Antwaun Sargent and Helmut Lang Want You to Reimagine the Cowboy
FRIDAY FEB. 10, 2023 7:00 PM LOWER EAST SIDE, NEW YORK
On the first night of NYFW, the fashion and art glitterati of Manhattan gathered at Hannah Traore’s gallery in the Lower East Side to celebrate COWBOY, Helmut Lang as Seen by Antwaun Sargent. As the crowd spilled onto Orchard street, we caught up with the Gagosian Gallery director to talk about the wild, wild west.
ANTWAUN SARGENT: Thanks so much for coming.
ERNESTO MACIAS: Tell me what you’re wearing.
SARGENT: I’m wearing Helmut Lang, head to toe.
MACIAS: And cowboy boots.
SARGENT: And the tee that I designed for them. It spells “ART” backwards.
MACIAS: What’s in your pockets?
SARGENT: Oh my god, I love these questions. My cell phone, some fabric, some cigarettes, Parliaments. I’ve smoked them forever. A lighter. And then my wallet has to be in one of these pockets…
MACIAS: Describe the vibe inside the gallery right now.
SARGENT: It’s really packed. I have to pull several people off the street. There are a lot of people talking, saying that they know me but they don’t. But it’s fine. Super Lower East Side, super great. I just want people in.
MACIAS: This is your first adventure in fashion in a design capacity. Why now, and why Helmut?
SARGENT: I’ve just always loved the brand. I remember when I was in college, and I went to Barney’s, may she rest, and there was this gray, almost spider-like wool sweater and a matching gray shirt. I didn’t have any money but I bought both of those things and I wore them until they literally were in tatters. And one day I woke up and said, “Oh, I want to make a shirt in reaction to the iconic 2004 cowboy shirt.” I wanted to make one that had a similar feeling but sort of took it into the art direction. And so that’s why we made that shirt.
MACIAS: When did your fascination with the Wild West begin?
SARGENT: Cowboy boots are such an American fashion staple and even this notion of a cowboy has been so aestheticized. Helmut has aestheticized it in a certain way and other designers over the US as well. It’s like, having a trench coat or having a good hat, a good pair of cowboy [boots], everyone should have a pair. The cowboy is really linked to our notion of identity and has deep roots back in the 18th, 19th centuries. What I love about sort of this notion of cowboy, it’s never been fixed, although we think of it as being fixed. 25% of cowboys are Black, right? You have those Western movies with John Wayne. You have Beyoncé with Renaissance. You have Taylor Swift. You have all these moments where the cowboy has been reinvented throughout our culture, right? I was always fascinated with the reinvention of the cowboy as an unfixed symbol in our culture.
MACIAS: I’m from Texas and most people, even myself, associate the cowboy with whiteness.
SARGENT: Yup. It’s so funny, because everyone has their own conception of the cowboy. There are cowboy communities in New York right now. There are Black cowboy communities in the American South. There’s cowboy communities in Philly, huge cowboy community, deep cowboy community. I’m interested in how our image [of the cowboy] is informed by different socioeconomic and racial politics.
MACIAS: Who is your cowboy crush?
SARGENT: Beyoncé . Because I’m trying to get tickets.
MACIAS: Have you ever ridden a horse?
SARGENT: Yes, once, in India. I was actually on a white horse in India. One of my best friends in the whole world got married, had a crazy nine-day Indian wedding in like, 2013 or something like that. I was in the wedding, so we had to rehearse really intensely in the morning these dances and full choreography. But then there was part of the day you just had free. So we went to the beach and there was this guy with this horse, and he was like, “You can rent a horse.” I was wearing this all white look, and the horse is white, and I wanted to have that moment. So I paid the 300 rupees to ride the horse.
MACIAS: I love that. What’s your favorite cowboy movie?
SARGENT: My favorite movie about cowboys is probably Kahlil Joseph’s Wildcat. It’s a short film.