New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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‘I’ll remember it forever:’ Rise fashion empowers survivors and honors bodily autonomy

Rise’s third annual Survivor Fashion Show celebrated resilience. 
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Juliana Guarracino
(Juliana Guarracino for WSN)

Rise, a nonprofit organization founded in 2014 to protect the rights of sexual assault and rape survivors, hosted its third annual survivor fashion show on Sept. 11 at Forbes on Fifth Ave. to reclaim the phrase, “What were you wearing?” Unlike a traditional show, this event was more about the models than their outfits.

“Survivors are put on a glass pedestal in a glass box, just asked to keep performing their trauma over and over again without a space to not only survive but to thrive, and that’s what today’s show is,” said Amanda Nguyen, Rise founder and civil rights activist, in her introductory speech. 

The show began with a contemporary and cultural dance performance called “‘I Can Almost See You’ (A Reimagining)” by the J CHEN PROJECT. With soft, ethereal music in the background, the four red-and-beige-clad dancers moved gracefully before the audience. The lead dancer seemed to flow against the others as she moved. She hid her face behind her hands and hat until it was revealed at the end, the dancer finally falling into step with the other three. Beautifully choreographed, the dance embodied struggle and healing, setting the tone for an empowering evening.

Following the dance, writer Amanda Rose read out “The Hill I Would Die On,” a poem that spoke poignantly to the experience of being a woman. Following Rose, singer Lily Kershaw performed “As It Seems,” an intimate and moving melodic folk song.

Just before the runway show began, a video played which explained Nguyen’s emotional story as a survivor herself, the work that Rise has done, and the company’s ultimate goal — “equality to sexual assault survivors across the country and around the world.”

As the screen dimmed, “Dance The Night” by Dua Lipa from “Barbie: The Album” played, and models came striding into the room. 

With the pop music and loud cheering, the environment was far different from your typical high-fashion runway — but it wasn’t trying to be. Instead, the event was refreshing and emotional, creating a safe and uplifting space for both the models and audience.

Many of the models wore colorful formal outfits, each one personal and empowering. Regardless of if it was an all-pink suit, a sari or a flowy black jumpsuit, each model wore their outfit with pride, strutting down the runway radiating confidence.

In addition to honoring the models, the event also brought attention to the meaningful work Rise has accomplished as a company. Nguyen and her team’s latest achievement was the commencement of a U.N. resolution recognizing access to justice for survivors of sexual violence across the world, which passed last September.

“It’s allowing people to take ownership back of their lives, because many people who are victims of sexual assault violence, it kind of deters where they want to be in life and forever affects them,” said Bryan Robles, a model in the show who previously spoke at the United Nations with Rise to advocate for the universal rights for women against sexual violence. “This show is basically taking back their lives, because it takes away the guilt; it takes the shame.”

The show gave survivors a chance to reflect, but to also move forward and heal in a personal and meaningful way.

“I think for a really long time it was really painful for me to reflect on the journey that I had as a survivor, but now these are one of the points where I can reflect back on moments of healing and joy. It means a lot,” said Carrie Zhang, a staff member at Rise and a model in the show. “I’ll remember it forever.”

During New York Fashion Week, when beauty, marvel and glitz usually take precedence, Rise challenged audience members to consider how fashion can be a social and political tool. It was an emotional celebration, but also a hopeful call-to-arms for survivors and allies alike. 

“A lot of times New York Fashion Week shows are very silent, you know? You just watch the clothes, but this show is actually about the models,” Nguyen said after the show. “I wanted people to cheer them on, because they should be. They should feel how loved they are.”

Contact Juliana Guarracino at [email protected].

About the Contributor
Juliana Guarracino, Culture Editor
Juliana Guarracino is a senior majoring in Global Media, Culture, and Communication and Romance Languages. Aside from writing, she has a passion for cooking, travel and art history. When she's not working, she enjoys reading, playing cozy video games and journaling at cafes. She will take any book recommendations, but cannot promise you that she will read them. You can find her @juliana.guarracino on Instagram.
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