Telfar is Creating the Uniform for your Sweatpants Revolution
Walking through Telfar’s office space, the only signs of life seemed to come from the Oculus Rift eyewear sitting in a corner next to video screens on the walls. The studio space was immediately notable for how unremarkable it was. In other words, it was the perfect place for a designer to hole up in as he casts for his show—the follow up to one of the most talked about shows of last season’s MADE FW. Equal parts urban safari and utilitarian vacation, the show pulled off the greatest fast food afterparty—it was held at White Castle—since Michael Alig’s infamous 1989 McDonald’s rager, and, as a result, all eyes have turned to Telfar Clemens. Rubbing the last bits of sleepiness from his eyes after a long night finalizing the upcoming show’s soundtrack, Telfar couldn’t help but smile as he pulled back the sheets on a clothing rack that held the garments he’ll be unveiling next Tuesday when he returns to the runway. After months of hard work and a fair share of White Castle burgers from the restaurant chain (and unlikely ally), Telfar will present a new collection that’s radically different from, yet decidedly still in line with, the brand’s identity.
After a quick phone call to help plan his goddaughter’s second birthday, he revealed the collection’s new name, Tricolor, which made sense when he dug into a clothing rack that was all blacks, browns, and whites. As he pulled out piece after piece to show off hidden pockets, slicked denims, and cotton pants, we talked about his White Castle collab, sweatpants as a uniform, a prospective Telfar album, and more.
The afterparty at White Castle was by far the craziest party of the season last year. How did the collaboration between you and White Castle start?
I live across from White Castle and I’ve been going there since I was a child. I actually live in the same apartment I was born in. [White Castle was] the only place that was ever open at the times [when] I wanted to eat something. We like to pair ourselves with non-traditional things and they’re family owned. I mean, they produced Harold and Kumar. They do weird shit. We’re working really closely with them—I’m going to be designing their uniforms. They’re really on board with this season and it’s in the realm of where I want to move the brand. Telfar is very uniformed when you think about it.
So, where are you trying to move the brand?
It’s just really where I am right now. This is very much what I would be wearing right now and it’s what I’m really influenced by. Transposing office wear and workwear is what I’m focused on. It’s for the kind of person who goes to the office, but they’re wearing sweatpants. They’re wearing pants made of t-shirts at the end of the day.
It’ll be a sweatpants revolution. Are you trying to make the clothes fit casually into people’s wardrobes?
Yeah, I want to fit in—sort of. I want to fit in in the weirdest way in fashion. It’s so nondescript that it’s like, “Of course I know that shirt.” I want people to be extremely comfortable. I feel like that’s the future of workwear.
I was really making sure that there’s more than just layers and t-shirts on top of each other. I wanted to change how you actually layer. It drove the factory crazy. Even for our new knit, we took the t-shirt idea and started ripping these t-shirts up and knitting them into sweaters.
So all of the knitwear is made from t-shirts?
Yeah! These are all the same t-shirt fabric. I really insisted on not using another fabric. I hate fabric shopping and I hate the assumption that you have to get the nicest fabric to make this garment. I didn’t want to stray away the normal fabrics that I tend to use each season. At the end of the day, I really just dressed up a t-shirt.
That’s really all that people need. With a lot of collections, you can’t really wear the clothing in a practical way.
I don’t want to make things that you don’t want to wear. I want to make stuff that you wear until it falls apart, until it’s disgusting.
I’m into that. You’ve moved into more neutral hues this season. What inspired this particular color palette?
Each season has a few staple colors, so for this season it’s just black, white, and brown. The collection is based on our past seasons and our strongest colors. We’re branding these three colors into our flags. When you see these, you know it’s Telfar.
The logo is instantly recognizable. Moving to your upcoming show, past collections have always been shown with music or visuals that are created with a collaborator. Who and what should we expect next?
We worked with Aaron David Ross on the music, but we’re now going back to one of our core collaborators, Fatima Al Qadiri. She’s done around fifteen songs with us over the course of our time working together so we’re planning on releasing an album for the SS17 collection.
First a Telfar uniform and now an album? You’re taking over. What was the process like this season?
I feel like this collection came from traveling. I was in New York and then I’d go to work in China and just design the collection. I was working for four months in the cutting room and seeing a lot of different factories. I didn’t want it to look like anything that you’d see in a store. I think right now, everybody is copying an exact model and that’s something that I don’t want to do.
So was a lot of it influenced by what you saw while you were in China?
No it’s actually influenced by just getting the fuck out of reality. How you style something in New York is not how someone would style it in China. The style is so good there—I wouldn’t even dare take a picture of someone. I just observe a lot of what they’re wearing.
You don’t try to take photos or anything?
No. I don’t even show people photos of what goes on there! I don’t take pictures at all. I don’t want anybody to know what I’m up to. If I like something, I want to see it and remember it in my head and not have a photo of it. If you have a photo of it, you just reference it. I want to get it wrong. I want to get it so wrong and out of context that it’s a different thing.
Photos shot exclusively for Milk by Carlos Santolalla.
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