Designer and founder Nay Campbell wants to celebrate the LGBTQ community with Lordele
There’s change in the water on New York’s fashion scene. As a reaction to the years of preppy, commercial-wear it was pumping out, a new guard has emerged – fronted by the likes of Telfar, Eckhaus Latta, and Dazed 100 label Luar – creating clothes for the frankly giant queer community that continues to grow.
The newest label to join this group is Lordele – founded by Nay Campbell. While he learnt a lot studying at FIT, Campbell is mostly inspired by New York’s nightlife. “I probably learned a bit more from going to Lady Fag parties,” he tells us. “It’s really different to put yourself out there, than it is going to a class. And, of course, it’s fun to view the city you’re in and experience the underground.”
After dropping his debut collection in May – which featured sequined jumpsuits and corsets emblazoned with Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can – the designer has now released his second. Working with names from New York’s queer community to create the pared-back lookbook, the latest collection features a variety of sheer dresses (often adorned with ostrich feather details), as well as a masculine contrast, seen in the introduction of herringbone – used for both tops and outerwear.
While celebrating the queer aesthetic has been something Campbell has been doing all his life, he’s not against the idea of it becoming more mainstream. “We don’t need approval,” he says. “Heterosexual people can keep watching, and being allies if they want to, but you need to let us do what we came to do – and show that we’re just as valid as any of you.”
Here, we talk to Campbell about his latest collection and why New York is experiencing a surgent of queer energy at the moment.
Where did the name Lordele come from?
Nay Campbell: My grandmother was a singer and actress in Hollywood in the 1940s. Her name was Emily Surabian and her parents were from Armenia, and she experienced very clear-cut whitewashing, so she changed her name to Cindy Lord. I always think of her sound and Lordele is kind of like translating that into a female Lord, celebrating female anarchy and celebrating her.
Similarly, my name is Anthony David, I’m from New York, I’m an Italian boy, and Nay Campbell is somebody I created. I was influenced by Naomi Campbell and Andy Warhol, and this version of myself and my character and Lordele is just part of the new and larger chapter, because this is a brand that’s about many people, not just myself.
Was your intention to create the label as a form of expression for queer people?
Nay Campbell: It’s thought of as them. So they don’t have to go to Gap or wherever they have to feel comfortable to wear women’s clothes or men’s clothes, it doesn’t matter. It’s about style, simplicity, longevity, and beauty and not giving that all to like some pretty blonde girl. You know, keeping that storyline in the house. I try to do the same with the team I work with. There was a lot of people that I just needed to be involved because they are so talented and influenced me so much and vice versa.
How did the latest collection develop on your debut one?
Nay Campbell: My last collection was called Heartbreak and the Bowery, and it was very personal. It was more about a character that I created. It was to celebrate a very specific character of mine and what I was experiencing during those six months. Now, it’s more a departure into various characters I’m inspired by and think other people know and care about too.
A huge part of my research is old vintage things but not even so much about clothes and fashion, but more like adaptations and the idea of adapting an old story. This season, I was watching Ciao! Manhattan for the millionth time and I looked at it and wondered if this is their version of the Wizard of Oz. It’s kind of this clash of the aesthetic of Hollywood cinema and Americana culture, versus what I see as the era where things are starting to become very corrupt.
Why do think this idea of Americana, especially vintage Americana, resonates with you?
Nay Campbell: I always thought that my generation felt maybe we were born too late or too early for something, kind stuck somewhere between the past and the future and trying to make sense of the present. I think a lot of kids in my generation feel that way. I think that’s where we are, somewhere between the past and the future. We’re nothing new, we’re just an adaptation of what happened before.
Why is it important for you to celebrate the queer aesthetic with your label?
Nay Campbell: It’s not too celebrated in general, people tend to carve out a queer narrative. In the sense of celebrating individuality, it’s more than just putting a message on a t-shirt, like actually celebrating femininity – not trying to like water it down for some Real Housewives’ daughter. Celebrating the core of what all these ideals are – where they come from, who created them, etc. Not just regularly watered-down narratives. I have so much respect for other labels in New York also doing something similar.
Why do you think there’s a surgence of queer energy in New York right now?
Nay Campbell: I think it has become just so important to celebrate kids who are like: ‘I just want to look like me.’ In New York, there’s a broad brush of fast fashion, but there’s also a niche underground subculture of fashion. People like me who don’t necessarily want to look like everyone else. It’s prevalent in New York as a backlash to commercialism and fast fashion.
“In the sense of celebrating individuality, it’s more than just putting a message on a t-shirt, like actually celebrating femininity” – Nay Campbell
You worked with Cody at New Pandemics on the lookbook images. Why was it important to have representative models?
Nay Campbell: Cody is fantastic and totally got what we were doing. I think some agencies were maybe a little turned off by the idea of boys walking around in dresses with heels on, but it was really refreshing and great to work with someone who totally got it – it was no issue for the models, they were just professional.
It’s really important for kids to have jobs where they feel like they can express themselves and that they don’t have to wear any sort of heteronormative ideal on the back of their shoulders. It’s great that people want to go in that direction and that’s what I’m here for, to be a part of that and celebrate it.
What do you think you’ve learned in the time since you started the label?
Nay Campbell: I think I’ve learned a lot more of how to be realistic with myself. You know, it takes so much and it really does take a village. I didn’t learn from my professors, I learned that from going out at clubs and seeing Shayne Oliver in the basement of 11:11 and going out. That was what pushed me to either do it, or not do it.
None of those people are fucking around, none of them have an office job and go home to a mundane life. They’re all working really hard. I think that it’s important to see the experience in New York, I just have to be the most authentic version of myself, and I can’t have any setbacks, because these bitches are hard as fuck and they’re doing it.
Looking into the future, where do you want to go what do you want to do?
Nay Campbell: Right now, I’m finding the basis of my brand and working on season three with a really great team. I want to push what fashion can be through my lens. I think the fundamentals of what the brand is and what inspires me is there, I want to focus on expanding and securing the platform and who is involved.