We caught up with the Harlem rapper and designer following the New York label’s collaboration with Converse
Rihanna wore a cropped tank top with the word “Slutz” emblazoned across it in July 2013 in Manchester. She became the subject of intense scrutiny in the press. Tabloid reporters fell over themselves trying to decide if she had gone “too far” or if the statement was too “vulgar”. More than the nip-revealing outfits she had worn in past, this one, designed by MadeMe founder Erin Magee, had somehow crossed a line. It wasn’t just a statement, it was a loud, declarative one. She was a self-proclaimed, unapologetic “Slutz”. It was mostly funny, an ersatz debate for the Daily Mail crowd, yet it gave a welcome boost to the wearable statements Magee had been manufacturing since she began her streetwear label in 2007.
In the intervening years, the “by girls, for girls” brand has steadily been cutting into the streetwear pie to take a larger and larger slice of New York’s downtown cool with her riot grrrl-inspired garments. Forget the fuckboys, Magee was ushering in the era of the new X-girls, the intrepid “Slutz” who worshipped 90s counterculture. Magee still works days as a designer at Supreme, moonlights as the mastermind behind MadeMe, and has just released the first collaborative premium apparel and footwear collection for women from Converse by putting her stamp on the One Star trainer and launching an accompanying collection. She joins Tyler, the Creator, who started designing for the brand last year.
Magee has ties to rap as well. MadeMe found a fan long ago in Harlem rapper Destiny Frasqueri, better known as Princess Nokia, who called up Magee to ask how she took cues from the streets to create a covetable collection for girls, as well as how she is opening up the playing field for streetwear-minded girls everywhere.
Princess Nokia: Do you remember the first time we met?
Erin Magee: Yeah, I remember it distinctly. I was sitting down at a fashion show, I can’t remember which, and someone was like, ‘That really cute girl over there is wearing your (‘Slutz’) tank top,’ and I was like, ‘What?!’ Not a lot of girls really got into it because of what it said and not a lot of girls understood the significance of that.
I was like, that girl gets it and she understands where I come from and the significance behind that shirt. A lot of people thought I was calling girls’ bluff or something and they couldn’t understand. Then maybe two weeks later, Rihanna wore that shirt so you two were the only two that got it.
Princess Nokia: I know that you came from Canada to New York, so did you start MadeMe when you were there or when you were here?
Erin Magee: I didn’t start MadeMe when I lived in Canada, I moved here when I was a teenager and I started MadeMe after I worked at Supreme for a year and a half because I really felt like, wherever I was in my career and in my life, most of the streetwear that existed was for guys and there wasn’t really anything smart and cool for girls. So I created this side project – it was a little bit of a hobby at the time – to kind of create a stage for women and a place where girls could go to and buy cool clothes.
Princess Nokia: You wanted to have a female brand that was equally strong and equally streetwear?
Erin Magee: Yeah, so I can’t even begin to compare myself to Supreme – it’s such a huge, amazing, established brand. But I worked in that environment for many years and it is very male-focused, and that’s fine, it’s a men’s brand, but I wanted to create something for women. I think like what you did too with Smart Girl Club and things like that, this is a place and a brand where women can feel comfortable having to buy clothes, having to learn about street culture, getting to know about rave culture, 90s culture, punk culture. I try to touch on all of those things.
“I can’t even begin to compare myself to Supreme – it’s such a huge, amazing, established brand. But I worked in that environment for many years and it is very male-focused, and that’s fine, it’s a men’s brand, but I wanted to create something for women” – Erin Magee
Princess Nokia: In the first transition, coming from Supreme, a male-dominated brand, people were very supportive of you because you worked with your friends and your sister. Did you encounter any misogyny or any unwarmness from anyone at the intersection of your career?
Erin Magee: I want to hear what you have to say more because it applies to you even more. In any career field, fashion or music or, I don’t know, the healthcare system, everyone faces that. It’s all male-dominated and it’s kind of sad. Even professions that people think are more female-driven like being a hairstylist, I can guarantee that most of them are men too. I think you face that definitely more than I do.
Princess Nokia: That’s why I created Smart Girl Club in the first place because I really wanted to combat the non-inclusion that I felt in a lot of places.
Erin Magee: It doesn’t matter if you’re an accountant or a fashion designer or a hairstylist, I think every woman faces that.
Princess Nokia: At the core of what we do, you start to have a really strong female presence that is not reductive... I feel like that all that we’ve ever tried to accomplish is to create an equality of space between what we do in a male-dominated society and where we can be all respective of each other’s art. Are there any ways that you feel you have helped improve visibility and representation for women in the industry?
Erin Magee: I always think, I have a baby, I have a career at Supreme, so do I really also need to do MadeMe? Do I really need to have another job? I want to spend time with the baby, spend time with Nicole, and enjoy my life but then I feel this responsibility to keep it up because I have a lot of customers that are like, ‘Thank you for doing this, thank you for being somebody that we can always come to.’ It’s a place for women that like street clothing.
Princess Nokia: I really connected to the clothes that you were making, the type of woman that you are. When did you become fascinated with riot grrrl and X-girl?
Erin Magee: We grew up with those people, I legitimately did. I remember I was in fashion school and I learned about Bikini Kill and Kathleen Hanna, and all those who’ve been through that because that’s what was popular. Courtney Love was wearing a shirt with Kurt Cobain and I learned about all the other stuff. I was an alternative teenager, I liked anything weird, anything counterculture. I didn’t want to like anything that my friends were liking or what was on the radio, so it’s nostalgic to me too. I still live in the 90s today.
Princess Nokia: That’s a period of fashion, of art, of womanhood, of feminism, of adolescent culture. There’s women ten years younger than I am who are referencing that and discovering it now, 20 years later.
Erin Magee: I think of you in that group too, Destiny is one of those people, and that’s why I want to work with you. Destiny is the Kathleen Hanna of now.
Princess Nokia: When I was little I wanted to be like Kathleen Hanna or Courtney Love or be attached to the X-girls and hang out in downtown culture. Also just be a part of this community. I would do it until the day I die because that’s my dedication to that type of subculture.
I remember that you told Vogue that New York has a lot of smoke and mirrors, especially in the music and fashion industry – I agree but at the same time I’m so obsessed with New York and there’s nowhere I’d rather live.
Erin Magee: Yeah, same.
Princess Nokia: How did you get approached to work with Converse and embark on this collaboration?
Erin Magee: They called me and I picked up the phone. That was it, it was so easy. It was cool because I’ve always worn One Stars. When they approached me, they weren’t currently selling One Stars at the time, it was like a year and a half ago. I kept thinking to myself for two years before that, ‘God, I wish Converse would fucking sell One Stars again.’ I bought a pair off Etsy from the 90s like I used to wear and I was wearing them around all the time and then they called me. I wear One Stars to this day, it was just like that shoe that we did was the exact shoe that I used to wear so it feels authentic.
“I wear One Stars to this day, it was just like that shoe that we did was the exact shoe that I used to wear so it feels authentic” – Erin Magee
Princess Nokia: What’s your favourite thing from Converse that you had from when you were growing up?
Erin Magee: I was just looking at a picture of me the other day when I was like 15 and I was wearing the exact shoe that we remade, it was a One Star which was small with a funny platform on it and I had braces and the worst hair and I was crazy, I can’t believe I had any friends. I don’t know why anyone talked to me.
Princess Nokia: Oh same, I was just this girl, emo Converse with all these rainbows and hearts on them and they were my favourite pair and then they got really dirty and my grandma threw them out.
Princess Nokia: Do you think that there is anything missing from the streetwear conversation?
Erin Magee: To be honest, I’m so involved in it, I’m living in the heart of it – I work at Supreme, I have MadeMe, in my spare time, I don’t look at streetwear.
Princess Nokia: I feel the same way, people ask ‘What do you listen to?’ and I’m like, ‘Honestly, I’m still listening to all the shitty bands I was feeling when I was at school.’ It’s not because I’m above it, it’s because I’m such a loser and I stay in a bubble and do the same thing. I don’t even know how I became cool.
Erin Magee: Exactly. That’s how I feel. I’m in it, I’m involved in it, I’m in the heart of it so when I come home, that’s all I want to do is look at nostalgic things like the One Stars and X-girl and old things that used to bring me joy.
Princess Nokia: Where would you like to go, with Supreme and MadeMe?
Erin Magee: One thing I do have to say – I’m going to say it so it’s printed in black and white: MadeMe needs a Nike. I mean, come on, where’s our Nike? What’s missing from the streetwear conversation, there’s like no queer boy and there’s barely a female voice and certainly no queer voice.
Princess Nokia: I really like that. You’re such a wonderful person and I’m happy that you’re my gay mother. I love you so much.
Erin Magee: I love you too. Now I have to be in a picture with you. I can’t be in a picture with you. Who made up this idea?
Princess Nokia: See, this is the humour I’m talking about.