I'm nearing my 10th year in New York City. And still, I don't think there's anywhere else I could imagine living.
Fall 2014 started with the idea of designing New York. I pulled from patterns of uniforms I saw everyday. Men in overcoats and ill fitting pants during rush hour, heading to Wall st. Bomber jackets on men leaving army surplus stores on Canal st. Even my daily bag - a NARS tote that I swiped from my girlfriend was fair game.
The collection was birth out of the dissatisfaction I've had with the current fashion industry.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve been scouted by two large fashion corporations for Senior Design positions. In both instances, I was faced with the basic question of what I truly wanted in my career. Dressing is a basic necessity. I enjoy creating clothes. And our job is to inject art into the process and call it fashion. But the fashion industry often feels like a monster. You show a collection that will not be available for another 6 months. By the time it trickles into the stores, customers have forgotten while having a new show collection shoved down their throats.
There had to be a better way.
When I started LÉON, my only purpose was to see if I could I enjoy the process again.
I dodged two bullets. I didn’t end up at the large companies. That machine can only exist with the support of a large customer base. And the only way to satisfy the palettes of that level of consumer is to average out the work. To not offend. To not surprise. To be mediocre by design.
So this is my fuck you to that concept. I choose to stay small. I’ve designed a small collection that I wanted to do. I’ve partnered up with a factory here in New York City that has just three ridiculously talented people. Their size means they can only do so much output. I will only be able to produce smaller collections, in smaller numbers. This is a good thing. I am not interested in reaching masses. My only interest is reaching the right people, whatever that number may be.
There is far too much shit in the world. This is how I complain. By crafting something better. With thought. With poetry. For people that care like I do.
This is my manifesto.
When most people discuss quality, what they are really talking about is build quality. Will the stitches come loose? Will the fabric fall apart after a few washes? Was it made in a sweatshop in a developing nation? This is the easiest type of quality to lead with. As a designer, you can't rely on build quality alone. It's like trying to sell a novel based on the fact that there are no misspellings. At a certain point, build quality is expected. The other type of quality are those of your world view. For a workwear brands tank top, touting traditional workwear values, creating a rugged undergarment that lasts and lasts makes sense. One of my favorite articles of clothing I own is the tank top in the photo above. It's by Robert Geller. It has exceptionally high build quality. A light cashmere blended fabric from Japan, constructed and dyed in Japan. The qualities of Robert's point of view though are very much different.
It's airy. It's thin. It's delicate. It was designed to wear out and fray. Holes have appeared with no distinguishable pattern. The length is exaggerated, designed to peek from the layers you throw over it. To the person who prefers the workwear, it seems pointless to buy something that expensive that will just fall apart.
The hard part for the designer is resisting the temptation to try and win these people over. The most common way is to change the qualities of your world view to match theirs. If you do that, you've abandoned all that made your work desirable to your true fans.
Harkonnen's Castle design by H.R. Giger for Jodorowsky's Dune. 1975
Let me tell you about a movie from 1975. The lead is David Carradine (from Kung Fu, but more recently Bill from Kill Bill), it co-stars Salvador Dalí, Mick Jagger and Orson Wells.
The sets and character design by H.R. Giger (of Alien fame) and Jean “Mœbius” Giraud (of Alien, Willow, Tron, The Abyss and Fifth Element), Special Effects by Dan O’Bannon (who worked on Star Wars and wrote the original Alien).
All to the music of Pink Floyd.
You are probably asking yourself how is this even real.
The above film is what could have been Chilean-French director Alejandro Jodorowsky's version of Dune, which was famously canned by all film studios for how outrageously epic it was.
I had heard whispers of a fantastical pitch to Dune for a while, but never really looked into it. While deciding to re-watch David Lynch’s famously terrible adaptation of Dune, I came across the documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune”.
It is a classic battle of visionary artist and the "industry". Even if you are not a creative, you will get a contact high from the enthusiasm Jodorowsky emits as he tells you his vision for Dune. It's a heartbreaking tale, but one that isn't unique to artist. The pain of unrealized dreams.
Even though I just told you what the whole documentary is about, nothing will really prepare you for how mind blowing the story is as told by the people that lived it.
Mr. Marco Pierre White in his younger, much more serious days.
Patch by BrryBnds
I'm nearing my 10th year in New York.
And every year it seems I come across a new article, a new think piece, a new farewell letter to New York.
It's too expensive. It's too saturated. It's not what it used to be.
It's all true. It's all untrue.
Singer, Artist, Poet Patti Smith was asked in an interview once if a young artist could move to New York now and find the path to stardom like she did. Her response:
"New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling. But there are other cities. Detroit. Poughkeepsie. New York City has been taken away from you. So my advice is: Find a new city."
Patti Smith is right. Artist can’t move to New York now to make it like she did. Even if you were a young artist in the time of Patti Smith, following her exact steps, you STILL wouldn’t have a career like hers.
The artists of today have far more tools at their disposal. We are connected in ways that even the biggest dreamers of New York’s past could have never imagined. Last month, I sold to customers in Denmark, Zurich, Australia, Korea, Dublin, Canada and of course, all over the United States. I walked across the street to my local office supply shop for boxes, weighed, packaged and shipped orders from my apartment.
Last week, I took myself through an Adobe illustrator and Photography course on lynda.com, using my Adobe Creative Cloud version of Illustrator that I share with my girlfriend. At a total of $60.00, it's almost half the cost of a single textbook I bought while at design school. (And about 100 times more effective)
I’m surrounded by amazingly talented artists who took their careers and lives into their own hands. They make beautiful map quilts and kites. They design tables and shower curtains. They’re photographers. Writers. Bloggers. They create the most beautiful graphic imagery I've ever seen.
They chose themselves. They’ve sacrificed.
We all have unsafe neighborhood stories, coupled with sharing apartments with what seems like a highly illegal amount of roommates. We moonlit as bartenders and survived on an unhealthy amount of halal cart meat.
I’ve done my fair share of paycheck work. (Sorry for designing those beloved leather sweatpants that were so hot a few years ago) I’ve Ebayed 75% of my possessions to fund my business. I wore the same outfit for months, my pants ripped so bad that my girlfriend came home one day with a bag of new clothes from Uniqlo out of pity.
New York IS a place for artist.
Not the ones that expects a certain type of career because of the romantic stories they’ve read, cloaked in nostalgia of a New York that didn’t even exist then. But the ones who decide to work and sacrifice for it.
New York is not for dreamers. New York is for workers.
On my way home today, I passed by a beautiful Japanese restaurant that opened in my neighborhood of Park Slope last fall.
They had a sign out front, highlighting specials. On display, a fusion lunch box, where you can choose from generic Chinese, Thai and Japanese entrees to slop together.
Remember when I described it as a Japanese restaurant?
Just last week my girlfriend and I were discussing trying this place out. And now I'm backpedaling this idea.
"All the graduates speak of the internet as equal parts friend and foe. “It’s such a great tool, but it can be crippling,” Henry says. “Knowing every collection on style.com can turn you off an idea, and the volume at which you can find things makes me feel as though I absorb less.” Inspiration has become ubiquitous, according to Power: “Research has become relatively easy. You can just type in what you’re looking for and find it in an instant. The hardest thing now is the edit.” - Drew Henry, Designer
As I begin to work on the next collection of designs, I find myself fighting the input stream. Tumblr. Pinterest. Fashion News Blogs. I've banned myself from them.
Not in an attempt to be original, (which I don't think truly exists. Read Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist if you haven't yet), but to prevent myself from being pushed into the wrong direction by the never-ending orgy of beautiful images.
Remember when every rapper had an autotune song? Seeing brands putting jersey numbers on everything, churning out leather sweatpants and gothic art t-shirts? I would put good money on many of these artists were hopping on these paths out of panic. Panic that they aren't sure who they are and where they should go. Panic of being left behind.
You become a beautiful looking Japanese restaurant trying to compete with the Chinese and Thai restaurants that surround you by cooking their food. (Despite the fact that being a Japanese restaurant was how you were standing out.)
Defining yourself is often a matter of defining what you're not.
The TBO City Jacket is the jacket I always wanted to make for myself.
Constructed of lightweight, buttery soft italian lambskin leather, the jacket features 5 pockets total. Two hidden side seam pockets reinforced with leather facing, along with two chest pockets and one inner lining pocket.
Heavy duty 2-way RiRi zippers front closure with a snap front zipper placket. Matching front cuff RiRi zippers. Combination lining of cotton twill and a silk charmeuse sleeves lets your arm slip into the jacket with ease.
Japanese grosgrain straps allow you to carry the jacket like a backpack. The precise cut of the inside of the jacket and straps allow them to remain invisible in silhouette and feel when not in use.
It seems like I was a bit overindulgent when it came to the creation of this jacket, but this is what LÉON has been about since I began focusing on leather apparel in 2013. To make what I want, without compromise.
The TBO City Jacket is available now on in a full range of size, made to order on the shop.
All LÉON jackets come with a lifetime discounted reconditioning, repair and relining servicing through a 70-year old New York leather repair service.