Ms. Fen, a wholesaler, has glossy black hair and nails. She is twenty-eight years old. When we meet, she pulls up in a white Aston Martin, pristine except for a crack on the right rearview mirror. She is wearing an assortment of beautiful clothes: distressed jeans, a négligée tank, a forest-green Chanel bag. She’s aware of what this all conveys. ‘People see me and feel envy. But they don’t know what I went through to get here.’
If you search ‘Armani jacket,’ you get one million versions of the same thing, with slight adjustments: golden buttons or silver buttons, big sleeves or short sleeves – all these modifications. And there’s a little bit of creativity put into every version of it. There is something strangely appealing about it. I think about our place as designers within an ocean of images and garments, a kind of melting pot. Originality is about figuring out how to use those components and play with them.
My mother died a couple years ago at one hundred and four, and she had macular degeneration. But she could see in her periphery and she could always see me. We’d go walking together. She loved me being green. I’ve had a long life and have been through a lot and have my design studio and this and that. But when people see me they just see the Green Lady. That’s fine.
‘Every Congolese child is a sapeur. You shouldn’t ask when I became one. The point is that I’m still one. Some practice a bit and others practice deeply. I’m very deep in it. For us, clothing speaks. Fashion in general is out of fashion. One day it’s enormous rings, the next day they’re gone. La sape is beyond fashion; it’s like the earth. You’re born dust and you die dust. You’re born and we lose you as well.’
Yui and Takaharu’s designs feature almost no colour. One project, the Roof House, is all sandy wood, topped with a sloping gray roof. In their own lives however, colour is a defining characteristic. Yui wears almost exclusively red; Takaharu blue. The objects they share are yellow. Their daughter, fourteen, wears yellow, too; their son, eleven, wears green.
A hat tells the story of what you do. If you’re a bull rider, different hat. Barrel racer, different hat. I wear a cutter’s crease, which is for cutting horses – it’s an event. The only difference between a cutting horse and a cattleman is a dimple here on each side. Then there are the hats that we call a Kmart, Walmart special. Some people from out of town come here with those cheap straw hats, it’s kinda like a heehaw hat, comical. But we like it. They’re trying. They’re proud to have it on.
In 2017, the collaboration has become as common as the collection. It generates unfailing press, both critical and laudatory. In both scenarios, interest tends to hinge on the brands’ differences, on the inherent edginess of uniting them. In the case of Louis Vuitton and Supreme, the story is that the former brings to the table old-world prestige (and high prices), the latter irreverent youthfulness (and fans rabid enough to pay them). Yet it’s worth asking: how different are Supreme and Louis Vuitton, actually?
There’s like, a hundred different grades of industrial wipers. The best kind of wipers were made from men’s underwear, called gansies. For jeans, nowadays it’s all about torn this and torn that, but thirty years ago pair of jeans with a hole in the knees used to be cut up and sold to the Navy. You’d clean your machinery with these wipers. Looking for vintage is like looking for a needle in a haystack. One year the Japanese want over-sized printed T-shirts, the next year they want super small ones. The dredge of the industry for one period was men’s polyester pants. Those used to sell for six cents a pound. Ten years later, those same pants were worth $15 a piece.
Before there was Clinton swag, there was Obama swag. Before there was Obama swag, there was Kerry swag. Whom are these items trying to convince? Do we purchase a Hillary Clinton T-shirt to show solidarity, or to build our personal brands? Do designers create them because they will change hearts and minds – or to reassure themselves that their industry has a role to play in their nation’s critical decisions?