Renowned for his subversive mimicry of mainstream fashion, the designer debuts a video featuring 45 smiling CGI figures... of himself
Telfar Clemens is the New York designer that has built a career spanning more than a decade by borrowing the aesthetics of commercial homogeneity. Alongside creative director Babak Radboy, Telfar creates work which mimics the uniformity of mainstream fashion in order to subvert it. Sound complicated? The designer put it best himself when interviewed for his Dazed 100 profile – “I want to be Michael Kors, but on purpose.” Never have these tropes been more prevalent than in his SS16 campaign, a trippy video created in collaboration with anime creators slash art collective Culturesport and supported by White Castle.
The partnership came about when the duo stumbled upon Culturesport’s Instagram, which displays a plethora of striking visuals and an equally striking lack of followers which, Radboy admits, interested them. Communications began, and the idea soon became that Telfar would become a character in the Culturesport universe. “I’m basically living a plotline from Culturesport so they decided to add me as a character in the show, which is really cool,” the designer explains. Radboy elaborates on the resulting in-world advertisement: “It’s what people in that world would see on TV.”
The resulting clip pans slowly across an array of animated Telfars, lined up in a composition borrowed from old TV ads for brands Calvin Klein, Gap and Benetton. “On one level, we wanted it to be eerily familiar. We lifted entire campaigns that have just engrained themselves in the collective conscience.” There is, however, one key difference – diversity. The animated Telfars are arranged on a sliding scale of race and bodytype, a detail which underlines the brand’s “crucially different attitude towards race and gender”.
As for the clothing, it’s all unisex, genderless: a key identifier of Telfar’s designs ever since the inception of his career in 2004. Asked about the increasing coverage dedicated to gender fluidity in fashion, the designer offers this insight – “There has been bold gender/identity play in fashion for a very long time. Fashion hasn’t changed — what’s changed is the way culture is reacting to it and the press is covering it.” He goes on to give one key example of a knitted mini dress shown as part of AW15... a mini dress which was subsequently splashed over Yahoo! News and even wound up on New York TV channel PIX11 News.
Not that these reactions bother Telfar and his collaborators. His work goes beyond the realm of mainstream fashion that he so frequently references, having been shown in museums such as New York’s MoMa in the past. If anything, it’s a combination of a clear vision and nonchalant attitude towards criticism that keeps the designer’s output so consistently distinctive. The answer is best summed up by the responses all parties gave when asked what made the collaboration work so well. “I think it works because we’re making an anime series and don’t really like anime,” said Culturesport. Radboy’s response – “and we make a fashion line and don’t really care about fashion.”
Watch Telfar’s SS16 video below:
Creative director Babak Radboy, created by Culturesport.tv, stylist Avena Gallagher, music Aaron David Ross, all models Telfar Clemens