NYFW: Joel Alvarez, Founder of The Black Tape Project, and His Final Runway Show

Photo credits: Jeremy Myers

Joel Alvarez was one of the most unique and unconventional designers in the fashion industry. This is due, in part, to the fact that he didn’t make clothes and his models didn’t wear any as they strutted the runway in nothing but black tape. Alvarez started The Black Tape Project in 2008 from a run-down home in Miami and has since pioneered the body tape art genre and worked on projects with Michael Bay, Rick Ross, Billy Ray Cyrus, Playboy, Maxim and more, in over 40 countries.

As of last week’s The Black Tape Project NYFW show, however, Joel Alvarez is no more. The show served as a burial to his life as Joel Alvarez and a celebration of his rebirth as Drakhan Blackheart, the new King of Tape. The show featured over 50 beautiful models strutting the runway in nothing but tape and chains. For over 10 straight hours, Blackheart was seen gracefully and efficiently taping while wearing studio quality headphones, effectively blocking out the outside world as he accentuated the curves and lines of each subject.

“I always freestyle.” Blackheart began. “The body tells me what to do. I see curves and I add the lines.”

Priscilla Aqilla, who has been working with The  Black Tape Project for multiple years, states that she loves the surprise of Blackheart’s freestyle, run and gun style of taping.

“I love the mystery behind it and the surprise,” Aqilla stated. “It’s so cool to see him make designs off the top while he’s taping up the girls. To me that’s art, so it’s really cool.”

Photo credits: Jeremy Myers

One might imagine that the taping process is uncomfortable or strange, as women willingly bare it all to Blackheart. Priscilla has nothing but good things to say about the process as there is an air of comfortability in The Black Tape Project dressing room.

“Working with him is so comfortable. It’s fun, it gets you out of your comfort zone, and it just makes you feel so empowered.”

One of the most distinctive qualities of The Black Tape Project is their choice of models. Women of all sizes, ethnicities, and ages, waited patiently for their turn to be taped and for the first time, adorned with chains as well.

“The body chains are a new way for me to introduce my art without fabrics. It represents breaking the ball and chain I’ve been suffering from while attached to.”

The variance in models included social media experts like Jessi Krugler, recording artists like Shanin Blake, engineers like Leah Postol and of course, career models like Savannah Suarez and Daria Karpenko.

Photo credits: Jeremy Myers

The Black Tape Project has caused quite a stir in the fashion world, especially since its runway debut in 2018. Social media and press coverage of the event range from high praise and appreciation to condemnation and vitriol. Major news outlets labeled the performance “weird” and “smut” for catchy click-baity headlines, while The Black Tape Project’s social media was flooded with praise from viewers and deep appreciation from models involved in the show. Many of these women wouldn’t fit the tight and pseudo-sanctified mold that the fashion world adheres to, yet Blackheart sees the beauty in all of these women, regardless of their perception by the high fashion industry.

This year’s performance, as Blackheart calls it, was not only controversial and exciting, but also deeply symbolic for him. Last year, he broke both of his legs and suffered a deep heartbreak, so Blackheart channeled this pain into art.

“I want to show what I’m capable of when I focus all my pain and emotion in one direction,” said Blackheart.

After sending 50 subjects down the runway, clad in only chains and tape, Blackheart wrapped the show with his own performance. He took the stage with a blindfolded model meant to symbolize his ex-love, with the blindfold symbolizing her turning a blind eye to him. He handpicked his final subject, Marcelina Wolf, to represent his former love because of Wolf’s physical resemblance to her. The Black Tape Project even went so far as to cut Wolf’s hair to perfectly match that of Blackheart’s bygone lover.

“I was called to walk for [The] Black Tape Project three weeks before the event,” Wolf recalled. “I didn’t know the story behind it, but the next thing I knew I was being blindfolded and taped live on the runway.”

Photo credits: Jeremy Myers

Blackheart’s old flame was sitting in the front row of the performance and was a key part of his performance, as it was an act of closure for both parties.

“The whole show was meant to let her go and bury Joel Alvarez on that stage for the world to see,” Blackheart began to explain. “It was 1000% only for her. I still wish her the best, but Joel had to go, and now Drakhan Blackheart is here and he is not a hopeless romantic. He is the king of tape. The most controversial designer on the planet.”

Blackheart ended his performance with a dramatic exit, in which he physically left the building, stealing away into the New York City streets straight off of the runway. Be sure to follow Drakhan Blackheart and The Black Tape Project on social media.

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