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When you first walk into the Chinatown studio of threeASFOUR, you are immediately transported to a euro-chrome wonderland of fabrics, mirrors, and a really dope candle helmet. Housing three cats, and Luna, the grey pitbull with a pearl necklace and a lot of sass, the avant garde minds behind the design team welcomed me in cheerfully to their space. What started out as four audaciously creative minds has now been honed to the three outside thinkers running the brand today; the demure, quippy Gabi Asfour, the cheery, romantic Adi Gil and the articulate and captivating Angela Donhauser.
From working with people like Yoko Ono and Bjork to places like the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the designers go far beyond what is expected of a ‘fashion label’. Milk’s Jordan Mack got to sit with the eclectic bunch to talk about the ever changing state of New York City, their celebratory year to come, and the nature of their name.
There’s a really big trend towards ‘genderless’ clothing now. Do you guys feel like you’re a part of that?
ADI: Yeah! We never follow trends though. Years ago, when we started our first collection, we used a guy and it got picked up by the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was a ‘men in skirts exhibition.’ That was in the early 2000s! We never followed any trends. We don’t believe in trends. Maybe it’s happening now, but for us it has always been that way.
All of your shows really focus on the performance aspect. What inspired that choice?
ANGELA: First and foremost, it must inspire us. We do fashion shows, but straight runway is simply boring. It’s boring for us. It’s boring for the models. It’s boring for the viewer. It has to be inspiring. The environment, the setting, the music, the ambiance. You want to walk away knowing that you experienced something one of a kind. You can’t recreate that moment. Obviously the space always dictates how we do things, but we find our own way.
What is it like working with Bjork?
ADI: She’s beautiful! We love her. She really understands us, and believes in our vision.
ANGELA: She’s like a little fairy [laugh].
What’s one of your favorite shows that you’ve done?
ANGELA: The next one!
ADI: We actually just talked about it. For me personally, I don’t like to look back. It’s nice to look back, but I always get more excited doing something new.
ANGELA: There are some shows that are more significant than others. Some of them are tied more into a deeper meaning. Some of them are deeper than a fashion show. Maybe you’re more connected to that one than to other ones.
You guys have been based in New York for years now. There’s been a lot of New York ‘institutions’ closing down. How does that make you feel?
GABI: A lot of our friends who were in fashion don’t do fashion anymore. We do feel it.
ANGELA: It’s become incredibly gentrified. Change is natural. Time flows and it happens. It does hurt to see art being pushed out of the city. Whole communities are disappearing. It’s impossible to afford living in this city! You feel like there’s a big lack of support for the artistic community. New York will lose its essence and its spirit if that completely disappears. It may change completely if we continue to let that happen. Every part of Brooklyn is becoming unaffordable too! You have to go deeper and deeper until-
GABI: You end up in Detroit [laughs].
Do you guys ever see yourselves leaving New York?
ANGELA: Never say never and never say forever. It’s not up to you. From being here, the one thing you learn is that you don’t control these things. It’s very much our home town and we believe in it. We just hope it believes in itself too. There used to be a time, when we were younger, where you could really make it as an artist. We work in fashion, but we’re still very much artists. In those days, corporations would really believe in what you were doing. Now it’s full of celebrities and rich housewives taking the spots of the artists that are really killing themselves to get there.
If you weren’t doing fashion, what do you think you’d be doing now?
ADI: We’re already doing many other things. Our main thing is garments, but we don’t see it as fashion. Fashion is a trend. It comes and goes. We see what we’re doing as our-
ADI: Language! This is our tool to promote other messages, bigger higher messages. We always try to promote a message. One thing is that we are all from different places from all around the world. I was born in Israel. Gabi was born in Lebanon, but has roots in Palestine. Angela was born in Russia, but she moved to Germany. My parents moved to Europe later. We just want to promote unity. It doesn’t matter where you are from. For us, doing what we do and telling that story by whatever we do is the most important. It’s our tool to promote this message.
Is threeASFOUR a brand? Are these stand alone projects, or are they a part of a collective?
ANGELA: Everything we do is an evolution from the past. It’s one step after another.
GABI: Everything fits under one umbrella. There’s one signature. It’s the same geometry, the same thought. It’s always threeASFOUR at the end. Same aura, same energies. If you take one thing from a collection and put it in another, it would work.
ANGELA: We hope it’s getting better in the long run. Sometimes you make mistakes, you learn, you advance.
When does inspiration hit you the hardest?
ADI: Being together helps to inspire each other.
GABI: When it clicks for the three of us, we know it’s good. It’s the rule here. If it works for the three of us, we do it.
ANGELA: Inspiration can be anywhere though. It could be a place, or another human, an emotion or a dream. It starts with one person, but it has to be contagious to reach everyone else. It’s like a pregnancy. Each show is like giving birth. We used to fight a lot which is natural. Communication is key though. You have to put your ego aside for this greater picture.
Do you have a three word hint for your next collection?
ADI: It’s really dealing with the same subjects we like to focus on.
GABI: This year will be a special year though because it’s our 10 year anniversary.
ADI: We also got some news not too long ago. We were asked to be a part of the National Design Awards. Not that we ever cared about awards, but it’s nice to be recognized. We received the fashion design award! The ceremony is in October.
ANGELA: It’s really nice. There’s no hype, no bullshit, just excellence. It’s amazing to be recognized for that.
GABI: So this season is very celebratory.
Gabi, is your last name actually Asfour?
ADI: That’s actually a really cute story! threeASFOUR comes from Gabi’s last name which is Asfour. It means bird in Arabic. Back when we were four people working together, we took his last name because he already started a collection by himself called Gabriel Asfour. We took his last name and decided that it made sense for us to go by that, splitting but the ‘as’ and ‘four’. When Kai left the group, people started calling us ‘AsThree’ but we decided to be threeASFOUR. It also means three birds, so there’s a meaning behind it.
GABI: It’s a very beautiful word in Arabic.
ANGELA: Three birds, free birds [laughs].
threeASFOUR shot exclusively for Milk by Carlos Santolalla
Check out Angela’s Instagram exploring her different identities.