Patrick Church Can't Be Put In a Box

Caught in a deeply passionate love affair with love itself, designer Patrick Church sources the inspiration for his distinctive work from romanticism. Occasionally trading his rose-colored glasses for the latest season’s Gucci goggles, Church has also commenced a pursuit in fashion design—introducing his oil paints and brushes to leather jackets and slip dresses. While discovering new frontiers in the manifestations of his self-expression, Church has found himself facing the inconveniences of convenience, standing disoriented in a middle ground: a blurred line which begs the distinction between ‘artist,’ and ‘designer’. These labels, meant to ease the digestion of information, now only serve as threats to the organic progression of Church’s work. Voila—a thorn in his bed of red roses.

Though the pressure for Church to commit to a singular style of expression prove challenging indeed, he is no stranger to adversity. In fact, he welcomes it, advising, “Unless you challenge yourself or push yourself to do something outside of your comfort zone, you don’t really progress.” Upon embracing his own wise words, Church has found himself forging a new path in which his two worlds of passion coalesce into the single fantasy. That is where we find Patrick Church now: most recently, having masterfully demonstrated said synthesis of expression in a performance piece that doubled as fashion presentation aptly deemed, “Pour Myself Over You”. The show was displayed at Opening Ceremony in New York, inviting a live audience to watch the artist paint onto a garment, while a singer belted hefty opera chords into the background.

Church is generous in the manner that he invites the public to discover his world, ask questions about it and also learn from it. We caught up with the charming talent who disclosed to us the glamorous childhood memories that inform his style today and what future endeavors to expect from him in the coming months, among other things. 

Who is Patrick Church?

I consider myself to be an artist through and through, I haven’t really thought of myself as a designer up until now, recently I’ve had to a little bit. It’s been a new challenge for me. I don’t see myself working like a typical fashion designer; I don’t think that’s how it’s going to pan out for me. My world is bridging the boundaries between art and fashion. I could go down the route now of turning it into a fashion brand and commercializing it, but I really don’t think that’s for me. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching, and my husband has been helping me a lot with it too, and I’m really inspired by him as well. The next step for me is I will be doing an art show and I’ll maybe be taking prints from the show and incorporating them into my clothing somehow, maybe designing three different fabrics and having clothes made from the fabric—more so as an atelier. Just a more interesting way of doing it, rather than saying, ‘We have a collection, and we sell it here, here and here.’ Things get very boring very quickly—I get very bored very quickly. I always want to pursue something new.

Yeah and you’ve already touched upon something I wanted to talk about, because your clothes—they’re not conventional—

So I made my first collection in September, and I really didn’t think about it while I was making it. I had always painted before, but then I was just like, ‘Let’s do everything I’ve ever wanted to do within these few months and just explore and not think too much. The final outcome was really nice, and mainly I sourced vintage pieces and painted directly onto them. Opening Ceremony picked that up, and when I launched it I had really great reception from it, because it had been in my head for so long and I was just bored of it, so it was nice to have other people see it and get that feedback from them. I just launched my new collection and I have worked with a garment maker to make a few things—so it’s a mixture of some things handmade in New York, and I also hand painted some fabrics as large canvases, then using panels from that to construct the garments which I think is so nice because each one is similar, but not the same and it’s almost like couture. It’s really special. It was different for me to do, and I think the signature thing for me to do now is a hand painted leather jacket or something, so even when I’m painting, feeling like an artist, I will paint onto leather because it’s such a tactile surface. I mean I’ve also done things on really nice vintage slip gowns, so it’s all really exciting.

I don’t see myself working like a typical fashion designer; I don’t think that’s how it’s going to pan out for me. My world is bridging the boundaries between art and fashion.

You were also talking about distinguishing between fashion and art, which I think is so… complicated, because in so many instances fashion is art, but then there are obviously matters in which it’s important for them to be distinct. In what matters would you make that distinction? Or is it hard to say as an artist who is kind of on the cusp of designer?

It’s such a blurred line now, especially for me because before, when I wasn’t making these clothes, I was adamant about being solely an artist, but now my mind works as a designer sometimes—thinking about campaigns, look books, line sheets, and it’s really taking away the organic process of production for me. I fell in love with painting, and that as a medium is just everything I’m about. It’s so romantic. It is such a cathartic exercise for me to do. It’s just an extension of myself whenever I paint or draw. I know that I need to take away a lot of things right now and just focus on painting, though I still want to pursue fashion, but I’m just trying to work it all out. I think I can do both, and I think I’m actually creative without even thinking—it is art and fashion and it’s a new avenue that I should keep exploring. It doesn’t need to be so defined. Am I an artist? Am I a fashion designer? I think I’m both and I think that’s okay.

Yeah, and that’s the main issue with labels, because obviously they exist for us to be able to process information and understand things, but then they turn into categorical boxes that get complicated once something falls in between.

I know the minute that I start painting again, I’ll want to start drawing on clothes, so maybe I am doing both and that’s alright. It all happens organically, it has all just happened and I can’t predict what will happen in the future.

How long have you been doing art for?

Since I was in school. I’ve always made things since I as a child, and I’ve always been expressive and creative, and I’ve always known who I was—or I should say I thought I knew who I was as a person… But I’ve always never been afraid to experiment and create and use my hands to make things. I really fell in love with painting when I was 14 or 15 in school, when my teacher was so supportive and encouraging of me. It just stuck with me. It’s like the child that I’ll never have, it’s a compulsion from within me and I have to make work, otherwise I feel physically unwell. Something is not right if I’m not doing it.

Am I an artist? Am I a fashion designer? I think I’m both and I think that’s okay.

Yeah, you mention that it’s an extension of yourself and that makes sense in the way that it’s so expressive—literally whatever you’re feeling, you are manifesting into art. Where would you say that you source most of this inspiration?

I remember growing up, especially as a young gay boy, my mother and my auntie were so glamorous and I just remember watching them get ready. I have this one vision of watching my auntie walking down the stairs of her amazing house, wearing leopard-print silk Dolce & Gabbana trousers with a cigarette in her hand, and I swear I could have cried, it was so glamorous. My mother used to wear the most hilarious Versace matching clothes, and I think I get a lot of inspiration the more I think about it now, and really try to think about it, my inspiration is definitely from people. I think the biggest inspiration for me is confidence. Confident people. Powerful people. People who know they’re powerful. People who aren’t always right, but can argue their way into being right. You know? I also like the juxtaposition of being super vulnerable, and a lot of my work is the contradiction of it all. I think that behind those strong, confident people are sensitive souls. I personally am a sensitive soul and the biggest inspiration in my life is love. I think that my work is fueled by love. I am very much in love. My husband really is—and the love we share—such a huge catalyst for my work. It fuels everything, you know? My work is just all about love.

Can I ask how you guys met?

We met on Instagram, then we met in person for the first time in Italy. We were married three months later—I just knew from the minute I was with him that I wanted to marry him. He’s just so incredible. I don’t really respect that many people’s opinions, or I don’t listen a lot—I’m usually very in my own head, but with him, he’s so clever and has so many references and is so well-read, and I just feel like he’s my other half. He embodies the other parts that compliment me and we work together so well. It’s such a blessing.

We already sort of touched upon it earlier, but like I said you have great style—

Do you think? I think I have hideous style! I think I look ridiculous, but I like it! I like to look crazy, I like to cause a reaction. For example, with my collection—I just wanted to have fun with it. I don’t want it to be so serious. For me, it’s not so serious and with my personal style, I’m really expressive, I like to cause a reaction and I also like to feel silly sometimes and if I’m feeling sad—I like to have fun. I love color!
Have you always been super expressive with your way of dress?

Yeah, completely! I’ve always been allowed to wear whatever I’ve wanted to wear. More so recently, I’ve really stepped it up a notch. I love wearing hilarious clothes. I just don’t take it too seriously. I think it’s quite funny, because half of the time I laugh at myself when I look in the mirror. I just think it’s so funny, I can’t wait to be completely extra.

Could you describe your style in a word?

Eurotrash. I love glamour, but I’m also really inspired by trashy people. I love either really great, or really bad—just extremes.

Yeah, and I feel like that’s informed by your provocation for reactions.

For me, when I’m making this work, people will say, ‘Oh, your style is so this or so that,’ but I honestly don’t think about it. I swear to you, I don’t consider it. To me, it’s just completely natural. It’s just a British thing as well.

Considering it is fairly eccentric, have you encountered any criticism or hate?

I used to get really bullied from a young age, because I was always this extravagant and I just got picked on, but as I got older, I’ve noticed that people’s attitudes are changing and the world is a little bit more accepting. I used to dress pretty flamboyant when I was younger, and I would get stick for it, but my best friend and I sort of helped each other survive through that moment in time, we were from a small town in England and just stuck together. We fought for each other. But yeah, people are going to say something if you’re wearing something a bit different. People react, you know? In New York, though, people are really receptive to it and they’re actually very complementary. I think I’ve maybe experienced one piece of abuse here, and people are usually very interested, I think they’re just fascinated. It’s nice to have someone have their eyes open to something in a different way.

Do you feel like, with that said, there still lacks a space or spaces in which people can express freely? New York is a very privileged place to express yourself, but at the same time, generally, I think social media has kind of filled that void. What do you think?

I feel like people get a lot of validation online, and I think a lot of people get comfort from Instagram, or knowing there are other people like them. I think it’s a good thing, but I don’t know… I don’t really go out here a lot, but I always feel okay walking around. I can’t speak for everyone else. I think here, people are really interested in creativity and they genuinely are interested. I love that about this city. I think if you have an idea here and you really work hard, it can happen. It’s taken me a long time to get where I am now and I’m nowhere, I’m nothing, I’m not really doing anything. I’m not! I just feel like with my work, there’s so much more to explore and I’m starting to see that I can really make a difference. I don’t know, I just feel like I have so much more to say.

I think I have hideous style! I think I look ridiculous, but I like it! I like to look crazy, I like to cause a reaction.

So do you feel like art and fashion share an inherent responsibility or duty?

It’s so weird that you say that, because the last maybe three months, I’ve felt such a sense of responsibility to do better and to be better. I’ve never had that feeling before that I want for myself to keep progressing and evolving and do better. I don’t want to put something out that I’ve done before. I want to challenge myself. It’s a real challenge of self-discovery doing something like this as well.

Yeah, totally and so it clearly serves a purpose for yourself, but do you feel like then for the public it is doing something?

I feel like—especially with my last collection, having boys in dresses and gender fluidity—challenging people’s perceptions on matters like that is such an important thing. I want people who wear my stuff to feel empowered and feel like they can express themselves. It’s not defined by categories, I can’t imagine even having that. I didn’t even think about that when I made these things. I was just like, ‘Yeah, I want the boy in the dress,’ it wasn’t deliberate or planned. I think of myself as quite fluid in the way I think and I’m not scared of dressing outside the box. Loads of clothes I wear are women’s clothes—I don’t even like saying women’s clothes. I wish we didn’t have labels. When it comes to my line, if people ask, I just say it’s unisex.

So obviously your art and your work is super personal, but for your show at Opening Ceremony, you were literally painting in front of a live audience in a public space. What was it like for you to be sharing such a personal process publicly?

It was so terrifying…

I would shit myself…

I was shitting myself… In my white little underwear. Honestly, I’ve been going through such a journey within my work and there are a few things I’ve been finding out about myself, so I really just wanted to challenge myself with that. I am quite a shy person, and I could feel my heart beating while I was doing it, but half way through, I just felt this euphoric moment and I felt so free. This sense of confidence overcame me and I was like, ‘I’ve got this.’ It was just so interesting to see that barrier in my mind and cross it, breaking free from fear, because so much of my life has been built on fear. To break through that in front of loads of people in such a public space was so cool. Unless you challenge yourself or push yourself to do something outside of your comfort zone, you don’t really progress. I really wanted to do it to be proud of myself and I did it and it was great. Afterwards though, I did feel very vulnerable of course.

The opera singer in the background was also insane. The piece was called, “Pour Myself Over You,” and the idea behind that performance was I just wanted it to be like I was painting in my bedroom listening to music, because when I make work, I listen to the same music again and again and again and again—it’s like a trance. So I’ve been listening to a lot of opera, and I was like let’s put an opera singer in this room, and I was asked if I was going to do a show or presentation, and I wanted it to just be really simple and I think that sometimes the simplest ideas work the best. I just remember that when she started singing, all the hairs on my body pricked up, and the way I was painting was coinciding with her voice and the words. It really did just flow so perfectly and it was so moving.

Did you have an idea of what you were painting or was it all really on the spot?

So I had the dress made for the event, then I painted the faces on the silk because everyone was watching me, so I wanted the faces to watch them, you know? Each one was similar, but slightly different. I didn’t want to concentrate on what I was painting too much. I was going to be a big design on it, but then I’d be thinking too much about it going wrong, and I didn’t want to throw myself off.

How did the Opening Ceremony opportunity come up in the first place?

One of my good friends wore a pair of the trousers and someone saw it and it just kind of happened. It was really amazing, I feel so lucky.

The way your whole design career really came up was serendipitous in general, right? You wore a jacket to a DJ set and a boutique owner thought it was cute?

Yeah, this was years ago. I mean, I never took it that seriously, I would usually just paint a lot on canvases, then I painted on a jacket because I could never find anything that I wanted to wear. So I painted it and someone saw it when I was DJing and they took it and it sold the next day. I did a few more, and they kept selling. It’s really just been such an organic process. I mean, at this level now, I just sort of went back to painting there and left the clothing thing for a while, but then I decided that I was going to do this and it was now or never.

How do you describe your designs?

I just want things to be fun! I never see anything when I go out and think, ‘Oh my god! I want to buy it!’ I love Gucci, because it’s kind of silly—not silly—playful. I want my work to be playful. I want it to just feel like you’re having a good time, because the world is so miserable sometimes, and it is a form of escapism and fantasy. I’ve created this world that’s in my head, because a lot of these designs I’ve had in my head, I don’t plan it. I just like how it’s manifested.

I want it to just feel like you’re having a good time, because the world is so miserable sometimes, and it is a form of escapism and fantasy.

Who would you love to collaborate with?

I’d love to work with Gucci… There are loads of other people I’d love to work with, like a lot of artists. I love Tracey Emin. I’m so open to discovering new people, every day I find people to draw inspiration from. There’s this person who I think is the most talented photographer in the city, her name is Chelsea Mitchell, and she has done my campaigns and we do a lot of photography together. She just knows what’s on my mind and sometimes you can’t do everything yourself. Sometimes you have to get little bits of other people’s expertise to build something.

What else is coming up for you?

I’m also doing a small pop up shop in April with my painted underwear, because they’re one of my best-selling items and they’re so fun. It’s just a good thing, because it’s not too expensive, anybody can wear it, and underwear is a bit of a sexy thing—only you know you’re wearing it, it’s intimate. The way I’m doing it though is an art installation. I’m going to be sleeping in a bed in the middle of the shop, and the underwear is going to be all around the bed. It’s fusing fashion and art still. Doing all these things, maybe I’m not going to become a massive commercial brand, but I can keep pursuing these small things that eventually manifest themselves into a bigger whole. It’s only going to be a three day event on Broadway, so you’ll be able to see me in the window at night asleep, like a piece of performance art.

Images courtesy of Emily Lipson

Stay tuned to Milk for more emerging designers.

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