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Genesis Breyer P-Orridge 69 Worldwide
Genesis Breyer P-OrridgeCourtesy of 69

Genesis P-Orridge on corporate evil and avoiding fashion

As s/he launches a collaboration with non-demographic denim label 69, the pandrogynous icon discusses what happens when gender is co-opted into a for-profit trend

69, the non-gender, non-demographic label has a new collaborator, equally aligned in creative philosophy and ideologies of identity: Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. Besides heading up experimental, industrial bands Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle, P-Orridge is a self-identified cultural engineer, tapping into poetry and performance to push and transgress the boundaries of contemporary art and culture, as well as notions of the self. 

In the 1990s, s/he began a collaboration with performance artist Lady Jaye Breyer, which sought to explore personal and expressive identity in the context of romantic partnerships. They experimented with the “cut up” technique of the Surrealists to merge their individual identities, through plastic surgery, hormone therapy, cross-dressing and altered behavior, finally uniting the male and female into a perfect hermaphroditic state – the “pandrogynous” amalgam: “Breyer P-Orridge”. In 2007, after Lady Jaye’s passing, P-Orridge continued the Pandrogyne Project, self-referencing as WE, H/ER and S/HE. 

These processes of creating and becoming are front and centre in a new video directed by Hazel Hill McCarthy III, with a score by Douglas J. McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb. Exploring the ritualistic processes of becoming through the manipulation of clothing, the idea of embodiment is articulated through P-Orridge’s ritualistic movements; winding and enveloping within a world of 69’s denim. The small wooden doll that s/he holds is a Jomeaux, given to h/er by a Voudu priest in Ouidah, Benin, and which holds the spirit of Lady Jaye. The film captures P-Orridge as s/he finally physically connects with the Jomeaux, ultimately merging consciousness and becoming a single pandrogynous character.

Ahead of 69’s New York Fashion Week presentation this evening, the avant-garde anti hero h/erself discusses the film with Hazel Hill McCarthy III and the anonymous designer behind the brand, unpacking the motivations behind this collaboration as well as sharing their thoughts on fashion’s current indulgence in the politics of identity.

What motivated the idea for the piece? Why did you think this was a fitting collaboration?

69: Because 69 is for everybody and as far as an icon that represents that I thought that Genesis was THE ONE.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Everybody meaning any kind of body. Whether you’re skinny, male or female or anything in between.

What were the themes that you wanted to explore in the video?

69: That was actually all Hazel – I gave her full creative control with that.

Hazel Hill McCarthy III: Because this happened in middle of the production of Bight of the Twin, (her film project following P-Orridge to Benin, West Africa, exploring the origins of Voudu) it was really about exploring ‘the bight’ – or things that bring items together. So it was about a ritualistic approach to self and I think also about just exploring one type of material which was really easy to do.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: From my point of view it was interesting because we didn’t know anything about 69 at all. So we came in cold. But the first thing that struck me was the way they take something that’s kind of become so ubiquitous and almost invisible in the culture – denim – and recreate it, reassess it in a way that makes you adjust and completely changes your vision of what that material is. It’s no longer just functional. It remains functional but it has all these other connections that are normally never there. It’s a dismissed material or textile and somehow 69 takes it and reconfigures it in a way that makes it surprising and hilarious and weird.

That’s really the whole point of art – it’s to take something commonplace and draw people on a path so that all of a sudden they have a new impression of everything around them. We never thought about denim in any serious way. You know, denim jeans, denim Grateful Dead, denim status quo. Now all of a sudden its denim exotic, denim surreal, denim glamorous, denim shocking. I mean that’s a hell of a fucking jump to make by changing the way that its adjusted and configured. That’s genius right there. And that’s what poetry is defined as – taking the commonplace and making people see it differently.

“I have no idea what’s going on in the fashion industry. My entire life has been avoiding fashion whenever possible” – Genesis Breyer P-Orridge

Hazel Hill McCarthy III: Gen, that just reminded me of the incident at The Magic Castle.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Oh, when I got kicked out, yeah.

Hazel Hill McCarthy III: Do you wanna tell that story?

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: I just remember that they wouldn’t let me in because I was wearing denim. It was just as beautiful as what anyone else was wearing but they have a ban on denim and that was it. I had to take off the wonderful 69 outfit and put on a stupid old smoking jacket. Which shows you that there’s a cultural judgment attached to denim, and the judgement is that it’s working class or redneck or hippie. Something that you don’t want in a nice house.

But anyways, when I really got the message of what 69 was doing was during the AW15 fashion show in New York. I mean we used to hang out with people like Vivienne Westwood so we know the fashion scene but to go to a theoretically Fashion Week show and there’s no catwalk models, there’s no girls that are 6’2”, 5 inches wide and so on. There’s basically a great big table with costumes that you can play with like you do when you’re a kid. There’s shoes that are all big fluffy bits of woven denim and strange hats and outfits that are big enough for a giant. Just that idea of play and also bypassing the elitism of the couture world. It was also amazing to see how many people relaxed into it so fast. Basically everybody there just started wearing the clothes and posing. 69 has found ways to break down all the traditions of the fashion world and to encourage people to reassess how they interact with clothing… I’ll be 66 this month and we’ve seen all this stuff come and go, but I’ve never seen anyone play with fashion in that anarchic of a way. But it’s a knowing anarchism.

Genesis, what are your views of the industry in regards to gender and identity?

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: I have no idea what’s going on in the fashion industry. My entire life has been avoiding fashion whenever possible except for a couple of exceptions, one of which was Vivienne Westwood, the other is 69. The rest can all go dive in a lake for all I care with weights around their feet so we don’t have to see their clothes anymore.

At the moment, there’s a regurgitation of fragments of each era in this desperate attempt by all these designers and neo-fashion houses. It’s become a label frenzy with no direction and the reason it has no direction is because nobody is thinking about the way people experience existing in life. And all culture, all important culture, is always linked to how people express and experience being alive. And so something that plays with those intersections, like 69, is not just interesting and exciting in terms of what you like to wear, but it’s actually confronting the lack of imagination of the industry. It shows you that when someone really has something to say, then they will find some medium. They will find it and rip it to bits and reassemble it so that people have to stop and think.

Fashion rarely does that. Jean Paul Gaultier did it for a little while, Vivienne Westwood did it several times, Alexander McQueen did it. But it’s a rare phenomena and it’s becoming even more rare. And so one reason that we were so enthusiastic about doing this piece was to say, you can’t give up, you can’t stop thinking as a way to change how people see things. Because there are ways to see things differently and it’s important because we live in a culture where culture is toxic, and it’s toxic because it’s full of the poison of previous failed ideas. And so to find ways to escape those toxic concepts is really important for us as a species, in every form of creativity, not just fashion.

“My whole decision was to make 69 non-demographic. I was never like, I want a genderless clothing line – that’s such a buzzword. I’m so over that” – 69

What are your thoughts on the recent gender-free trend that’s permeating the fashion industry? Do you worry that these very real issues are going to become corporatised?

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: They already have, haven’t they? With Caitlyn and stuff. 

69: My whole decision was to make 69 non-demographic. I was never like, I want a genderless clothing line – that’s such a buzzword. I’m so over that word. I keep getting asked the motivation behind my clothes being genderless but it (wasn’t a conscious decision). It was as normal as me just wanting to make clothes. It wasn’t like, ‘Should I make it for men, or should I make it for women?’ It wasn’t a question because I’ve worn men and women’s clothing my whole life. I just don’t think about it. I really just wanted it to be for everybody and that’s why I’ve coined the non-demographic term because it sort of makes gender obsolete.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: We’ve just gotten to a point in culture where it’s just like mental fatigue. There’s just been suddenly this Hurricane Sandy of trans this and trans that. And you can bet your life that in a couple of months they’re going be saying, ‘Words we never wanna hear again: trans and genderless’, which is sad, because what’s been co-opted is the politics of identity and it has been trivialised into one season’s fashion and that’s a dangerous way of reducing the importance of the real issues. And that’s something that the corporate world does very well. They always co-opt and even coerce new radical ideas that express the underground, the street culture, and they do it very deliberately because they realised a very long time ago that if they reduce it and co-opt it, it loses its power to change anything. The good thing about people who are corporate is that they’re stupid. So they can be touching something that’s precious or radical or special and they miss the point completely. They walk right by and go to the toilet.