Images Courtesy of PHLEMUNS Text Elizabeth Patterson
PHLEMUNS is James Flemons, a 26 year old, “half self-taught” (he went to FIDM) designer born and raised in Central Los Angeles. Here, I talk to him about his Fall 2015 collection, his goals, his influences, and why he wants his clothes to encourage you to say “fuck you, I’m me”.
Well, let’s start off with some basics. When and why did you start designing?
I started designing in – I think it was the 2nd grade. I grew up with really bad asthma so I couldn’t do much physical activities, so my parents saw I was good and drawing and began to heavily encourage it. One year for Christmas, one of my older sisters got a Barbie fashion kit with body stencils and clothes to trace. I somehow got ahold of it, but instead of tracing the clothes provided, I would just use the stencil for the bodies and create my own clothes. Since then I’ve been known as that kid who designs clothes. Then going to college elevated things when I learned how to sew.
You’re a designer, but you also have another job. How do you juggle the two?
It’s really difficult honestly, and sometimes after removing myself from the process I don’t know how I manage to do it. Being a natural born workaholic and self-diagnosed insomniac has worked to my advantage in this case. But mostly being efficient with time and finding ways to make my day job work for my brand has really helped.
Do you ultimately hope to one day be able to design full-time?
I truly can’t wait for that day! It’s been my dream since high school. My goal was to have a full-time line launched by the time I graduated, but obviously it’s much easier said than done. I’m happy with the route I ended up on; I’ve learned so much since then.
So PHLEMUNS is obviously derived from your own last name, Flemons. Why the change in spelling?
That actually came about from two different reasons. First, growing up as a Flemons my last name was not very common at all…to this day people still read my last name and pronounce it like the much more common last name “Fleming”, even with the obvious ons/ing difference. For many years I have been annoyed with the simple mispronunciation. My family even has a saying “lemons with an F in front” to help people better understand. Come to find out from my dad’s interest in our family tree, Flemons is the slave derivative of “Fleming”. The Flemings were my family’s slave owners and over the course of many years the name has had numerous changes in spelling because my ancestors didn’t know how to spell due to the lack of education of slaves. So I decided to use Phlemuns like the pronunciation key they use in dictionaries before the definition of a word. In my brain it’s like (phle – mun – s).
Second, I have a huge sense of humor and was teased a lot in school, called “phlegm wad” and “get your cough drops lemons for that phlegm” and all kinds of other stupid things kids say to make other kids feel bad. So I decided to take ownership of the things that people used against me.
In all Phlemuns is something that has taken years to settle upon and is actually very personal.
I actually used to live in New York after graduating college in 2010. I was working at Marc By Marc Jacobs at the time, and wanted to transition to New York in hopes of moving up to the design team, but once I realized that wasn’t going to happen I moved back home to LA. More recently I have been thinking about going back because it probably would help propel the advancements of my line just being in that environment, but I’m such a laxed Cali boy at heart and I’ve been way more productive here than I was while living in New York.
What were you thinking of when designing this collection [Fall 2015]?
I wanted to really challenge myself and do things a bit out of my comfort zone with more emphasis on quality pieces, so I decided to scale back and only do 19 pieces instead of maybe 30-40 pieces like I did for Spring . My main influences were American Western and Black culture in the 70′s, heavily inspired by the work of Malick Sidibe. His photographs were so simple and stylish yet elegant with so much character. With every collection I like to reference vintage clothing because that’s mainly what my closet consists of. Mashing up elements from different decades – mainly the 70′s 90′s & 00′s – without making any one more dominant than the other, and the idea of unisex clothing with a balance of masculinity and femininity. I also really like to find ways to give pieces dual uses, like the jumpsuit that unzips into a coat, so that’s something I’m always thinking about.
The first thing I thought of when I saw your collection was that it reminded me of a clash between 90s hip-hop music videos and westerns. Going back to your calling your clothing “unisex” – Do you consider your designs to be genderless, and is that intentional? What were some of the masculine/feminine elements you incorporated into this collection?
Yeh! You thought right! I get so excited when people pick up on exactly what I’m trying to give.
For the most part I like to consider my clothes genderless – sure, for the structure of a clothing line I consider some pieces men’s and some women’s, but I love to see guys and girls of all kinds wearing all my clothes. I just recently worked with a friend of mine who is a musician and he used a lot of my women’s pieces and they looked really dope in them. We’re in a time now where dressing without the idea of gender is being embraced by more people and gradually being accepted by those who once frowned upon it. I’ve been wearing women’s clothes for years, lol.
Some of the main masc/fem elements I tried to balance were – for some of the tops, just wide enough for a guy and just slim and long enough for a girl to wear as a dress, or jackets just cropped and wide enough to work both ways, using a lot of classic style lines that through the years have been seen in both men’s and women’s clothing…the cut of the pants, either a tapered straight leg or a higher waist and wide leg with the leg just wide enough that they don’t necessarily swing one direction. One of the challenges was definitely incorporating the fringe into a men’s piece. The dress with the fringe came first and I thought, “This is so cool I want something to wear too!” I didn’t want to do the obvious fringe across the yoke of a jacket, and down the side of pants reads a little too feminine or costume in my opinion. One morning I just woke up and was like “throw it down the back!” and I’m really, really happy with the way those came out.
What’s the soundtrack that would be playing to this collection?
Ooohhh that’s a good question! I’m a huge music person so I gotta answer this right, haha. I think there’s a lot of subtle funk in this collection so I would say The Gap Bands greatest hits. They also incorporated a lot of western styling into their image now that I think about it…it’s a perfect fit. I’ve personally done a good amount of dancing in a few of these pieces so I know they’re dance floor approved.
Funk seems to fit the collection perfectly. Something about the fringe makes it work. You feature a lot of denim in your collections. Any particular reason?
I used to be someone who hated jeans and only wore casual slack like pants. I don’t know exactly what it was but I just wouldn’t wear them. It ended up being a mixture of wanting to come up with new ways to wear denim and practice developing sewing skills. I shop a lot at The Goodwill and constantly see the racks filled with tons of ill-fitting or outdated jeans, so I bought a pair that fit my waist and took them in. Initially I messed up, had some fabric I never used and asymmetrically attached it to the bottom half. All my friends loved them so I just went a little denim crazy and came up with all these different creations. Now people know me by my denim work. I think it’s pretty funny actually. Also it’s become my way of not feeling so bad on my end about the waste the fashion industry produces. Each collection I include a few pieces constructed with recycled denim, and it’s a cool way to get the washes I want without the process of bleaching/dying.
From not wearing denim to a denim connoisseur! Who knew? So denim is big for you and your friends love it, but who do you envision wearing your clothes? Who is the PHLEMUNS client?
You know what honestly, going to fashion school, your target market and finding your client base and all that was heavily emphasized but there are certain things about the structure of the fashion industry I try to work against and not follow. At the end of the day I follow my gut and make clothes for myself to wear and that I would like to see out in the world – people wanting them is just an added bonus. Anyone that genuinely likes what I’ve created and wants to wear it because it will make them feel good, that’s who I want wearing my clothes.
What do you want your brand to represent?
I want it to represent ones individuality and expressing yourself the way you want to, and wearing whatever the hell you want without anyone else in mind. In high school I wore baggy, oversized clothes and wouldn’t wear the things I was really interested in just so I would fit in. I used to care so much about what people would think about what I was wearing, or how they would perceive or judge me. Finally I came to a point in my life where my outlook became “fuck you I’m me, I’m happy with me, and I’m going to start living fully as me”, and I want my clothes to help people achieve that thought process.
You seem to have a really clear idea of what you want to achieve through your clothing. How do you see your brand growing and evolving?
I’m a pretty simple guy who doesn’t ask for much. I’d love to be able to expand within a selective amount of stockists and build just enough recognition to be able to have a productive team to take some of the weight off my shoulders, and make designing my full-time job. I’m not trying to be the next top innovative American designer, because that’s just not me. I would also love to be able to work alongside someone much more experienced than myself because a lot of what I do is self-taught and I always love learning more.
Alright, last question, and it’s a big one. What are you working on right now?
Currently I am working on finalizing my first order at Opening Ceremony and creating a few custom pieces to fit within the store. I’ve got a few back orders which is usually the case since all production is done by me, haha. And I’m working on my Spring 2016 collection. I don’t know how most labels structure the process of their collections, but I’m always working on different parts, pattern making while finding new reference images to be inspired by, sketching while fabric shopping, or thrifting new silhouettes while making random one-off pieces just to break my mind away and inspire a new idea. The process is never structured and my brain is always on a million things every minute.
Photography Carmen Kemmink (House of Orange) Styling Dayenne Bekker (EEA) Makeup Liselotte van Saarloos (Eric Elenbaas Agency) Hair Mark van Westerop (Era Management) Asst Photography Anke Zwinkels Asst Styling Seven Geferts Model Naomi Nijboer (Paparazzi Model Management)
Images Courtesy of Lorde Inc Text Erich Kessel
Diversity on the runways is an issue that gained considerable public attention when Naomi Campbell, Bethann Hardison and Iman spoke out in press interviews and in letters to fashion councils and syndicates. That was two years ago, so it’s appropriate to ask: what has been done since then to effect change in the often intransigent fashion industry? Lorde Inc was founded with these concerns in mind, seeking to re-build the face of fashion through a diversity-focused scouting practice that courts models from a wide array of ethnic and racial backgrounds. But of course, Lorde is bigger than simply modelling. I spoke with the agency’s co-founder, Nafisa Kaptownwala, for an exciting discussion on the intersection of modelling, youth culture, visual culture and social justice.
Erich Kessel: There have been many responses to fashion’s perennial lack of diversity. What inspired you to establish a modelling agency?
Nafisa Kaptownwala: The lack of diversity in visual culture. Not necessarily just fashion, but art and media as well. I have a number of friends that are photographers, stylists, make up artists, etc. And I was pretty fed up with how even within my group of friends, they would rarely cast models of colour. The reoccurring excuse would be, “But there just isn’t anyone that wants to shoot or I don’t know any models of colour myself.” So I made the agency to kind of say, Well, now you don’t have an excuse.
EK: What you referenced in the phrase “visual culture” is very interesting, since Lorde, despite its objectives as an agency, also seems to be about much more. What kind of critical voice is Lorde bringing to youth digital visual culture?
NK: Myself and my partner Chris Whitfield come from a more critical and political background. I studied Art History focusing on Race and Representation, while Chris studied Creative Writing. I think a lot of young people, especially young people in post-secondary education are critical and are thinking about these ideas, but it’s not as common to see these ideas being brought up in spaces like fashion and visual culture. I kind of want to normalise the idea of being political and critical in the work you put forward, and to make apathy seem lazy.
EK: What other actions have you seen, on the part of modelling agencies, as a response to fashion’s lack of diversity?
NK: People are writing about it all the time, which is pretty important. Arabelle Sicardi wrote an article for Jezebel about the lack of diversity at Fashion Weeks last year. And there seems to be a count of appearances of models of colour every year. I know that Naomi, Beverly, and Iman have some kind of a collective that addresses that but I have no idea what form of action they’ve actually taken. I know that people are aware of the issue, not sure how much activism has actually taken place though.
EK: Yeah, with the initiative led by Naomi, Beverley and Imam, so much of the attention about model diversity was actually about diversity on the runways. That’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. What role does the runway—as a specific space—play in reworking racist expectations of beauty?
NK: That’s a really good question. I mean, I would assume it would have to do with fashion weeks being the pinnacle of the fashion industry and fashion shows are meant to represent the designers and what they’re entire design house has to put forward. Fashion weeks just seem like a pretty easy place to compile numbers of how many models of colour contributed, but I’m just assuming. But the question about the runway as a space is interesting because it makes me think about it as a raised, sometimes literally elevated stage—a pedestal, so to speak, where these human bodies are meant to exemplify the ideal person. Magazines, editorials, and advertisements are pretty bad in representing diversity but runways have an especially bad reputation but that could just be cause more people are watching and paying attention to who’s walking down the runway.
EK: To return to something you mentioned earlier, there’s a growing group of young people with access to critical and radical thought. I’ve observed this, too, particularly on platforms like Tumblr and through PDF-sharing. Moving away from the topic of modelling partially, how do you think access to these ideas has impacted the way people look at race and ethnicity in fashion?
NK: I think online communities like Tumblr have just given more white/hetero/cis/male/able/non-black people access to the insight of marginalised communities. Once those ideas have been raised and people are starting to get called out, it’s hard to forget that. And hopefully people have been starting to notice how hegemonic society really is. I mean…I’ve had white friends tell me that before Tumblr they had never even thought about cultural appropriation till they were called out on it. Not to say that everyone on Tumblr is getting real, but some people are being introduced to ideas that are new to them and they’re receptive to it, and taking those ideas and applying it to their everyday existence and hopefully realising how insular communities like fashion and art are and how few marginalised bodies actually have a voice in those spaces.
EK: I wonder about the question of longevity. It seems that models of color are being hired in greater numbers, but what can be done to ensure that those models stay working? Are there any unique challenges that non-white, non-standard models face that prevent them from continuing to model?
NK: It totally comes in waves. It’s really sad but the amount of models of colour present in fashion is totally dependent on what’s on trend. If Chinoiserie is in one season, you’re gonna expect way more East Asian models. If street wear is in another season, you’re going to expect more Black models. That’s the problem though. Designers think they’re remedying their “diversity issue” by including a couple more models of colour but they’re just fulfilling their gross fetishistic fantasies. The thing we need to work on to create longevity is to normalise the idea of seeing black and brown faces. Black and brown models shouldn’t be associated with a specific look. They should be able to navigate all types of looks in the same way white models do. I think that starts by lighting a fire under designers’ asses and making it known that they have to include models of colour, a lot of models of colour, until they don’t feel like they’re intentionally having to include anyone and it just happens.
Photography Lucie Rox Styling Vesa Perakyla Make Up Sasha O’Neill Hair Hugo Gamboa Model Alexandra Anastasia Louis (IMG)
Text Callum Riley
Before the World Was Big is listed as “alternative” on soundcloud and they’re definitely not wrong. Composed largely of a simple repeating melody and half singing/half shouting vocals that devolve into rounds, it’s definitely not the most polished release you’ll hear this month. But the charm lies in the imperfections, as Girlpool chant their lyrics with so many references to their hometown that they could be covering the Wonder Years and they don’t quite harmonise, you can’t help but smile and listen to the song over again, as it clocks in at only 2 minutes and 21 seconds. Taken from their debut album due out in June, hopefully we can expect more charming alternative folk that sounds likes it’s ripped straight from the Juno soundtrack.
Gesaffelstein & Jean-Michel Jarre – Conquistador
New music from Gesaffelstein is obviously cause for celebration but anyone can be forgiven for responding to the name Jean-Michel Jarre with a blank look. Releasing his first songs La Cage and Erosmachine, all the way back in 1969, he is considered one of the godfathers of electronic music, and has teamed up with Techno’s leading man for Conquistador. A thumping techno track, with the signature Gesaffelstein production style coupled with a grandeur that can only come with decades of experience in producing and composing, and features like sweeping synths and cut up soprano singing, it’s a haunting experience, albeit one that sounds kind of like it belongs on the Timesplitters 2 soundtrack.
Ratatat certainly like to take their time with new music, it’s been 5 years since the duo released LP4, their 4th LP (duh). They’ve definitely not missed a trick whilst they’ve been away and seem to have been heavily influenced by, well, themselves. Cream on Chrome is a remarkable return to the more classic Ratatat style, with the wailing guitars and shuffling drum beats all having that hip-hop edge that typified their first 2 albums, before LP3 & 4 went even more experimental. Cream on Chrome sounds like a lost B-side from their Classics album, and if their new material which is bound to be on its way is anything like this, then we’ve probably got a second coming on our hands.
Sam Smith and Flume are indisputably two of the biggest acts in the world right now, and given Flume’s track record for creating absolutely golden remixes, it’s only natural that Mr Smith would enlist Flume, having already gotten the remix treatment from acts like Maya Jane Coles, Todd Edwards, Armand Van Helden & MK. Unfortunately for them, Flume has utterly destroyed them. Whilst the original Lay Me Down is a slow soulful ballad, Flume has transformed it into a soaring electronic journey, as Sam’s vocals weave throughout the dreamy synths and thundering drums. Once again, Flume has created a wondrous and inventive track that you just wish went on for longer.
A Blur album released 16 years after 13, the last album to feature all 4 members of Blur, is bound to be of a different breed from its earlier brethren. Ong Ong isn’t the upbeat Britpop that many have come to associate with the band, but it’s still undeniably Blur, with Albarn sounding just as fresh as he did 20 years ago and new touches like the piano that we hear spread throughout the song make for a more thoughtful creation than what we’ve heard before. It’s not all new though, Graham Coxon’s guitarwork still quietly impresses, especially on the latter half of the track. Blur have emerged from the musical wilderness not only a new band, but one that’s quite possibly just reached their peak.
Kiesza – Sound of A Woman
Kiezsa’s latest video is a pretty stripped back affair, largely featuring the singer alone against a white backdrop, but the clever touches and camera work, make it a great video for dorks who love cinematography. Using her own silhouette as a separate canvas to have more shots of her singing is a cool trick, as are the faint shadows of herself that mimic her movement at various points of the video. Other shots feature her looking like she’s liquidised into metal and her silhouette showing clips of her diving into a swimming pool. Whilst not the most creative video you’ll ever see, the simplicity and quality of the camera tricks employed makes it worth your while.
Janelle Monae & Jidenna – Yoga
I’ve always thought of Janelle Monae as the reincarnation of James Brown, but Yoga is of a different breed completely. Instead of soul and funk, we’re treated to some pop with a trap twist. Obviously though she does an amazing job of it anyway, her voice being just as powerful singing about yoga as anything else. In this video, we get to see Janelle showing off her dancing skills, and even her (probably not real) ability to fly. Jidenna makes an appearance too, but when Janelle Monae is involved you’re bound to be upstaged. Seeing Janelle bust out her best moves with her friends is so happy and upbeat that watching it will make you want to gather your friends for an impromptu dance party.
Snoop Dogg – So Many Pros
As we all remember from Drop It like It’s Hot, Pharrell & Snoop are an unstoppable force, and the video for their new track So Many Pros. We hear Pharrell’s polished R&B production style that rocketed G I R L to international fame in full effect here, as Snoop becomes part of an ever changing roster of classic movie posters, none of which are actually real but you’ll see copies of different James Bond movies, as well as Blaxploitation films from decades past. It’s all a bit similar to Kanye West’s Gold Digger video from way back when (coincidentally, a fake movie titled “Gold Digger” does make an appearance). The most fun you can have with this video is to try and guess what movie the video is referring to, although some shots, like Snoop being the face of a giant $100 bill complete with “United States of Me” written on it, are just for fun.
MC Lars – Dragon Blood
There’s literally nothing bigger in the world than Game of Thrones right now, and though generally song parodies and that sort of material should be avoided like the plague, MC Lars’ new track, and more specifically the music video that goes with it, is so silly and charming that you can’t not laugh. Featuring a Daenerys Targaryen lookalike as she strides around an office building beating literally everyone up whilst Lars drops hundreds of ham-fisted references to Game of Thrones, it’s hard not to find the terrible slow motion fighting charming in its own way, especially when she hits someone in the face with a wet floor sign just after kicking a fake Cersei Lannister in the face.
Rihanna – American Oxygen
You’d be forgiven for thinking American Oxygen sounds quite patriotic with lines like “He can be anything at all in America”, talking of a young child with his future ahead of him. Watching the video however, we can see that’s just not true. Interspersed with shots of civil unrest from decades of American history, most shockingly the scenes of police brutality seen in Ferguson, along with clips of Martin Luther King, the 9/11 attacks and the Occupy Wall Street Movement. It’s pretty clear that Rihanna doesn’t exactly have faith in America, and judging from the rest of the people shown in the video share her rather cynical view.
Photography Schmidt & Gorges Styling Ignazio Arizmendi Grooming Manu Kopp (Nina Klein) using Chanel Models Ringo Lukas & Robbi G (Tomorrow Is Another Day)
Total Look Thoas Lindner
Vest Art & Love Skirt-Pant Don Aretino
What do you like most about your hometown?
Stand up for yourself