Interviewer/Photographer: Heather Mull
Last year, at the South Side's LUXX boutique, this interviewer purchased a black and white wool jacket, the front of which is silk-screened with a mysterious numerical design. Everywhere the jacket has been worn -- from the wilds of West Virginia to the streets of New York City to the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, Germany -- it never fails to receive praise and queries from absolute strangers. The jacket, it was discovered only recently, is the handiwork not of some Parsons-trained commercial fashion designer, but of a 25 year-old painter and rock singer who lives in Squirrel Hill.
How does a lad from Penn Hills decide to start sewing things?
Ha! Boredom. I actually don't sew that much. I mostly take pre-existing garments and alter them, adding my own touches. I started by making shirts just for me to wear. People would come up to me and say, "That shirt is awesome! Could you make one for me?" I'd make one for them and one of their friends would ask them where they got their shirt. I thought, "Maybe I should be making some money off this."
I fell into fashion the same way I fell into bands [Snowflake, The Silver Thread] -- completely by accident. It was people bugging me, saying, "You should be in a band." Finally, there were some guys who I felt comfortable with, who asked me, so I thought I'd give it a shot. It was the same thing with clothes: I never thought in a thousand years that I'd be doing clothes. It just happened.
What did you think you'd be doing?
Playing professional hockey! I played ice hockey for 13 years and that's what I was gearing myself towards. I played in high school and then I blew out both my knees and that was the end of that.
Were you fashionable in high school?
No. Baggy pants, baggy shirt, long hair, typical Seattle-looking kid.
So, where did the fashionista thing come from?
It's just being comfortable with myself, wanting to present myself in a manner that shows confidence. If you play in a band or go see bands, you recognize that when someone acts really confident, even if they really aren't that good, people buy into them. It's almost like hypnotizing people. You've got to woo people a little bit and if you don't have confidence, people will see right through you and just walk away.
Do you ever feel that the garment is telling you what to do with it?
Oh yeah! That's always been the most interesting part for me - in making clothes, painting or making music -- the part that comes from the unconscious. You don't even catch it because it's just pouring out of you and you don't know where it's coming from. Jackson Pollock painted like that. The way I work, there's no plan; a shirt goes down in front of me and I just go at it and see where it ends up. It doesn't always work, but sometimes it ends up being a whole new thing with a whole string of ideas just from that process.
Do you have any strategies for infiltrating rock 'n' roll fashion?
Something I want to do is give clothing to bands. That's the quickest, easiest way to have people see your stuff.
Who do you really consider well-dressed?
I've always found that the people who look the best are the people that for them it's effortless. It's so bad now because on MTV every kid has black hair and a rock 'n' roll T-shirt, a studded belt and painted fingernails. It's a look that's been recycled and recycled. These clones are everywhere. People who make a difference don't have to try at all. I always thought Joy Division looked really well dressed, but they just wore button-up shirts and pants. It was more the people in the clothes that made it; it was the whole package. They weren't thinking about it at all.
Can people bring you an item of clothing and have you customize it?
Sure! People have sent me stuff from New York and Toronto, entire dresses through the mail. I send them back completely rearranged and they'll send back a photo of themselves wearing it. I do a lot of experimenting with dyes and paints and stencils. I try to make people wonder, "How was that done?" The way I work is a pretty good representation of my personality -- I don't like things to be boring.