: Trump tried to curb such policies in 2018, when his administration issued a rule that would bar immigrants who have taken government services from gaining citizenship. As California AG, Becerra led states in suing to block the rule, which remains in place.

Democrats’ moderate wing is shrinking, and progressives like Becerra are pushing forward an argument that many undocumented immigrants work in the United States and pay taxes, so should be able to benefit. A little government assistance can go a long way, they say: With health care, for example, giving people access to doctors through Medicaid and state exchanges could prevent them from later taking trips to the emergency room, which can cost patients and the government thousands of dollars.

Still, the advocates have made little progress on Capitol Hill. In early February, 58 senators — including former presidential candidate John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — voted in favor of banning undocumented immigrants from receiving stimulus checks in a nonbinding vote, for example.

“This is the third rail in politics,” said Randy Capps, director at the Migration Policy Institute. “It’s such a polarizing issue, and you have a number of moderate Democrats [from] Republican or purple states that fear the Republican voters or moderate voters in their states would really make an issue out of it, which they would. They did with the Affordable Care Act.”

Today, undocumented immigrants cannot participate in federal Medicare or Medicaid, use the CHIP insurance program for children, or buy insurance through the Obamacare exchanges. But states can — and do — use their own money to expand access to health care.

In recent years, at least six states including New York, Massachusetts and California have expanded their in-state health programs to cover children regardless of their immigration status, and California has made moves to expand its coverage to seniors. (Such expansions are costly: When California expanded its in-state Medicaid program to cover people up to age 25, the state budgeted $98 million for the first year alone.)

California also asked the federal government for a waiver from the ACA that would allow the state to bypass the ban on undocumented immigrants participating in the state’s health exchange if they pay the unsubsidized cost of the insurance. The waiver request, which was filed at the end of Obama’s presidency and withdrawn after Trump took office, was supported by California lawmakers including Becerra.

“Everyone who works hard to build our country up, as so many immigrant families do, deserves access to quality and affordable health care. This provision does not cost the federal government a dime and it’s a no-brainer to get this waiver approved,” Becerra said at the time.

HHS never confirmed California’s request — and some experts are not sure if it would be legal to do so. But if confirmed as secretary, Becerra could put in place a range of immigrant-friendly policies at the department, including potentially signing off on waivers like the one California requested five years ago.

Becerra could also encourage, but not mandate, states to adopt policies like California’s that cover some undocumented immigrants on Medicaid using their own funds. The federal government could try to expand funding for community health clinics, which provide some of the only coverage for undocumented immigrants in need of preventative care. And Becerra could be instrumental to debates over whether DACA recipients, who are quasi-legal residents, should be able to participate in programs like Medicaid in future years, another legal grey area that is increasingly up for debate.

Former Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), a close friend of Becerra’s in Congress, said that as Health and Human Services secretary he anticipates Becerra to resume a role he played in Congress as a “builder.”

“He had to, as attorney general, oppose the policies of Trump and take the lead, and he did that very well,” Levin said. “Now, his role is different.”

Fashion

Brown University Fashion Week 2021 Kicks Off with Lineup of Fashion and Lifestyle Royalty Including Sarah Jessica Parker, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stella McCartney, and More

Emily walpole

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Brown University Fashion Week 2021 Kicks Off with Lineup of Fashion and Lifestyle Royalty Including Sarah Jessica Parker, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stella McCartney, and More

PROVIDENCE, R.I., March 3, 2021 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ — Brown Fashion Week 2021 will take place from March 4 to March 26 and features some of the biggest names in the fashion and lifestyle industries. Re-imagined by student organization Fashion@Brown (F@B) as a virtual celebration this year, the impressive 22-day program of events is free and open to students and fashionistas around the globe and not limited to the Brown University community.

“We were astonished and humbled by the positive response we received to our invitations to speak at Brown Fashion Week this year,” states Sasha Pinto, president of the student organization, Fashion@Brown. “We wanted to make Brown Fashion Week bigger than ever to spread some much-needed inspiration to students given the extreme isolation everyone has been experiencing — and the fashion industry responded in overwhelming numbers. It is a tribute not only to the kindness and generosity of the individual speakers but to the industry in general.”

Joining Fashion@Brown will be such renowned leaders as Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Stella McCartney, Kenneth Cole, Steve Madden, Emma Chamberlain, and Olivier Rousteing, among others. A complete list of all speakers and events follows.

Events are free and registration details can be found at https://fashionatbrown.com/events

Brown Fashion Week 2021 – Complete Speaker Lineup

Brown Fashion Week Distinguished Speaker Series kicks off on Thursday, March 4 at 7:30 pm ET with …

Sarah Jessica Parker: Actress, Entrepreneur, Civic Activist: SJP Does it All… and in High Heels” on Thursday, March 4 at 7:30 pm ET – Join F@B in conversation with the powerhouse whose latest bona fides include CEO of the SJP Collection, her booming shoe business; member of the Partnership for New York City, an economic council of NYC’s top CEOs; and vice chairman of the New York City Ballet… in addition to being a Golden Globe, Emmy, and Screen Actors Guild award-winning actress of the stage, silver screen, and television. Hear about SJP’s unique approach to retail, her myriad entrepreneurial initiatives, and her passionate dedication to the post-pandemic revival of New York City.

Next in the series is “Kenneth Cole: The Fashion Empire Visionary Shining a Light on Social Issues with Passion and Purpose,” on Monday, March 8 at 8:00 PM ET, featuring Kenneth Cole, who built a billion-dollar retail business while keeping in mind that “it’s great to be known for your shoes, but it’s better to be recognized for your soul.” Instead of being the company’s model, Kenneth Cole decided to be the company’s role model by lending his name to social issues like AIDS, homelessness, gun control, mental health and abortion. Cole will be interviewed by his daughter Amanda cole, Brown class of 2012.

On Monday, March 8 at 12:30 pm ET zoom in to “A Conversation with the World’s Foremost Fashion CEOs.” Isabelle Guichot, CEO of the chic Parisian fashion house Maje and former CEO of the renowned luxury maisons Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Balenciaga, joins Patrice Louvet, CEO of Ralph Lauren, for a dynamic industry leader fireside chat. As CEO of Ralph Lauren, which recently dressed Joseph R. Biden Jr. for the presidential inauguration, Mr. Louvet leads this hugely successful multi-billion-dollar company.

The series continues with “Steve Madden’s Wild Ride and Crazy Come Back” on Monday, March 9 at 8:00 PM ET. F@B is excited to host “the Maddman” himself who turned a fledgling startup launched in 1990 with $1,100 into a global, multibillion-dollar brand. But Steve Madden’s mistakes — from his battle with addiction to the financial shortcuts that landed him in prison — are as important to his narrative as his iconic shoes. Steve will share his uplifting story, the lessons he’s learned along the way, and how he hopes to use his hard-won platform to create positive change.

On March 10 at 2:00 pm ET: “Francesca Bellettini: The Powerhouse Behind the Billion-Dollar Brand” features the woman who has propelled the Yves Saint Laurent brand into the exclusive billion-Euro club, and in the process made herself one of the most powerful women in fashion where there are only a handful of female chief executives. Launching her career at Goldman Sachs before moving to prestigious fashion houses such as Prada, Gucci, Helmut Lang, and Bottega Veneta, Bellettini has shaped every form of luxury from the bags we carry to the clothes and shoes we wear.

On March 12 at 4:00 pm ET, F@B hosts internet phenomenon Emma Chamberlain: “The Most Interesting Girl on YouTube” according to the New York Times. Chamberlain, at just 19 years old, has created her own wildly successful brand as a Youtuber, social media influencer, Tik Tok star, podcaster, and owner of Chamberlain Coffee with a combined social media following of more than 30 million. Emma has also pivoted into the fashion industry, making her own merchandise and partnering with legendary Louis Vuitton. She has even recently entered the beauty world by becoming the global brand ambassador and creative director for Bad Habit Beauty Skincare. Emma has also had a huge impact on mental health, sharing her own struggles with anxiety and depression across all of her platforms.

The series continues on Sunday March 14 at 2 pm ET with “Olivier Rousteing: Transforming a Classic: Fashion’s Storyteller for a New Age.” Balmain’s wunderkind, Olivier Rousteing, will share what he envisions as fashion in the 21st century: a fresh, inclusive world of glamour and revolution. Bringing an innovative spirit of adventure and understanding of a digital generation, Olivier Rousteing’s creative vision has been integral to Balmain’s rapid growth as a brand and as a cultural staple on social media through his “Balmain Army.”

The next session, “Olivia Palermo: Style Authority, Tastemaker, and Instagram Case Study” on Thursday, March 18 at 7:30 pm ET is not to be missed. Palermo is a major force in the fashion industry; renowned designers invite her to collaborate, Valentino invites her to his yacht, Instagram uses her as a case study, and The New York Times published a feature story about her success. Olivia’s journey from an internship in the offices of Diane von Furstenberg in 2006 to an acclaimed international style authority and industry tastemaker today is a story that everyone with entrepreneurial ambitions will want to hear.

On Friday, March 19 at 12:30 pm ET, F@B presents “Stella McCartney: The Mindful Eco-Warrior of High Fashion.” Stella McCartney is one of the fashion industry’s most vocal champions of environmental issues and her company is a highly successful example of the commercial potential of sustainable, ethically minded businesses. Renowned not only for her successful designs, which included Meghan Markle’s wedding reception dress, Stella was also the first fashion designer ever to appear on the cover of American Vogue magazine in January 2020. A lifelong vegetarian, Stella has never used leather, feathers, skin or fur in any of her designs.

March 22, 7:30 pm ET, F@B presents – “Gwyneth Paltrow: The Oscar-winning Lightning-Rod, Trailblazing Lifestyle& Wellness CEO.” Join F@B for a chat with the actress-turned-powerhouse CEO who has taken the lifestyle and wellness market by storm. Providing a fresh—and at times controversial—perspective, Goop is one of the wellness industry’s most recognizable brands earning Paltrow millions of passionately loyal admirers (and, yes, a few trolls) through the simple premise that wellness is the new wealth. With Goop’s blend of aesthetic lifestyle digital media that touches on everything from beauty and wellness to fashion, food, home, and travel—along with its thriving e-commerce business, retail stores, events, and health summits, Goop is a worldwide phenomenon and Gwyneth Paltrow is just getting started.

Panel Discussions

In addition to the speaker series, Brown Fashion Week’s fascinating and thought-provoking panel discussions are not to be missed:

Changemaker Fashion Designers as Translators of Culture & Ethics

March 6 at 2:00 pm ET

Join this F@B conversation with Rome-based designer Stella Jean, Brooklyn-based Fe Noel, and Detroit-based Tracy Reese who are transforming the fashion landscape each in their own way, from using fashion as a bridge and translator of culture to using it as a way to uplift exploited communities. Hear about their journeys, efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry, as well as efforts to expand sustainable design initiatives and ethical production.

Award-Winning Costume Designers Shaping Fashion in Film

March 13, 2:00 pm ET

We’ll hear from Oscar-winner Ruth Carter, six-time Emmy-winner Michele Clapton, and Emmy-nominated Heidi Bivens on their experiences within the fashion and film industries, as well as their processes, inspirations, and ambitions. Their work spans across all different genres, be it Clapton’s Game of Thrones and The Crown, Carter’s Black Panther and Malcolm X, or Heidi Bivens Mid 90s and Euphoria.

The Future of Fashion Journalism from America’s Foremost Editors

March 16, 7:30 pm ET

Join F@B for a live-streamed conversation with three of fashion journalism’s most celebrated editors and influential voices in fashion: Vanessa Friedman, fashion director and chief fashion critic at The New York Times; Chioma Nnadi, editor of Vogue.com; and Samantha Barry, editor-in-chief of Glamour. Editorial is how we discover the latest trends, unearth new icons, and define style as we know it. The future of fashion journalism today is in flux, however, between the dilemma of reporting on fashion during a pandemic, the rise of influencer-generated content, the shift to digital platforms, and disappearance of print magazines. Friedman, Nnadi, and Barry will join us to discuss and dissect the future of fashion journalism.

Disrupting Beauty: Supermodels on Representation & Empowerment

March 17, 3:00 pm ET

This fascinating conversation will explore how modeling can influence greater societal change, how media representation can center marginalized identities in the public consciousness and how their careers have inspired them to help empower others; while their faces dominate our magazines and feeds, few are aware of their social and philanthropic work. We will hear from Jasmine Tookes, Cindy Bruna, Jasmine Sanders and Tami Williams about their inspirational journeys.

Screening & Discussion of “The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion”

March 21, 6:00 pm ET

Join F@B and the Brown Arts Initiative for a discussion with Lisa Cortés, the Academy Award-Nominated director, writer, and producer of the film, in conversation with award-winning filmmaker Yoruba Richen, Brown Professor of the Practice. The Remix is a story of hip hop’s influence on the fashion industry, which has led to the stratospheric and global rise of street wear. It is a story of African American creativity and limitless possibilities of this shift in culture, focusing on the journeys of fashion architect Misa Hylton, streetwear designer April Walker, as well as Dapper Dan and Kerby Jean-Raymond.

And finally, Brown Fashion Week 2021 culminates with their 11th Annual Runway Show…

The 11th Annual Runway Show on Friday, March 26 at 7:00 pm ET, presented virtually for the first time, will showcase the collections of the F@B team of twenty-six student designers from both Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. The collections will be released in a high-fashion campaign film, accompanied by a virtual and print Lookbook.

To register for any and all of the aforementioned complimentary events, please click http://www.fashionatbrown.com/events for more information and registration.

Media Contact

Sasha Pinto, Fashion@Brown, +1 (609) 865-7399, SashaPinto@fashionatbrown.com

SOURCE Fashion@Brown

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Fashion

Meet the Institut Français de la Mode’s first-ever MA Fashion graduates

Emily walpole

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Meet the Institut Français de la Mode’s first-ever MA Fashion graduates

Johanna Imbach MA Collection. Image courtesy of Institut Français de la Mode.

We won’t lie; flipping the calendar page to March was a sobering moment, an unwelcome reminder that we’ve spent a whole year of our lives living through these unprecedented times. Our minds, naturally, drifted back 12 months to those pre-pandemic ‘last days of Rome’ — well, Paris, actually, where the city’s AW20 fashion week was in full swing. Meanwhile, in a neon green lightning bolt of a building on the Left Bank of the Seine, the inaugural cohort of the Institut Français de la Mode (IFM)’s spanking new MA programme had reached the halfway mark in the two-year course, cutting, draping and dreaming of their debut on the fashion world’s most prestigious stage just twelve months down the line.

You know how the story goes — a goddamn lot has happened since, and any plans that were in place then were swiftly put paid to. Still, despite the trials and turmoils that the past year has posed, the dreams of the 48 members of the IFM’ first graduating were yesterday realised, with their collections opening the AW21 Paris Fashion Week schedule. “This presentation […] is the first concrete expression of our project and our ambition,” says Xavier Romatet, the school’s dean. “It’s an opportunity to appreciate the creative level of this first graduating class of our new Master’s programme, to identify emerging talent for tomorrow and to contribute to rethinking fashion in light of the current disruptions.”

 

As you’ll see below, this fresh crop of young talent below has done a pretty good job of doing just that, presenting accomplished, thought-provoking collections even in (and in some cases as a reaction to) today’s hostile climate for fashion’s new faces. Here, seven of the graduates discuss their final collections, how they navigated the challenges of creating during the pandemic, and how the past year has shaped their perspectives on fashion.

Adam Kost

How would you introduce your graduate collection? My collection is a meditation on purity and smoothness; meadow and sky; moonlight during the night, sunshine during the day: things that make me feel I am part of everything and everything is part of me. What are its central themes? It’s about the eternal qualities of fashion, and how it interacts with the human body. I was trying to find a universal language, one that everybody can relate to, discussing basic topics and archetypes that are more or less the same for all of us. How did you find developing and creating your graduate collection during the pandemic? Creating during the pandemic meant creating a collection with limited resources. But this fact didn’t affect my creativity; it even forced me to dream more, be more generous, and more grateful that I still had the privilege to create garments. How has the past year shaped your understanding of fashion’s purpose? It’s taught me to question my designs much more; to ask myself if they should be made and if they are aesthetically sustainable.

Clément Picot

How would you introduce your graduate collection? My collection, titled “Dream Until the End”, is inspired by two of my favourite movies: American Psycho and The Shining by Stanley Kubrick. I always found that there was a kind of similarity between the two main characters. I wanted to pay tribute to these two films through a series of winks in the looks of the collection, but above all, I wanted to create my own narrative. What are its central themes? The idea was to show the evolution of a person, a transformation and descent to a hell that lies somewhere between the imaginary and the real. I tried to translate this idea through the different looks in my collection, starting with ‘the dream’, with powerful but disturbing silhouettes inspired by Patrick Bateman’s wardrobe, and the last looks ending at the border of the nightmare thanks to hybrid silhouettes inspired by Matthew Barney’s movies. How has the past year shaped your understanding of fashion’s purpose? I remember dreaming in front of Alexander McQueen’s shows more than 10 years ago — I was amazed by the beauty and the almost infinite creativity of his work, and I think this is part of a kind of magic that fashion has and must continue to have in the future. Especially in these difficult times, it is always important to keep dreaming. Fashion is an art like any other, an art that was disappearing more and more under the increasing numbers of collections, and in a world where fast fashion takes up an increasing amount of space. Nowadays, fashion exists more and more as a form of entertainment and inspiration for people who can’t leave their homes anymore, to visit an exhibition in a museum, for example. In the space of a year, fashion has really managed to carve out an important space in people’s daily lives, giving us hope for the future.

Jimin Kim

 

How would you introduce your graduate collection? My collection maps my symbolic journey towards finding a balance between reality and daydreaming in the process of achieving my personal goals, mixing the traditional craft of crochet with 3D technology to create silhouettes which question the real and the imagined. My real-world experience is represented by the knitted fabrics made from mohair and monofilament, while my tendency to daydream is represented through transparent 3D structures sculpted in PLA, biodegradable plastic made of corn starch. How did you find developing and creating your graduate collection during the pandemic? I’ve had a hard time during the pandemic, but, on the other hand, it has enabled me to develop new approaches that aren’t typical knit. I found the first lockdown period very hard mentally, and couldn’t do any work. Afterwards, though, I completed a 4-month innovation project called ‘Sound of Shape’. In Korea, we were able to go out relatively freely, but, as in Paris, there was limited access to knitting machines, so I had to find a new method. The project’s theme was to discover my own innovation, so I decided to make clothes through a creative new method. I researched how knitting and crochet were practised in the past, when people couldn’t use machines. Furthermore, when I searched for a new material, I came up with the idea of working with a 3D pen, and weaving the PLA plastic like a knit structure. You’re graduating at a time when conversations around race, gender, sexuality and wider issues of identity have never been more prominent in fashion. How do you position your work with respect to these conversations? I wanted to reflect on the current situation in my collection. Previously, in my Parsons MFA collection, I tried to symbolically express my experiences as a woman in Korean society and my attitude against prejudice and discrimination. Although this collection is more concentrated on my inner side, it still expresses a desire to counteract negative stereotypes about me. As a Korean, I grew up in a society that was not part of the fashion mainstream, and I’ve worked very hard to overcome the skeptical gazes of people around me — it’s an effort that continues even to this day. I hope that diversity will become more common in the fashion world, and that young designers who make new attempts to cross barriers of race and nationality will receive greater support in the mainstream.

Jisoo Baik

How would you introduce your graduate collection? My collection, titled ‘Personal Space’, mostly involves incorporating everyday objects that anybody can relate to in order to convey the idea of a safe space where you can be yourself. It was inspired by how individuals carry their possessions with them, each in their own way, when they walk on the street. How did you find developing and creating your graduate collection during the pandemic? The first time Paris went into lockdown, I was so panicked, I couldn’t imagine how I would develop my final collection without any fabrics and materials. The city was like a ghost town. But then I realised that I couldn’t just stop everything and worry. I just kept saying to myself, ‘I’m doing my best that I can.’ The new trials this brought were actually really freeing. Ironically, they’ve given the fashion world even greater freedom, allowing it to escape from the reliance on fashion shows, for example, something that seemed like it would never changed. How has the past year shaped your understanding of fashion’s purpose? Before I started my MA course, I was focused on finding my own voice and identity in my designs. I tried to challenge myself by using unfamiliar materials to making garments, digging deep inside myself to answer questions ‘Who am I?” and, “What do I like?”  Now, though, I’m more focused on responding to a customer’s needs, and thinking about how  I communicate with them. I’ve become much more careful about not getting stuck in my own world.

Johanna Imbach

 

How would you introduce your graduate collection? My graduate collection is a technical and creative exploration of knitwear. It is above all a collection that questions the perception of the spectator, proposing new experiences between garments and bodies. What are its central themes? I wanted to create an almost virtual vision, one of garments without any mass. My three-dimensional approach is above all a sculptural process. This allows me to create graphic and kinetic looks where the body and the garment become one, proposing a new anatomy. I wanted to present a womenswear collection that questions anatomy, perception and proportion; to question the female body and its relationship to clothing through allure and curves. Ultimately, I seek to redefine knitwear, to push it beyond the ideas that we have of knitting and its construction. How did you find developing and creating your graduate collection during the pandemic? The most difficult part of the past year has been living in uncertainty. Being a knitter, and being away from our materials and workspace, was a huge disadvantage, even though we all have domestic machines. We had to leave the workshops for 5 months, putting our minds, and our creativity, to a tough test. We also had to be understanding and responsive to government restrictions. It was a year that seemed insurmountable, but, now our collections have launched, it now feels like it passed quickly.”

Mathieu Goosse

How would you introduce your graduate collection? My collection, titled “I’d like to see you”, is like an image plane, a series of objects in suspension above reality. Short of breath, out of strength, stripped back to the bare essential. It revolves around the ideas of reducing, exhaustion, love, and fragility. I don’t work with mood boards of images, but with emotions, sensations, and objects that I craft and which act as starting points. What are its central themes? It’s about obsession: what fuels it, what brings it alive, and how it triggers our impulses to build and to destroy. I often work with materials I have right next to me, and I like to make them feel new and different. They are sanded, washed-out, and worn-down. There is a frailness in the razor-sharp precision of the handwork, and a roughness in the sensation of sanded silk, peeling python skin, the worn feeling of recycled denim. You’re graduating at a time when conversations around race, gender, sexuality and wider issues of identity have never been more prominent in fashion. How do you position your work with respect to these conversations? Through my choice to not work with ‘images’ and focus on the essence of elements from my personal point of view, I’m trying to build my garments as objects. Pure, detached and independent, they can speak to or touch everyone; they’re essential forms that can belong to anyone. As a menswear student, my collection was presented on boys in the show, but the garments are completely non-gendered. For me, the best way to discuss issues of diversity in my work is to reduce things to the point where they lose any socialised associations, while maintaining a strong presence. How has the past year shaped your understanding of fashion’s purpose? This year of isolation has shown me how fashion is necessary and how much it connects people. It always seems so far from everything — extreme, intense, arrogant, or from another world — but it’s so close to us all, and at all times. Garments are the first things we receive when we’re born, and we keep them with us until the end. They’re what hold us.”

Soyul Kim

How would you introduce your graduate collection? It’s about fierceness layered with softness; being playful in a cut-throat world. I was very much influenced by the inspiring women mentors I had when I started my career in NYC. When we think of ‘strong women’, we only think of their boldness. But you soon realise that they are who they are today because they were willing to fall, accept and learn from their experiences — just like a kid who’s willing to fall because they’ve learned how to pick themselves up again. And everybody has that inner kid, they’re just usually too busy ‘adulting’ through the world. What are its central themes? A central theme throughout my collection is the undeterred presence of a child living in an adult body. Using hard silhouettes like armour-shaped shoulders and hard materials like leather against soft fabrics and lace, or by crocheting structured metal thread into seemingly-fragile fabric, I wanted to express the coexistence of strength and vulnerability. There are also elements that blur the line of being a kid and being an adult, like Furby bags hanging from power suits, or a print with abstract shapes taken from Disney films. I see my collection as a balance of something rough and delicate, masculine and feminine, serious and playful – something adult-y, and youthful at the same time. You’re graduating at a time when conversations around race, gender, sexuality and wider issues of identity have never been more prominent in fashion. How do you position your work with respect to these conversations? I tend not to say it out loud, but I create to put feminine power on equal grounds with masculine power. It’s not about a competition between the genders, but rather about acknowledging underlying historical discrepancies, appreciating each other, and working towards the same goal of closing the gap. I hope to inspire other women and girls through my work – just as I have been inspired by the female mentors in life – that we should never settle for less, and that we should also not be intimidated by competition; rather, we should be inspired by it. It’s about embracing the authentic power of your inner female identity, and being true to what makes you feel comfortable.

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Adult Minnesotans rediscovered the comfort of snow pants, fashion be damned

Emily walpole

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Adult Minnesotans rediscovered the comfort of snow pants, fashion be damned

Brandt Williams of Minneapolis has spent 53 years in the Upper Midwest, but hadn’t worn snow pants since being zipped into a one-piece suit he described as “the iron maiden of clothing for children.”

Then one day last December, while shopping at Costco, Williams spotted a snow pants display. He bought a pair on a whim, thinking they’d be less hassle than adding and removing long underwear.

During the February cold snap, Williams wore his snow pants for daily walks, outdoor reporting assignments for his job with Minnesota Public Radio, or just sitting around a fire pit.

“Having this layer of protection makes you feel like you’ve somehow mastered the elements,” he said. “You have this feeling of invulnerability.”

While snowsuits and coveralls are a staple of ice fishing, snowmobiling and other outdoorsy pursuits, the pandemic has spurred more Minnesotans to join the cozy club of adults who wear the padded pants. They’re remembering childhoods spent sitting in snowbanks, undeterred by dampness or cold, and wondering why their adult selves hadn’t reembraced snow pants sooner.

For some, donning snow pants has been an act of self-care in a time when so many of the usual ways we treat ourselves — from happy hours to hitting the mall — have been curtailed.

And once they’ve crossed over to the warmer side of winter life, snow pants converts can’t stop talking about how great they are — fashion stigma be damned.

“Being warm is cool,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter how you look. And plus, they’re not bad-looking pants.”

The snow pants gospel

For Luke LeBlanc, adopting snow pants improved his outdoor experience dramatically. The 25-year-old Minneapolis singer/songwriter admits that prior apathy about winter gear meant he was constantly underdressed; his heaviest coat was a windbreaker.

This year, anticipating he’d be spending more time outdoors, Le-Blanc invested in a big, puffy jacket and a pair of waterproof snow pants.

“I don’t mean to blow it out of proportion and say it’s life-changing, but you can go and do stuff outside and not be in pain the whole entire time,” he said.

He’s hesitated to wear his snow pants when he’d like to project some semblance of style, such as at a brewery patio. And while he showed up at the outdoor photo shoot for his new album wearing snow pants, he removed them before the camera started clicking. “But the grocery store — I don’t care who sees me in snow pants,” he said.

LeBlanc has also worn his new gear on walks, to an outdoor concert, deer hunting with his dad, and tinkering on his car.

“As naive as it sounds, I didn’t realize I could be outside when it’s 10 degrees and feel like I’m walking around inside,” he said.

Now, LeBlanc regularly extols the virtues of a warm lower half.

“I’ve been preaching the snow pants gospel, and we’ll see how many converts I get,” he said.

Fueling a ‘pantsdemic’

Among Minneapolis’ biggest snow pants evangelists is Charlie McCarron, organizer of an outdoor activity club he calls “Snowpantsdemic.”

This winter, McCarron busted out a pair of snow pants he hadn’t worn since high school (“a lot of my clothes are from high school, even though I’m in my 30s,” he admitted) and invited his friends to bimonthly outings, including snow kickball, sledding, and a game he invented that’s a sort of cross between boot hockey and golf. (McCarron dabbles in board-game design alongside his work as a composer.)

While McCarron has been using snow pants to inspire his friends to embrace their inner child, Hannah Aderinkomi bought her new snow pants simply to stay as warm as her kids.

In the past, when Aderinkomi took her young children sledding, she’d add a base layer beneath her pants. The last time she wore snow pants was grade school. “It’s almost like it didn’t occur to me to buy them for myself, even though I was buying them every year for my kids,” she said.

This season was different: If she was going to fully appreciate Minnesota winter, Aderinkomi wanted to be comfortable. So she ordered a pair of snow pants online and wore them on the family’s next trip to the sledding hill. Her husband, Thompson Aderinkomi, then decided to upgrade from double-layering pants to his own pair of snow pants. Since then, the couple have been as cozy as their kids every time the family has played outside or gone snowshoeing.

“I’m always cold, so the fact it took me so long is sort of fascinating — I’ve lived here my entire adult life,” Hannah Aderinkomi admitted.

In some ways, she said, buying snow pants was an unlikely form of pandemic self-care, not so different from the services that clients of her Minneapolis laser hair removal/skin-care business use to treat themselves. “Maybe adult snow pants were just something that I did for myself,” she said.

In any case, Aderinkomi is happy to have embraced a new era of outdoor warmth. “We built a snowman the other day and I think old Hannah would have done that, too, but this Hannah was a bit more comfortable,” she said.

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