IN THE STUDIO WITH WESLAH
Hailing from the Southern-Baptist churches of Tennessee, Wesley Berryman is the designer and artist that’s rising to the top of NYC’s fashion world. Inspired by Alexander McQueen, Berryman’s designs and online alias, Weslah, have an unapologetic and provocatively futuristic aesthetic that cannot be limited to words. Over the years, he’s collaborated on pieces for several artists such as Kim Petras and Rosalía alongside a fashion week show for his collection Obsession in the Fall of 2019. Whether it’s a dress for Lady Gaga’s tour performance or a custom garment for Beyoncé, this designer kicks off his ideas with sketches, fabrics, decadent rhinestones, and religious iconography pinned across his studio walls.
Before, NY’s shelter-in-place order, Milk visited Berryman’s studio. This week, we caught up with him over the interweb to hear about his updated plans for 2020, what projects he is currently working on, and the home to all of his creations: his studio.
How long have you been in your current studio?
A year. Okay, it’s been rough. Getting into here was rough. You know, moving and shit is crazy. I was waiting to get approved for this other place, and I actually just lived down the street a couple of buildings down.
What does your studio space look like now? How has working in a self-quarantine environment impacted your creative process?
My space looks about the same, I’m used to working on my own. But now it seems like we are all in a collective space of isolation, so it does feel a bit different. Life, in general, seems quieter. But also my creative process has become so much quieter. I don’t find myself as distracted by the outside world.
I haven’t even really been listening to music. I’m really into silence right now. It’s funny though because now my own world that I have been creating is getting louder and louder on paper or through my projects. I like getting to space where nothing exists but me and the creation.
Have you been working on any projects in self-quarantine?
Aside from my usual creations and work, I’ve been doing a lot of drawing — pen and paper drawing shoes or character designs. Though I feel like my biggest project this quarantine has been myself, this thing has forced us all to really sit with ourselves and our feelings. That is so wonderful and we can learn a lot from introspection. It can benefit us to be more aligned with our true desires when moving beyond this time of quarantine.
One of your signature styles is the exaggerated shoulder silhouette. What led to the creation of that design, what inspired the shape?
I’ve always just loved a strong silhouette. For me, the first thing that comes to my mind is the silhouette, and how to create something so beautiful and fleeting, but strong and powerful too. And with the silhouette, you can do that with the shoulders.
Alexander McQueen is one of my biggest inspirations. He was always doing a strong silhouette. The silhouette is one of the main principles of fashion design, one of the most important for me. I hardly think about fabric when I’m sketching or when I’m first coming up with designs, it’s just the silhouette and the lines that I’m obsessed with.
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My essence… my vitality… look upon the summation of the undeniable will of my heart. No matter how hard you try, you can never escape the flames of your purest desires! Creation is the key to life’s everlasting ecstasy. The crystal heart possesses great power yet tender beauty. Open your heart now. Everything that is created holds life. Discover the power within you and reverberate it onto everyone who dare gaze upon your immaculate visage! The time is now! :-)
What has been the most challenging creation to date?
Probably my custom look for Beyoncé. I wasn’t even in New York for that. I was actually in Tennessee because I was taking a moment there. I was just going through it. That was actually when I thought I was going to move to LA with my friend who was going too, and then we fell out. I thought I had left New York. I thought I was all done.
So, I was in Tennessee, and then her team reached out. They emailed me and they’re like, “Can you do a look?” And I’m like, “Fuck, I don’t have any of my shit,”
They wanted this crazy, floor-length piece with full lacing, a jacket, and then pants too. Yeah, it was a lot of fucking work.
How long did it take to put it together? Do you usually get fittings with your clients?
I think I had maybe a week in it. I was working on it for 24 hours for the whole week. I never get a fitting like, I mean, if I’m lucky. But honestly, I’m thinking now I’ve never even had a fitting for any of my custom pieces. They just send me the list of measurements and I make a little diagram. I’m working on two pieces for her right now. I want it to be spotless, you know what I mean? I’m up for hours just like every single little detail like trying to make it right.
You recently worked with Lady Gaga once again. What was it like working with her?
I just love her. She’s so inspiring, you know? And I love working with her and her team is so amazing. So nice. I love nice people. I feel like in fashion you don’t get that a whole lot. I really appreciate it when I get to work with someone like that, who is just genuine, you know? I want to work with people like that. I don’t really care too much about celebrities.
You’ve worked with a lot of artists in New York. What do you look for in potential collaborators?
I just love genuine people. I love someone who is just themselves. What makes them so unique is that they are just who they are. So that’s what I look for. And I look for power, you know? Especially for a runaway, I had my first show last year and that was just so fucking fun. I was really looking for the power in their walk, someone who could just give me themselves.
How did it feel when you started discovering fast fashion plagiarizing your designs? How did you deal with it and what can designers do to protect themselves?
I mean it’s funny because coming up in school I would always joke like, “Oh bitch, just wait people are going to be knocking me off. I can’t wait to see Weslah knockoffs.”
I was just talking shit with my friends, you know? It doesn’t feel good, but I just put my work out there, and whatever the world wants to do with it, that’s just what they do with it. I will always have more ideas, they can steal my work, but they can’t steal my brain, you know? I’m always looking forward to it. I’m always looking for what’s next. So I try not to harp on it.
How do you get inspired and start working on your pieces?
I start with a feeling, and I try to manifest my feeling into a physical thing. The closest reference to my vision is my sketches. It’s gonna just come to me, it always has. I can’t start by saying, “Okay, I’m gonna sit down and start designing,” you know? It’s such an ephemeral feeling that I translate into physical.
I love to have an aesthetic. I’m always collecting visuals; they are so powerful because when you start collecting images, then you look at them together and it tells you something. It’s not just the one image, it is all of them together; it is this feeling. I do a lot of that when I’m creating.
You mentioned that Tumblr used to be a huge inspiration. Do you still use it, do you miss it?
Tumblr had a darkness about it in a way, especially compared to other social media platforms. I feel like everyone on it, we were just being ourselves. We weren’t afraid to get dark, down, and dirty with our feelings. But you have to embrace that. That’s why I hesitate to say that the aesthetic of my brand is just dark, because there is a light in it too. There’s so much light in the darkness. Honestly, that is why I gravitate towards dark aesthetics or feelings because I feel like at its root is everything.
What advice would you have for anyone who’s trying to get there foot in the door of fashion design? Is there something you would tell your past-self?
I would just say, “Be yourself.”
Everyone says it, but there’s a reason why everyone says it; that really is true. There’s divinity in that. It’s important to just do your thing and do what makes you excited about fashion.
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MUSIC: Skyler Hawkins
PHOTOS + INTERVIEW: Harshvardhan Shah
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