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David Moses, Esther Gauntlett and Jenny Cheng started their NYC-based label in the back of a taxi on the way to crashing John Waters’ birthday party. Fast-forward to two Moses Gauntlett Cheng collections later, and the three best friends are a loved-up crew, working nights after their day jobs in a shared warehouse studio in Williamsburg. Their aesthetic has a tender, hand-spun quality, infused with flirtatiousness: like a downtown kid's dressing-up box, their clothes are playful, often saccharine takes on wardrobe staples and hilarious spins on high end luxury – take the mutilated Louis Vuitton dust bag that’s been turned into a shirt in their studio, the logo covered in embroidered MGC slogans).
Although they all design, cut and sew, each member brings a different kind of power to the trio – native New Yorker David is a vibrant socialite and marketing maven (he hangs with Lily-Rose Depp – and she wears MGC), Esther from Australia is the production powerhouse, and Jenny from SoCal is the resident textiles expert and keeper of the 90s hip hop studio playlist. Moses Gauntlett Cheng is really like a fashion version of an art school punk band – they create clothes out of an instinctive necessity to challenge the status quo, piecing together a brand with what they have and seeing what happens.
Every night at MGC is an open studio party, with friends coming over to get naked and try on the samples, get drunk together, make clothes and share takeout. The label also put on insane budget fashion shows – their AW15 show was staged in a Manhattan carpark featuring an broken down RV and modelled by friends and family. This DIY approach and underlying reproach for the New York fashion industry’s typically shiny and expensive professionalism seems to run in the DNA of the emerging NY labels within the last few years – like Gypsy Sport, Vaquera and Vejas. This building energy is manifesting in increased freedom of expression, attention and opportunity for brands like Moses Gauntlett Cheng – a young label of great charisma and infectious energy, created with raucous abandon and a lot of hard work.
How did you decide to start a label together?
Esther Gauntlett: I had just moved here from Australia and I didn’t know anyone. Eckhaus Latta were the only people I knew of who were doing anything cool, so I went to see if I could work for them. I was sewing a sample for their AW14 collection when I met David – David and Jenny had started making clothes together and Zoe Latta was like, ‘You and Jenny are doing that thing! You should get Esther to do it too!’ The night before we showed our first collection, when we were all really, really stressed out, David decides to drop this bomb on me. He was like, ‘I really didn’t think we were gonna work well together. I really didn’t wanna make clothes with you – I just felt obliged to.’ There I was sewing and thinking, ‘Oh my god. This is the night before the show! This is fucked up!’
Three designers working together is unique for a fashion label – besides designing and sewing, who is best at what?
David Moses: I’m like the PR girl. That obviously that ties into the party scene and going out, talking to people and putting on a face for the brand.
Jenny Cheng: You’re good at that, I don’t feel like Esther and I are that good at that.
Esther Gauntlett: My interest in fashion is so focused on the making of clothes that I don’t think about external things – what’s your brand persona, what’s your Instagram gonna look like. This is why David and I work really well together, because he thinks about that stuff. It’s great to have three people around the table. It’s like family and it’s growing – it’s like everyone wants a piece of the Moses Gauntlett Cheng pie. What we’re doing now – sitting round having a glass of wine – that happens here most days, with a sort of open revolving door of people having conversations that inform so much of what we do.
Tell me about this warehouse building you work in. Who else works here?
Esther Gauntlett: This studio space used to be Eckhaus Latta’s old studio. It’s really lovely to work in a building in Williamsburg that is still un-renovated, all artist studios, and cheap.
David Moses: It’s really diverse – just on this floor there’s Lauren Manoogian, a designer who does amazing knits, there are photographers and a florist, too. I think it’s very beneficial to our process and there’s nothing about working in this space with other designers that feels like work. It feels like home.
Jenny Cheng: It does feel like home! I always ask, are you guys gonna be home tonight? Because we all have day jobs or school or other things going on, our working hours are often at night.
Tell me about the Moses Gauntlett Cheng family – who are the people coming in and out of your studio and walking in your fashion shows?
David Moses: It’s this very familial radius, like a village of people working together, with everybody pitching in.
Esther Gauntlett: The people who are involved in our label come from all over and work across all disciplines. For our first show we worked with a set designer who had also done our friend Patric DiCaprio’s (of Vaquera) set. But my Dad, for example was helping drive her around, even lifting and bringing stuff over from Australia. Last minute before the show, he asked ‘Did anyone think about lighting?’ and of course we hadn’t and he was like, ‘I got it baby, I got it.’
Jenny Cheng: And your mom helped, too!
Esther Gauntlett: My mom walked in our first ever show…she was just over here on holiday. She baked so many fucking things for all of the models. Patric’s boyfriend Tyler walked for us – everyone is a friend.
David Moses: My mom jump-started the RV for our AW15 show. We were all packed into an RV, with the models and everyone in it. We were shooting the lookbook in the back and Gerrard – Jenny’s boyfriend – comes up to me like, David we have a big problem. The RV’s not starting.
Esther Gauntlett: Jenny called me and I was still sitting at the machine, sewing the clothes an hour before the show, and someone puts a phone to my ear and Jenny is like ‘Um.. the RV won’t start.’ I’m like, ‘Uh huh sure, I can’t deal with that right now, bye!’
Jenny Cheng: We totally hustled that show. We rocked up to the parking space and the people were like, we have no record of you renting this space. We were like, what do you mean? We have a show here in like 20 minutes!
Do you guys ever think about “making it”?
Esther Gauntlett: For me it’s not about making money. I would just love to do this. I know that sounds so simple, but when you look like the people that have bought our last season, it was all our friends and family who put in personal orders. My parents and stylist Avena Gallagher are wearing the same tartan flares – my mom, David’s mom and my friends back in Australia… anyone who wants to. You can dream and think of yourself being stocked in Opening Ceremony and Dover Street in London and all that... but who do you think would be buying it at Dover Street?
David Moses: Our first customer ever was one of Esther’s really good friends in Australia, and then the second person who ever bought any of our clothes was Kim Kardashian. It’s hilarious.
Esther Gauntlett: She owns this sample piece that we don’t even have any more, because was the only one in the world. This came about because of her stylist, who David knows.
“The second person who ever bought any of our clothes was Kim Kardashian. It’s hilarious” – Esther Gauntlett
Jenny Cheng: It’s like a sheer, knit tank.
Esther Gauntlett: It was a selfie on Instagram – that was such a surreal moment. So now we follow so many Kim Kardshian blogs and paparazzi sites, just to see if she’ll wear it again.
Who else do you want to be wearing your clothes?
Esther Gauntlett: Chelsea Manning. For one, it completely sucks that she’s gonna be totally behind bars. She’s a massive massive fucking inspiration, what she did was one of the greatest acts and it’s amazing when a government has tried to strip her of everything, she’s embraced and is really exploring herself as a woman – I mean, we should send her stuff...
David Moses: Definitely.
What’s next for you guys?
David Moses: We’re starting our SS collection, and it’s inspired by isolated farming. I was in the library at FIT, looking at all of these historical books and got into this idea of farming that developed into an Italian-themed concept.
Esther Gauntlett: Italian like Sophia Loren movies, like a sexy farm wife who’s running away from her captor asshole husband or something, all your clothes are like ripping and falling off. I feel like a huge part of this is from a custom Dolce & Gabbana coat that David borrowed from his friend Zoe – that I’ve now borrowed and I will not ever, ever give back. It’s the most powerful piece of clothing, a huge blankety Dolce & Gabbana coat. You wear it and just feel like this like sexy fucking powerful woman. We’re gonna do sexy Italian momma like you’ve never seen. I can’t wait for the casting, it gonna be Jersey, old Sophia Loren, but fake tanned.
David Moses: We definitely want Jersey moms in our show.
Photography Benedict Brink; styling Victor Cordero; hair Joey George at The Wall Group; make-up Miguel LLedo at ArtList NY; models Zoe Bleu, Tyler Sayles, Matt Holmes, June Caedo, Christen Mooney; styling assistant Patricia Machado
Follow Veronica So on Twitter here @iavatarisi