Meet BessNYC4, The Dad Trolling Fashion on Instagram
For someone whose entire career is virtually contingent on Instagram, Doug Abraham says the word “Instagram” in a surprisingly mocking, self-knowing twang. Like the way you or I might talk refer to Elle MacPherson’s line of alkalizing green supplements, Super Elixir. Oh, and if the name “Doug Abraham” doesn’t ring a bell, then BessNYC4, his beloved and rather notorious Instagram handle, probably will.
Now in its fourth iteration after being deleted by Instagram the first three go-arounds, BessNYC4 is known for posting collages that tend to subvert fashion tropes, trends, and heavyweights, and that often incorporate salacious, violent, or otherwise disruptive imagery. Abraham’s work stands out for its stark juxtaposition—pasting cut-outs of Juergen Teller‘s snaps of Daria Werbowy, for instance, onto surveillance images from what looks to be a bodega heist—and for the underlying message that’s laced throughout: namely that he, unlike most other Instagrammers out there, doesn’t give a hoot about pleasing anyone, much less Anna Wintour. (Except, I imagine, the word “hoot”; Abraham would not approve of that.) Like, as they say, attracts like; and as an industry that is, by definition, hard to get, fashion has naturally gravitated towards him.
In the past year, Abraham has collaborated with Adidas, Dior, Barney’s, Courreges, Marc Jacobs, and more. And throughout, he’s exposed fashion’s intrinsically masochistic nature; the more he subverts designers’ and brands’ images—the more he makes light of them or simply disrupts them—the more jobs and attention he seems to get.
Abraham isn’t new to the fashion industry. For awhile, he had his own line, Bess, known for making punk, unconventional, or downright eccentric products. Before that, in the ‘90s, he had his own jewelry line and even worked with such brands as Anna Sui and Alexander McQueen. And upon first meeting, he’s not necessarily what you’d expect either. A father of three, Abraham is like the dad you never had but always wanted. And for someone whose work is steeped in in themes like bondage, restraint, and gory violence, practically everything that comes out of his mouth is surprisingly coated in a thick layer of sarcasm.
I was lucky enough to get to sit down with Abraham for a quick chat, which we commenced as soon as he removed his gold front tooth—a new style development after falling off his bike the week prior.
— Marc Jacobs (@marcjacobs) October 6, 2015
Do you ever feel like people have attached too much meaning to your work?
Sure. I mean, either that or not enough.
Are you ever fed up with the fashion industry? Do you find it a little vapid, or do you ever crave to be in another industry?
You know, I feel like I’ve somewhat emancipated myself; even when I made clothing, I never really felt like I was part of the fashion industry anyway. I felt like I knew how to hustle and get people to buy stuff because I knew what people wanted to buy and how to get it to them and they didn’t know how. So if that was fashion then I feel like I was participating, kind of, but I never really felt a part of the system… I was never really totally treated by fashion people like I was in fashion, so I never really felt obliged to treat them the same way.
So do you think that the industry would be as accepting of someone who was overtly making fun of them? Not that you’re necessarily making fun of them, but sometimes it seems like you’re sort of making light of them?
Yeah, I feel like really I’m trying to just be more about fucking with culture—and fashion is a part of that, but I don’t have any agenda, you know?
Have you ever experimented with photography? Do you ever take any of the photos you use?
Yeah, if you look through my Instagram, some of the logoed things are pictures I take from my phone and some are pictures that I kind of appropriate—AKA steal.
“That’s my son’s nipple.”
[At one point] I was kind of doing a lot of hyper close-up stuff, so when I couldn’t find an image, maybe I would take an image. Like these three are my son’s eyes, sleeping. That’s a rose—I took that picture on the A train—from Dean & Deluca. That’s my son’s nipple. The sunset.
Did you sort of consciously decide not to credit yourself for the photos you’ve taken as a way to balance out the fact that you do appropriate a lot of other people’s images?
I briefly went through a thing where I posted a picture that I took, and put “iPhone 6.”…But then after awhile I kind of felt like, who cares? I don’t think anyone cares if I take the picture honestly.
I think people sometimes think that I know what I’m doing, or something. Or that I have some plan. Until [my work is on Instagram], I don’t really know how I feel about it. It’s not really real yet. Until I look at it and I see how it is with everything else, [then] I kind of get a sense of where to go.
I look at a lot of shit on my algorithm that I don’t follow, like weird stuff that [Instagram] has suggested because I’m interested in the algorithm.
What is your discover page on Instagram like?
I feel like the confounding thing for Instagram is that, because I like so much outside of my following, they don’t really know how to algorithm it. You’re welcome to look; it’s a lot of memes. [Opens up discover page] They’re giving me some dumb shit as usual. They give me a lot of Justin [Bieber], and they give me a lot of Beyoncé for some reason. [Clicks on a disturbing video] See that’s the kind of thing I’ll generally double click on. Or like skateboard videos. Or this is looking good. [Opens up an Instagram clip from Keeping Up with the Kardashians] All of the Kardashian clips Instagrams are really some of my favorite. [We start watching the clip] Okay we don’t have to watch the whole thing—I’ll do that later with my headphones.
Do you like the Kardashians?
I never really [watched] it on TV. So now when I see the clips on Instagram, particularly the old ones, I’m fascinated.
But, I don’t know, is that really what Instagram’s for? [Laughs] Am I using the platform correctly? I use the repost app a lot. I like to feed the feed back into the feed. One of my projects that I keep sidelining is to “like” only for the purpose of revisiting all the things that I like and then mashing them up into my week’s worth of likes.
Totally, but can you even keep track of what you like on Instagram?
Oh whoa, I had no idea.
Now Instagram is doing [insights] in conjunction with Facebook. So they will tell me my top posts… We have 35,283 impressions. 28,179 reached. And then 1,258 [for] engagement… But then the more interesting thing comes under followers. It tells me, you’ve got 46 percent women and 54 percent men. Age range: 18-24s—where I like them! And then men: oh I’m a little older on men! A little older guys, 25 to 34. And then for women—oh we’re going a little younger for women. We’re definitely slanted to the 18 to 24s, and a little less. I like that in men and women, I’m doing better in the 65+ [age range] than I am in the 55-64 range.
What have been some of your favorite fashion campaigns to come out in the past year or so? Or do you not really seek them out?
Not necessarily, unless I’m like, “It’s so sad that Daria’s not in Celine this season” or something along those lines. Or, “Mmm, I used to like the Marc Jacobs ads better.” You know? That kind of thing… But the seasons are so fast, they’re always coming up to get you, so I can’t say that I’m current on [them]. But I like…that [Hedi Slimane] reminded people what he was doing, like right before he stopped doing it, I think that was a smart, succinct—it was good branding. I mean I love that that was branding because he really dropped the mic.
“I think the restrictions are part of what makes it interesting.”
If you could create the parameters for Instagram—or the rules—what do you think they would be?
I think that there are some people that were probably meant to make rules and then there are some people who were meant not to. It’s like a predator-prey thing. [Laughs] I’m just not a rule-maker. I don’t necessarily think I would have done what I’ve done [on Instagram] if there were no restrictions, because I think the restrictions are part of what makes it interesting. Somewhat. And it’s a kink thing.
Stay tuned to Milk for more of fashion’s favorite dissidents.
Image via Instagram.