Walking through Gary Graham’s downtown flagship/showroom feels like being backstage at the theater—it’s dark, airy, and full of historical textiles and props. “I’m always building a story,” the highly creative designer admits. Today, he’s telling us about the story he’s created around his Fall ’16 collection, which takes the form of a short film that feels like the trailer for a very intriguing movie or Netflix series.
“I wanted to assemble this dream team of women—almost like superheroes—and imagine what their roles would be,” he explains. “I imagined this agency that they formed under the Pentagon—this subterranean group of women who actually influence and move the way the world works. That was the grandiose idea!”
As Graham continues to explain his specific and varied inspirations for the project, it’s clear that his imagination is harnessed by a discerning passion for history. In the same breath he references Cleopatra (the film’s title is an anagram of the iconic pharaoh), 18th Century textiles, the Seven Samurai, and Dr. Who creating a keenly researched and intricately woven fantasy world.
After developing the seven archetypes, a further evolution happened in the casting process. Graham enlisted a mix of friends and customers with whom he shared a connection. He and his team shot and filmed each woman on individually built out sets created in the showroom in collaboration with artist J. Morgan Puett. Above, watch the resulting film—which definitely leaves the viewer wanting more—and below, meet each dynamic character as dreamed up by Graham.
Artist Kara Walker played The General. “I didn’t actually meet Kara until that first day on set, and I was really intimidated!” says Graham. “I always envisioned her as The General, and luckily something really clicked on set. She began deconstructing these maps and created a sort of sculpture.”
Just as with Kara playing The General, Graham always saw The Magician as Parker Posey and describes her performance on set as intense and emotional.
Performance artist Alexandra Marzella played The Poet. “Alexandra’s set was based on an analogue, teen-angst kind of vibe, and we played Tracy Chapman while she wrote on set,” says Graham.
Actress Sunrise Ruffalo is The Seeker, “a source of peace meant to represent the future.”
A longtime friend of Graham, musician Naomi Yang played The Scribe. “Her character empathically finds truth and others rely on her infallible perspectives,” he says.
As The Shepherdess, country singer Jennifer Nettles “interconnects people with the land as a guide and interlocutor,” says Graham. “We shot her first, and I had no idea what to expect of her performance, but she was so game.”
Actress/writer Gina Gershon “completely transformed on set” as The Clairvoyant.