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Culture

Ella Emhoff Makes Runway Debut — and Yes, She’s in a Coat

February 19, 2021

NEW YORK — They already knew she looked good in a coat.

So the designers at Proenza Schouler decided to dress Ella Emhoff  — art student, knitwear designer, fledgling model and stepdaughter of Vice President Kamala Harris — in a couple of coats (plus a pantsuit) for her modeling debut in their new collection, unveiled Thursday for New York Fashion Week.

Designers Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough said the fashion world took quick notice when 21-year-old Emhoff appeared at the inauguration in January, dressed in a quirky Miu Miu coat with bejeweled shoulders along with a starchy white collar. Social media took notice, too. 

Soon after, the designers were planning their February show — actually a digital short, for pandemic reasons — and the casting director mentioned Emhoff. "And we said, 'We were just talking about Ella.' Seemed like everyone was kind of talking about her," McCollough said in an interview.

As it turns out, Emhoff, a senior and art major at Parsons School of Design (where Hernandez and McCollough met and began their partnership), had just signed with IMG Models, joining an even bigger breakout star of the inauguration: poet Amanda Gorman. 

The outdoor shoot took place recently on a blustery weekend at the Parrish Museum in Water Mill, New York. It was the first time Emhoff had walked a runway.

"I have to say I was a little nervous," Emhoff, daughter of Harris's husband Doug Emhoff, said later in a streamed talk with the designers, also released Thursday. "I definitely lost a little sleep the night before. I'm walking for the first time, I'm in this professional environment for the first time … the anticipation was really high." She spoke of her love for knitting and textiles, and her dream of her own knitwear brand.

"She kind of reminded us of of our friends and ourselves in a lot of ways back when we were at Parsons," McCollough said. He and Hernandez launched their own brand from their senior thesis collection.

For Emhoff, the designers chose a long gray wool coat with fluffy embellishments on the shoulders, then a midnight navy leather trench-type coat, and finally a black pantsuit. Also walking in the virtual runway show is Meadow Walker, daughter of the late actor Paul Walker.

Emhoff also wears some of the label's typically unique footwear — leather socks topped by a strappy sandal. 

"We very much believe this moment is about the elimination of anything superfluous, the elimination of excess," Hernandez said, explaining the ethos of the collection at a time when fashion itself can feel, well, superfluous. "Just reducing things to their most essential basic forms. All the buttons are invisible buttons. The pockets are just internal."

Hernandez said he saw Emhoff representing "this idea of a new beginning, a whole new chapter in American life, in American culture."

 "She's a nice sort of ambassador of the new moment," he said, before moving artfully away from any political implications. "You know, via the filter of fashion and art and craft and the world that we all inhabit. She's sort of the ambassador of that."

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