Does your creative process change when you’re designing womenswear versus menswear or clothes for your son?
It doesn’t really change beyond the fact that I’m designing for a woman’s body or a man’s body. For me, it’s always about exploring: What are the things we wear? Why do we wear them? What do we love?
One of my favorite things to do is look at the classic things people were told that they should aspire to look like. I’m always looking to deconstruct those, to destroy them, to recreate them. Whether it’s a child, a woman, or a man, but especially with regards to men. We’re living in a time when nobody is one single thing, and we want to show who we are. We want individuality. There was a time when you had to [classify yourself], and I feel like now more than ever, there is a different kind of rebellion that I think is very exciting in menswear.
Clothing is the most vital form of self-expression that we have right now, especially with social media. What you wear and how you present yourself is a means of saying something. Individuality is the premium now—that is the new luxury.
You mentioned not being defined by one thing. You’re something of a renaissance man having painted and acted professionally before designing.
I originally came to Los Angeles as an actor and was trying to create stuff as a filmmaker as well, but I was painting all the time because that was part of my background. My career as an artist really took off in L.A. ironically, and I spent a number of years really focusing on the fine arts doing shows as a painter. Then my deep yearning to explore my relationship with clothing—something that is obviously very personal to me because of my upbringing—I just had to do it.
I learned to sew for an art exhibition where I created the 50 iconic menswear garments out of paper. Then I started making real clothing—it was the inevitable next step. I used found military bags and anything that I could get my hands on that I could sew together to create a garment. It was a mixture of ideas. That’s where the magic really started.
When I launched, [I was making] tailored pieces out of unusual fabrics. No one was doing that at that time. I was speaking to two universally loved ideas: our obsession with military clothing and tailored clothing. The difference is that it wasn’t a glamorous idea of the military, and it wasn’t a glamorous idea of tailored clothing. It was more about this idea of, Why do we want to be this? Why do we want to look and feel like a soldier, but not actually be one? Why do we need to wear certain suits and expensive garments in order to prove something?
Mixing the two has been the DNA of my collection. This contradiction between what something is made out of and what the silhouette is speaks to what is incredibly relevant right now in terms of menswear. We’re one part this, one part that. I take that to the extreme.
Your line blends time and place in a really arresting way. Where do you find the inspiration?
For Spring ’16, a few things came together. I was doing my first men’s-only show, and it was for the inaugural NYFW:Men’s. I was excited about doing this massive show where I got to play with a lot of different male archetypes. I envisioned this world where a new group of men were settling. I wanted it to feel familiar, but like it could be in another universe in the way that Star Wars is familiar, but completely different. I love to straddle that middle ground where you don’t know if it’s the past or the future, where you create something interesting to the eye and emotionally as well.
There’s a story-like quality to each creative concept.
Yes. To me, it’s characters. When I start sketching, I’m really sketching characters. I’m thinking, who is this guy? What does he do? What is he thinking? What if he’s an athlete who’s always wanted to be a painter? These are the kinds of story that inspire me and inspire the aesthetic.
Given your creative background, this sounds autobiographical. How did your upbringing influence your creativity?
In addition to my relationship with my uncle, my dad—who’s Ralph’s brother Jerry—has been head of men’s design and is still creative director of men’s design after almost 45 years. So for me, I had a very specific education. I learned a lot about clothing, style, and image, and often it was through those things that led me to understand who someone was.
I can honestly say that through all of that, I developed an idea of who I was supposed to be and how I was supposed to look. I don’t mean there was a dress code, but there was a clear way to dress like certain characters. Sometimes those characters and a certain set of heroes meant sacrificing the authentic person inside. Clothing should not be an armor that we hide behind to project some kind of image that we’ve been told to project; it should enhance who we are as individuals.
When people wear my clothing, I’m looking to unleash the individual, not telegraph who they should be. If I do my job right, the clothing and the individual should meet, not hide behind the clothing.