New York Fashion Week kicks off tonight – but what’s the West Coast got to offer? We shine the spotlight on No Sesso, Barf Queen and Phlemuns
After years of being snubbed by the so-called cultural and fashion authorities, Los Angeles – the city that not too long ago was unanimously characterised as superficial, materialistic and shallow – is finally receiving much-deserved attention for its unmatched quality of life and unique burgeoning creative community. Designers such as Rodarte, Jeremy Scott and Hedi Slimane all resist the pull of the East Coast to run things from California, with the latter taking over LA’s legendary Hollywood Palladium venue tonight for his highly anticipated AW16 menswear show for Saint Laurent.
Even with its congested highways, the city feels like a blank slate which is proving to be an increasingly attractive setting for creative production in a time of visual over-saturation and tired regurgitation. As an alternative to the upcoming New York Fashion Week, we present three West Coast designers that are silently thriving, putting forth unique propositions regarding what it means to create, consume and wear clothing today.
Named after the Italian for “no gender”, No Sesso is the unisex label headed up by Pierre Davis. The process of repurposing is used by Davis as a vehicle to explore impermanence and vulnerability; he explains that, beyond formal elements, his design philosophy is an emotional and spiritual one inspired by the natural cycles of life. Davis’s point of view stems from a background rich with travel. His father’s military background saw him move around frequently, but he insists that his move to LA was transformative, transporting him into an environment full of contrasts.
“Beyond formal elements, his design philosophy is an emotional and spiritual one, inspired by the natural cycles of life”
For SS16, Davis applied collaging techniques to toy with the spectrum of strength and vulnerability and their respective associations. This theme carries through a waxed denim quilted straitjacket whose parts connect with strings and knots, or a pink leather halter-style top attached with a delicate thread. This tension continues throughout the intended interactions that result from the clothing – the majority of the garments require outside help to tie in bodies or position complicated fabric, thus rendering the wearer vulnerable and restructuring the process. The overall sum of these parts is a tender designer with a unique ethos that diverges from the aggressive nature of fast fashion.
Working through the slogan “ugly clothes for ugly people” Barf Queen’s modus operandi is humour as resistance and survival. Joan Lee, the brand’s designer, says that she “thinks of the clothes a little bit as one-liner jokes”; arguably the most significant joke is Lee’s humorous critique of notions of femininity and bourgeois taste embedded in the fashion and beauty industries. Despite the comedic interrogation of fashion, Lee is adamant she wants no part of the fashion world. Instead, the designer sees her creations as wearable sculptures. Favouring custom orders over mass production, Barf Queen pokes fun at fashion rather than follows its rules.
“Fun is prioritised over profit, while wackiness is used to reject and carve alternatives to the exclusionary fashion and beauty industries”
Still, clothing is her medium, and her clothing is cute, innovative and sometimes even sexy. Tracksuits are emblazoned with “Sweaty Betty” and “Smelly Nelly”, whereas extreme turtlenecks cover almost half the face and feature strategically-placed holes at the cleavage and belly button. These holes are a recurring trope; Lee credits this design feature with the intent to remove power from eroticised erogenous zones. Infantalising colours and fabrics such as terrycloth, lycra and felt are another key characteristic – examples are the fluoro pink Nike Slut two piece and the tie dye Boo Bless Dress with cut-out cleavage. These elements ultimately converge to inject Lee’s clothing with a dose of absurdity. Barf Queen is cute anarchy – fun is prioritised over profit, while wackiness is used to reject and carve alternatives to the exclusionary fashion and beauty industries.
James Flemons is the one man force behind rising brand Phlemuns, which has pumped out understated yet innovative collections for the past three years. Gender fluidity and multi-functionalism define his designs, as does the process of recycling both as a practical system of making clothing and as a concept. Flemons’ lack of formal fashion tuition is also a key influence on the overall output of the brand – “I feel like I haven’t been constrained by the rules, so trial and error has created this kind of creativity that I’ve come across,” he explains.
“Phlemuns’ ethos of inclusivity feels modern, whereas its emphasis on functionality taps into issues surrounding sustainability”
Although Plemuns’ early work applied recycling quite literally, the most recent SS16 collection takes a more nuanced approach, borrowing subtle references from past iconic moments in fashion. Like the iconic red carpet photo of P!nk, Mya, Lil’ Kim and Christina Aguilera at the 2001 VMAs which inspired SS16 – Xtina’s bustier is redesigned in iridescent silk, whereas P!nk’s cargo trousers are updated with detachable pockets. Despite the old-school reference, Phlemuns’ ethos of inclusivity feels modern, whereas its emphasis on functionality taps into issues surrounding sustainability.