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Meet The Designer Behind Rising LA Label PHLEMUNS

On the eve of fashion week (or month, depending on how committed you are), we’re getting fresh with James Flemons, dreamer and creator of PHLEMUNS, an emerging clothing brand reconstructing the dynamic of old to new. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Flemons has proven time and again that he knows what’s hip when it comes to the reinvention of past designs and implementing newer concept. And his latest sampling? Just further proof of this designer’s unique genius when it comes to creating clothing.

On the heels of a new denim collection out this spring, Flemons sat down with MILK.XYZ to talk genderless fashion, hip hop style icons (think Aaliyah and Kelis, for starters), and the answer to the question we’ve all been asking: why denim? Plus, get a peep at some never-before-seen designs in the slideshow above.

Tell me about your come up. What inspired your designs?

Growing up, I first got really interested in style. I was introduced to style through music videos growing up with my older sisters.  That was a huge influence on my interest in fashion. The outfits that the musicians were wearing inspired me. I was always drawing as a kid and then that translated in combing those two worlds—music and fashion. I started to design my own sketches. My sister had this Crayola Barbie design kit, where there was a stencil and you could create different outfits on the Barbie. I would take the stencil and just draw my own clothes on it. That turned in to me designing my own outfits. I was always known as the kid that designed clothes and I had this big portfolio of hundreds of sketches of clothes that I carried around.

What type of music videos influenced your designs? 

Hip hop and R&B. 

Who are your hip hop clothing icons?

Aaliyah and Kelis are my number from child hood to even now as I’ve grown up. They were definitely the most influential. They always stood out to me. People like Andre 3000 and Missy Elliot had this weird outside of the box element to the way they dressed and to me it was a bit different to anything that I had ever seen in society. I thought it was very specific to their personality. I thought it was cool and it shaped my thoughts behind the design process.

Why denim?  

Because I hated it. I never wore jeans because I could never find a pair that fit me well. I use to always wear slacks, khakis, and other random pants outside of denim. I just wanted to figure out a way that I would enjoy wearing denim. Since it is such a universal textile that is just like an everyday kind of thing to wear, I got more interested in secondhand clothing and Goodwill. I would just see racks and racks of denim and I thought to myself, “Let’s just put these two worlds together and start working on designs.”

So then I would buy oversized jeans and I would just practice sewing on them and making different creations. I learned how to sew in college at FIDIM and experimenting with denim really inspired me to create my own designs and having a voice. People latched on to that idea. I have never really considered myself a denim designer, but it’s definitely something that stands out in what I do that people very much notice what I do with it so I just kind of ran with it cause I had peoples attention so it’s like, why not.

What is your favorite thrift store in LA? Where were you finding your inspiration?

At the time when I first started secondhand buy-sell-trade shopping it was definitely Wasteland that birthed my introduction to that world. When I was like 18—19 years old, I got to know the people that worked there and they introduced me to vintage clothing and that really shaped a lot of my design process and ideas. More recently I got inspired a lot from Squaresville cause it’s a bit more funky and off the wall and kinda crazy styles and I always like to challenge myself and the things that I find I kind of like to incorporate elements of them in to my designs and translate it through my eyes. Those are my then and now shopping places.

What’s next?

My ultimate goal is to have a creative platform. What I’m known for is being a designer and I want to use that to build and create a community associated with art and creativity and help showcase people that I really think are artistic, creative, and really talented. I don’t know if that will be through my designs, my styling, or me coming out with a publication but I just want to branch out and showcase people. I have always considered myself an underdog like as I was younger I was bullied, not trying to get all deep like that [Laughs] but like, I always have a soft spot for the person that feels unseen. Like for Instagram, I know a lot of people and businesses look at numbers and how many followers you have, but I prefer to not look at the following and find that secretive person on the come up that nobody really knows is out there. It’s those people I want to enhance and share to help them grow. I definitely want to expand and partner up to create a community and branch out beyond myself.

Where did the name of the brand originate?

It is a play off of my last name. My name is Flemons and the brand is PHLEMUNS. Growing up everyone would get my name wrong and it would drive me crazy even though it was just like the last three letters of my name. One day it just got to me and it was my breaking point. In the dictionary there is a word which helps show the pronunciation so I came up with this version of that for my last name. It took awhile for the name to catch on. I had a name growing up when I was younger when I first started to design but that didn’t really translate as I got to know by craft. It was originally JAF and then from that it was JAF BALLAS and then for the girls it was SASSY [Laughs]. That’s staying in the past but I might do a capsule collection based off of my designs from when I was younger. It would just be a segment of PHLEMUNS that I incorporate.

When you first started designing did you identify if you wanted to design for men or women or both? Would you say your collection is gender specific where you have different lines for everyone?

I mainly started designing for women, but was very interested in the way that I dressed myself. That eventually lead to me doing menswear. And then the secondhand shopping and thrifting came in to play and that’s when I started to discover that I like wearing women’s clothes because women’s clothes really fit me and looked good on me as oppose to menswear. That’s where I began to blur the gender line. If you feel a vibe for something and you’re into it you should just wear it. Who cares? A very much staple in my process is how can I create a garment that can be worn by either or someone that doesn’t identify with gender at all. If you like it, you want it, you want it, you buy it, you wear it. Very much a genderless men-women fusion.

Photography: Harrison Glazier

Art Direction / Production / Glam: Chelsea Esquibel 

Wardrobe / Styling: James Flemons

Casting: Ella Jayes & Harrison Glazier  

Models: Braina Laviena @ Ford, Marcus Miramontes 

Stay tuned to Milk for more west coast innovation. 

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