Fashion Armageddon? Nah, it's just the great American Apocalypse


By Chhavi Nanda

The majority of mankind is under the misconception that an apocalypse is primarily associated with the end of the world – some sort of eschatological final battle. Perhaps it’s the slew of movies such as 2012 or The Road influencing our mind to veer into that territory. But an apocalypse doesn’t necessarily mean an ending -- even adherents of the Book of Revelations know there’s a next chapter. An apocalypse is defined as “the lifting of a veil or a revelation.”  Late last month, a fashionable veil was lifted: a new collective Web site of vintage fashion, entitled American Apocalypse, was exposed to the world.

I attended the first editorial shoot for American Apocalypse. The motif of the shoot was “Clown, Chola”. Although Urban Dictionary defines chola as “the girls my brother gets pregnant,” there’s much more to a chola than that, obviously. The chola aesthetic includes thick eyeliner, thin drawn on eyebrows, lip liner, gelled hair, high pony tails, gold chains, piercings, tattoos, flannel shirts, Converse or Nikes. And of course she has to be a ruthless gangbanger. You know, like that Lean Like a Chola song says “lean like a chola way up high, thick eye liner in my eye, cruise all day, drink all night, got four kids with three guys.”

I walked down Geary Street at around 11:30am; the models were standing outside of Harput’s Union smoking their cigarettes in anticipation for the shoot to start. None of them had their makeup on yet and their hair wasn’t done either. I didn’t feel as guilty walking into the shoot hung over from the Friday night before. The owner of the store, Gus, greeted me kindly. Then the models, photographers, clothing stylist, make up artist, and the rest of the crew scurried down to the gritty basement of Harputs, where the shoot took place.

There were boxes, bags, and racks full of beautiful clothes and accessories. I was overwhelmed, and for a brief second wanted to jeopardize everything to run away with all these clothes, hoping no one would notice, but in my better judgment, I just stuck around for the shoot. The hairsprays, gels, doorknocker earrings, and – yes! -- the paisley bandanas came out. As hair and make-up was being done, a nice mix of Spice Girls, Gucci Mane, and indubitably Bone Thugs and Harmony played in the background, to get the girls in a “Thug Life” mood.

Witnessing all the make-up and hair getting done I could finally see the vision coming in clearly. Envision this scenario with me: Bozo the Clown meets Frida Kahlo, if Frida Kahlo lived in this day in age and was a little more badass. After hours and hours (and several eyeliners), the girls were ready.  They modeled both in the basement and on the busy streets around Union Square. People in traffic and pedestrians watched curiously.

The shoot included some of San Francisco most exclusive models; Fernanda Toledo, Alexis Hutt, Alexandra Kammen, Annalise Lundeen, and Ali Lovell. The mastermind that painted their faces so they were ready to perform in the Chola Circus was Matt Wanaraksa. The hair was a collective effort from the models and stylists.

The creative minds behind the shoot were Sam Banks along with Brooke Candy, also assisting on the set was Rachel Esterline. Esterline has been a stylist for the last six years and has generously opened up not only her own wardrobe, but also several of her clients’ to give a helping hand while American Apocalypse builds up its stock. Her clients include some of San Francisco most elite and fashion-conscious women that strut down Maiden Lane after their weekly yoga and meditation classes. Although Rachel is a prominent stylist, Brooke Candy and Sam Banks were the visionaries behind this shoot. Sam and Brooke, coordinated, conducted creative direction, and styled the models head to toe, while Rachel directed and did the photography for the shoot.

At some point in this decade, the word vintage was added to the fashion bible. Vintage used to be a word that was applied to wines or some grandfather’s Bentley. But somehow between drinking vintage wine and driving vintage cars, a woman walking in to a room with a vintage dress suddenly gained the right to have a holier-than-thou persona. If you admire my dress, I would retort with a smirk, “I know you want it, but too fucking bad, it’s vintage.  You can’t have it. “  There is just something about rummaging through an obscure thrift shop or junk yard, or the closet of a underground fashionista that gives one a thrill of being an individual. American Apocalypse gives us the opportunity to have those pieces in our closet that we know no one else out there has, while still remaining fashionable. It isn’t the end of the world, just a fashion revelation.