Babyghost Is the Cult Brand You Need to Know
Babyghost is very LES. It’s a brand born in and representative of the Lower East Side; or rather, a Platonic ideal of the Lower East Side, like if there was suddenly a rapture that got rid of all the drunk frat boys. The brand’s Chrystie Street studio – which is small, white, clean, and bright, like Edelweiss – is like a distillation of the neighborhood around it: a mix of skateboard art, artifacts from Chinatown, and weird found objects, like an empty gumball machine.
It’s a fun, playful space. We wanted to touch everything, from the early 20th-century erotic drawings on the wall, to the mod black wigs that the designers play in. Our absolute favorite trinkets were little baby skull sculptures, which serve as a sort of mascot for the brand. “They creep me out at night,” laughed designer Josh Hupper.
Hupper and design partner Qiaoran Huang, both veterans of Parsons and Diane von Furstenberg, founded Babyghost in 2010, after meeting while working at Nathan Jenden’s eponymous line. Their designs lean simultaneously towards streetwear and girlishness, all with a sort of winking wit. The clothes are edgy and aesthetically forward, but if clothes can also be charming, these are it. They’re kind of like the designers themselves: intimidatingly cool, yet infectiously friendly and fun. In advance of Babyghost’s first presentation at MADE Fashion Week, Milk’s Jocelyn Silver sat down for a chat with Huang and Hupper about downtown life, their model muse, and Old Navy.
You guys have had your studio on the Lower East Side for a long time. Do you live here?
J: I live on Suffolk between Houston and Stanton, and Qiaoran lives in the East Village.
Cool! Do you feel like the neighborhood that inspires your clothing?
Q: I really think the life, and the environment around here- the fashion, the way people talk and stuff- does affect it. It’s not any one specific thing, but the people walking down the street, they do inspire us.
J: When I first came to the city- my parents are from here, but when I first came to do my internship with Diane- I think I was staying at some place called Bethany Hall or something, it’s an NYU dorm across from the movie theater in Union Square. I remember coming down here to visit the United Bamboo studio, which was on the Bowery, or Opening Ceremony when it was literally just that one floor. I also remember being really scared of the area, because I thought it was really dangerous. So ever since I was a kid, I wanted to live down here. That was my first goal. And when I get my fortune, I want to live in TriBeCa.
What about you Qiaoran, when you get your fortune?
Q: I really do like the East Village.
I read in VICE that your ideal Babyghost girl lives on Rivington between Orchard and Ludlow-
Q: Yeah! We have a really good friend, Xiao Wen – she’s Josh’s roommate – and their apartment was there, so we’d hang out around there all the time.
I was reading about Xiao Wen Ju and how she inspires you. Would you call her a muse?
Q: Definitely. I think all three of us sort of grew up together, learning from each other.
J: I’m a boy, so I usually don’t win arguments when it comes to dressing things, because I can’t wear the clothing. So living with her is awesome, watching the way she gets dressed and things like that. I don’t know, I feel really lucky.
I saw that she styled the fall collection. What does her styling bring to the Babyghost brand?
J: I think that like us, she has pretty fresh eyes. She knows what she likes- whether it’s in style or out of style doesn’t really come to her mind.
Q: She understands us. Obviously she has her own point of view, but she really understands us, so she’s the best person to style for us.
I read that the fall collection was inspired by interiors, like the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. So what’s the inspiration for this season?
J: That’s easy. [Laughs] I think it was on the trip back to show fall. On Delta they have the TriBeca Film Festival Channel, and there was a Halston documentary. That kind of got us into Halston, and the ‘70s thing there for a second. Then, by the time we got back to Shanghai, that kind of played into fabric shopping. There were a lot of fabrics that we went for that were a super confetti, glitter, party sort of thing.
Q: We have these glitter buttons-
Woah, those are so awesome!
J: That evolved into this obsession we had with the Gap, and Old Navy. We started visiting stores and looking at product assortment, sort of thinking about the way that you can wear a polo shirt from the Gap you know three years down the line. We were thinking about a way to approach the collection to make more classic things, to sort of tone things down where we used to do lots of heavy patching. Sometimes a dress is just a dress, so for us it sort of helped to pare down and simplify in ways that we hadn’t before.
Q: Really classic and timeless. We just feel like there’s something there that’s so interesting.
J: This collection, more than any other, was really personal. We had more time with it, because we’re starting to get our schedule lined up better and better and better with each collection, so we had more time to play with it. And honestly, outside of the seventies and American heritage brands, we were thinking about – I think one of our prints we called theDark Side of the Moon print, because we were listening to Pink Floyd. So it’s definitely more personal.
Q: Definitely, like a diary. Things around us really affected us. So instead of just one inspiration, we looked at different things and just kept going. It’s a process.
J: As we get a little bit older, our reach for fabric expands. There’s a lot of beading in this collection, a bit of lamé.
I noticed that a lot of your press coverage seems to be from China. Do you think you’re bigger in China?
Q: I think we’re just really, really lucky. In China they just don’t have that many young designers. So we’re right on the beginning, so we got more attention when we started in China because there just aren’t that many of us.
J: We’re definitely a cult brand. I guess our cult’s a little bigger there, but they do have more people there. [Laughs]
“Things around us really affected us. So instead of just one inspiration, we looked at different things and just kept going. It’s a process.”
How do you think the two of you differ when it comes to your clothes?
J: Of course Qiaoran is a girl, so she approaches things a bit differently. I grew up skateboarding in the Midwest, and that’s how fashion really came to the Midwest. So I think my style is a bit more street.
Q: And I grew up in China, so I’m affected by Chinese culture and that environment.
Qiaoran, do you skate too?
Q: Josh loves skateboards, it’s his favorite thing. He has so many skateboards.
J: I think it’s interesting that so many of my favorite skateboarders have segued into fashion careers. Like Alex Olson has Bianca Chandon.
Oh man, my old roommate is the assistant designer there.
J: Small world! I think the industry makes more money on soft goods than they do on skateboards. Skateboards don’t really cost that much, but if you can make clothing – Fucking Awesome, Supreme, Bianca Chandon, some of those things are selling in Dover Street Market. I get inspired by that stuff. Most skateboards are artists.
Q: All my understanding of skateboard culture of Josh. It’s been many years, so I think I get it. I love the design of the skateboards themselves. And we make Babyghost skateboard stickers!
It’s interesting to me that you guys said that you were inspired by the Gap and Old Navy. It seemed like everyone was going for normcore last year, and that doesn’t strike me as your brand at all.
J: It was just an angle to look at it that we hadn’t used before. It would never look like that for us, but thinking if you were in charge of a store like that for a day, what would kind of clothing would you make? And by thinking like that, you take all of the crazy stuff and kind of filter it through, and we ended up with something that you haven’t really seen before from us. I think it also helps to have more eyes on us. This used to be so easy when no one was paying attention. [Laughs] We’d do our little collection, and our friends would like it. But now it’s important to show that we know what city we’re showing in, too. American sportswear- I don’t know, I guess we’ve always been doing that, but this time it feels a lot cleaner. It’s really subversive too, and we needed that.
Babyghost photographed exlucisvely for Milk by Faisal Mohammed
Check out more Babyghost here.