On Monday evening in Venice, Italy, a tourist nearly fell into the Grand Canal. She was leaning out from a table along the water, desperate for a view of what was happening above on the Rialto Bridge.
For the first time in history, the bridge had been fully shut down. There was a large gold frame placed at its center, and model and activist Quannah Chasinghorse was standing inside of it as part of Golden Goose's inaugural Haus of Dreamers event.
The Venice-based brand, known for sneakers that come pre-scuffed, had asked Chasinghorse to partake in its very first Haus event. Below her were 70 guests seated in a handful of gondolas, invited by the brand for an evening that promised five surprise performances, a dinner, and, later, an after-party.
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When they approached her to take part in the project, Golden Goose asked Chasinghorse not just to attend, but also to conceptualize a performance. “They said, ‘We want you to be able to perform something special to you, so people can see who you really are,’” Chasinghorse told me a few hours before the event. She thought about writing a poem, but then was reminded of one she had already written in sixth grade. Eventually, she decided to update it with new verses to represent her growth as a person and create a bridge to the younger version of herself, who never thought what she's doing now would be possible.
While standing on the Rialto, she recited it to the gondolas below: “From the ceremonial potlaches and the legends our elders tell with a lesson to be learned, to sitting in glam chairs and posing for cameras….”
The opportunity to do this in Venice felt particularly apt because Chasinghorse—a member of the Hän Gwich'in and Sičangu/Oglala tribes who grew up mostly in Alaska—had visited the city when she was just five. Her mother couldn’t afford a hotel at the time, so they camped out on a beach nearby, taking in the sites by day. “When I was five, I had photos of me in Venice, posing and just smiling everywhere I went. This is the first time I've been back as an adult. There's photos of me dreaming of becoming a model, posing everywhere I went and now, I’m here as a professional model,” she told me, breathless and wide-eyed. “There is that full circle moment.”
It is no secret that not everyone understands Golden Goose. Its sneakers, which are wildly popular in the US and Europe, are polarizing to some because of their signature built-in wear-and-tear. But CEO Silvio Campara insists the design isn’t about an attempt to manufacture a sense of coolness. “It is about letting people be their unique selves,” he said. “That's why I am interested in distress [on the sneakers]. It is to remind people that it's not important to be perfect. It's important to pay attention to what makes you imperfect. That's what makes you unique.”
In a recent interview with Business of Fashion, Campara said “culture is the new luxury.” When asked about his statement, he mentioned how the fashion brands that make an impact today are those that are able to provide more than a product or a fashion show. For months, his team has been dreaming up a way to harness this idea, to try and create a culture for Golden Goose that proves they are more than sneakers that look worn in.
Then they announced HAUS, an initiative described as a global cultural platform and creative incubator that will eventually take up physical space in the neighborhood of Marghera—“It’s like the Brooklyn of Venice,” Campara said—with a 20,000-square-foot campus. There are plans for a school for artisans, a design archive, an auditorium, a library, and an exhibit area. While that won’t be ready until at least 2024, the Haus of Dreamers event had been envisioned as a kick-off, an introduction to the brand outside of the framework of their clothing or shoes.
Golden Goose invited five so-called “dreamers” like Chasinghorse, to envision a performance that expressed their true selves—the concept that Campara maintains is the true spirit of the brand. The evening began with an installation by Milan-based architect Fabio Novembre, a deep blue tunnel built like an optical illusion and set to the sound of a loud heartbeat because, as Novembre said, “Venice is alive. It is a living city.”
The tunnel ended by the water, where everyone was instructed to enter a gondola to view Chasinghorse’s poem from below. Once her performance concluded, the gondolas headed towards the Venice Venice Hotel, recently opened by Alessandro Gallo and Francesca Rinaldo, the husband-wife founders of Golden Goose. The modern hotel was the venue for the remainder of the evening, and guests gathered under the arches of its outdoor patio for aperol spritzes and bowls of fritto misto, overlooking the sunset on the water. Shortly after, tattoo artist Dr. Woo called for everyone to gather in the back to announce his installation, a room filled with piles of porcelain plates he designed to look as though they’ve been tattooed with spiderwebs and cherubs, inspired by the Venetian damask.
After guests emerged from his room, a laughing Suki Waterhouse waved over the crowd with a camera swinging from her neck, calling, “Don’t be scared if I chase you down with this!” She would be taking Polaroid portraits of everyone in attendance. Earlier in the evening she told me, “I wanted to have something tangible…I think a lot of the time we walk away from these events with iPhone pictures or a Getty photo you don't really like and I wanted people to have this thing that you could actually take away from the evening.”
K-Pop star SUMNIi’s performance was the finale of the night, taking place after a dinner with an impressive display of floral centerpieces that extended outward, nearly forming a canopy over those seated. After three courses that began with risotto and ended with a lemon sorbet, guests were led outside to the hotel’s courtyard covered in hundreds of lit candles. SUMNI emerged in the center to sing "Borderline," a pop ballad about her struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder. “I wanted to share this moment with people in similar situations,” she said.
In the coming months, there will be a staggered release of capsule collections created by each dreamer, with plates by Dr. Woo and a sustainable shoe by Chasinghorse. But they all seemed more interested in the intangibles behind the project. Asked about her capsule, Waterhouse changed the subject: “I am a delusional dreamer. Delusional in the way that I have delusional dreams. I've had dreams come true and I've kind of reinvented the dreams and moved the goalposts every time. I always think in a couple of years, I don't even want to recognize who I am right now,” she told me.
“I want to change really radically through the dreams that I have," she went on. "I don't want my soul to become comfortable with where it is. I don't want to be a better version of myself. I think a better version is just like, Oh, maybe I have gone to the gym more or like to drink more water. What I'm aiming for is to not recognize the version of myself that I am.”
Campara clapped his hands together in excitement, rising from his seat across from her to say, “That’s it!” He mentioned the wear of the shoes, how that's meant to represent a life lived and reinvented over the years, “With Golden Goose, we have been trying to do what she is saying.” But still, he added, “Golden Goose is not really just that. It is all the people who give a true voice to it.”
To Campara, Waterhouse and all of the other dreamers weren't another face of the brand, but segments of its soul. And this is something he hopes people will start to see when they recognize the brand's signature broken star on the streets. “What is the sense of anything, after all, if it's not lending itself to the heart of the people?”
Tara Gonzalez is the Senior Fashion Editor at Harper’s Bazaar. Previously, she was the style writer at InStyle, founding commerce editor at Glamour, and fashion editor at Coveteur.