Illegal runway shows, popper-huffing poster boys and painted on gym socks: join Gypsy Sport and Eckhaus Latta’s downtown revolution
Taken from the Spring 2015 issue of Dazed:
When Gypsy Sport staged an illegal fashion show at Washington Square Park – locus of the recent Millions March – in September of last year, they weren’t just choosing an unconventional location, they were aligning themselves with New York’s most storied site of resistance. As crowds gathered around a concrete catwalk, models emerged wearing necklaces made of yellow public transit cards, futuristic do-rags and colourful crop tops – all reminiscent of the genderfuck movement of the 1970s.
“We didn’t want a traditional runway show – that’s not Gypsy Sport,” explains creative director Rio Uribe. “Our brand is all about being on the street every day.” With no permit, the guerilla event confirmed the brand’s message of nonconformity (they even let the models choose what they wanted to wear) and quickly became one of the most-hyped shows at New York Fashion Week SS15.
Known for infusing their Harlem roots with global culture, Uribe and brand ambassador Jerome Williams are set on disrupting our collective sense of style by forcing us to explore cultural references and achieve a kind of aesthetic liberation. “Artistically, we are the Indigo Era between streetwear and high fashion,” says Williams. “Our message is to show global awareness through our clothes. Not everyone is going to get it, but we are building something here.”
Now into their fourth season, Gypsy Sport have infiltrated New York’s downtown scene, recruiting everyone from A$AP Ferg to underground club culture’s steamiest new voice Lafawndah (who featured in their Bollywood-inspired AW14 fashion film). But already their world extends far beyond the five boroughs. Last year, they were invited to create custom accessories – think visor hats and face-protectors – for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay parts one and two. “Being young in NYC is like being in The Hunger Games,” laughs Uribe. “Competition is alive and well here. I was overwhelmed when we were approached. My little sister and I had just finished reading the books, so the story was fresh in my mind. I thought my reply to them was too long and enthusiastic, but it worked.”
The experience may have drawn them into a terrifying cinematic universe, but the brand are much more interested in creating their own utopian reality. They’ve even got a name for it: ‘Haturn’, a mythical place representing what Uribe describes as their “don’t-give-a-fuck attitude”. The name has since become their logo, taking the physical form of two hats upside down; an ode to their roots as a hat label.
For their SS15 campaign, titled Bromance and made in collaboration with photographer Jonathan Grassi, Gypsy Sport took us on a long train ride from Harlem to the Rockaways (via Haturn), fully aware that it’s illegal to film on New York public transit. “I did my research,” says Uribe. “I knew we couldn’t get arrested, we just had to run when they spotted us on the train.” But subway car-jumping isn’t all they’ve done to stir up controversy. This season, they dreamed up something even more provocative – a Gypsy burka. For them, the garment represents cultural awareness. “I don’t think it’s shocking at all. I think it’s beautiful,” says Uribe. “A lot of people are scared of Muslims right now. I just want people to know that all people, no matter what their religious beliefs, are accepted.”
Gypsy Sport might not be the only brand to draw inspiration from unlikely places, but with its irreverent approach to cultural diversity, it might be one of the most progressive (“It’s a balance of world culture and city culture,” says Uribe of their aesthetic). Asked what he’s dreaming up next, Uribe cites Clueless and, bizarrely, the fact that “these rugby polo shirts go all over the world after they go out of style in the US” as having piqued his interest lately. So, next up? Clueless in Cambodia. AS
Cruising by the familiar posters and billboard ads generously plastered around lower Manhattan, you might be shocked when confronted with a row of images depicting a young boy in a white mesh tee huffing poppers. The small brown bottle, cosying up to his right nostril, bore the label ‘Eckhaus Latta Sport’. “Our friends that were on their way to work would be getting off the subway and texting us pictures like, ‘What the fuck?!’” laughs LA-based Zoe Latta, one half of bicoastal design duo Eckhaus Latta.
“It was definitely the most physically overt thing we’ve done,” chimes in her creative partner, Mike Eckhaus, from his studio in New York. The billboards, which the pair insist were not “meant to shock”, were created with artist Bjarne Melgaard to advertise a gallery show at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise called Ignorant Transparencies.
To complement the posters (ripped down just 24 hours after they were illegally put up), Eckhaus Latta created a shrinkwrap ‘cosmetics sex kit’ including a condom, poppers and lube. If this sounds at all strange to you, then their SS15 collection might just send you flying off the handle. There were bum-grazing low-rise dresses and flirty tank tops revealing chest hair, sexless jeans, teddy bear terrycloth shorts, and gym-class socks painted on legs. Dirty sneakers were even stacked on top of each other to create their own unique hybrid. “Those were a collaboration with our friend Misha Kahn,” explains Eckhaus. Kahn, a product designer and artist, was at a gallery opening, and wore the shoes as “a joke... I think! We were dying over that. We both said, ‘We have to work with you for our next show.’ I think the shoes he wore were actually in the show.”
Even more unorthodox than their designs was the rotating cast they were featured on. Confounding expectations, they cast a mix of friends including transgender actress Hari Nef, reblog-ready artists Mike Bailey-Gates and India Salvor Menuez, and elderly models from Central Casting for the collection. To the tune of a live backing choir, they were trumpeting their message from on high: “A person is really what makes the clothing,” says Eckhaus. Call their casting transgressive if you like – they prefer the term ‘inclusive’. “This is about people who feel good and confident with their bodies, which is something that I feel is universal amongst genders and sexes, ages and races,” says Eckhaus. “It’s very important to us when we’re considering how we’re going to present our clothing.”
The pair met in their senior year studying at the Rhode Island School of Design. Apparently, Eckhaus didn’t warm to his classmate Latta from the outset. “We didn’t really like each other initially, for reasons that don’t make sense now,” he laughs. “We just didn’t know each other.” It was only when Eckhaus put on a flea market sale and Latta asked to see his closet that the idea to join forces began to germinate. “We became obsessed with each other,” he continues, quickly adding, “but we are very different people.” Latta finishes: “I think that’s why it works.”
Since then, the pair have proved to be prolific collaborators, teaming up to work with documentary filmmaker Alexa Karolinski (“She’s deeply part of the family”), contemporary artist and runway-floor pioneer Alex Da Corte (“The room man. He knows how to sell the room”), visual artist Alexandra Marzella AKA @artwerk6666 (“Her presence is so amazing, I haven’t seen it in many people”), and a major market-index of young, cool New York creatives.
Now they’re pulling up their gym-class socks in the hope of making it into the big leagues. “There’s this American paint company called Sherwin-Williams,” says Latta. “Its disgusting logo is a picture of the globe covered in paint with the words, ‘Cover the Earth’ – that’s their mantra. At the end of the day when you’re producing things, the nicest thing is the feeling of spreading the seed or distributing it. And it’s slowly happening for us, but it’s this human feeling of having the gratification of seeing people wear these things.” With a nascent brand teetering on the edge of mainstream success, the duo simply hopes that their message gets across, whether that recipient is six years old or 60. Plan B? Selling poppers. TT
All clothes and accessories by Gypsy Sport; models Estelle Atam, Lafawndah, Ducati Mist, Abiah Hostvedt, Abby. All clothes and accessories by Eckhaus Latta; models Thor Shannon, Caroline Noona, Alexandra Marzella, Jasper Briggs, Lenka Ouchi Latocha, Mari Ouchi, Lilac Cianciolo; grooming throughout Ingeborg at OPUS Beauty using Leonor Greyl and Sisley Paris; photographic assistant Butch Hogan. Lead image all clothes and accessories by Gypsy Sport
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