Photos by Bennet Perez
James Flemons is an old-school fashion cat who runs a one-man factory out of his duplex in Mid-City, Los Angeles where you can find him cranking out the entire production of his line with two sewing machines and limitless hustle. His tag line, “More genuine than Ginuwine,” describes his personal style as well as the values and standards he puts forth in the creation of his clothing line, Phlemuns.
You see, Flemons comes from the “boughetto” era of Fubu, Rocawear, Air Force, white Pro Club T-shirts, Phat Farm and Akademic jeans—the clothes that filled the halls of his high school. Since then, his style has evolved from a "thuggish" adolescence to a mash-up of different style genres and eras of fashion. (All of which I’ve personally witnessed, as his high school classmate and friend for over a decade now.) And with “hood”-themed parties happening nightly and becoming every other millennial's overall daily vibe, Flemons is a rare breed.
I met James at the HMS Bounty, an old pirate bar in Koreatown known for its seriously cheap drinks. Flemons was wearing his black boots, fade- black "hand-me-down" Acne jeans, a white, three-button, short-sleeved, school-uniform shirt, and his vintage, wool-lined, blue denim Levi’s jacket. He’s dressed how he carries himself: relaxed, cool, and with a keen attention to detail and nuances. And since we’ve known each other for so long, getting buzzed at a run-down pirate bar was the perfect environment to set our friendship aside.
VICE: Where are you from?
James Flemons: I was born and raised in Central Los Angeles, the real LA.
How did you get into fashion?
When I was a young kid I had really bad asthma, so I picked up drawing and I started to get really good at it. Then, one year, my older sister got this Barbie stencil kit thing, and I would just use the body and draw my own clothes. That’s how I got into designing women’s wear.
How long have you been creating and sketching clothes?
Growing up, everyone knew me in class as the boy who designed, because I would always have my sketchbook with me. I’ve been sketching designs since before I could remember. I made my first garment in 2009 and have been actively making clothes for my collection since January of 2012.
Tell me about your style influences today?
Right now I’m into mixing 60s and 70s details and silhouettes while melding hip-hop accents. I love the juxtaposition of opposite worlds coming together within style. I’m really influenced by utilitarian garments like classic work uniforms, sports jerseys, or religious attire. I’m inspired by clothing intended for a purpose or specific reason while incorporating a modern angle.
How did you cultivate this personal style?
I always knew I wanted to look like an individual and not conform to what other people dress like. There was a brief moment in high school when I felt like I had to dress “thuggish” just to fit in and get by. Growing up, I listened to a lot of Outkast, André 3000, Missy Elliot, and NERD. I came to the realization that anyone should be able to express themselves however they feel, no matter what race they are. For example, I’m not "white-washed" if I wear a silk cowboy shirt with skinny jeans. In high school I would wear an Enyce jumpsuit or some other head-to-toe fit. Back then you couldn’t mix the brands. It was that hood mentality.
What are you working on now?
Rigt now I am working on the second half of my 2014 fall collection as well as some collaborations with friends and musicians.
What musicians have you worked with so far?
Things really took a turn for me when I started doing custom pieces. My big break was when my pieces were used in Miley Cyrus’s album artwork and her performance on Jimmy Kimmel. I’ve made custom garments for Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Rita Ora, actress Jenna Malone, and old-time friend Brooke Candy. There are other various musicians that have been seen in Phlemuns recently like Kelela.
Tell me about your inspiration for this new collection.
My inspiration for this spring all started with literal sportswear. Not the fashion category of sportswear clothing, but actual athletic sportswear. Baseball jerseys, hockey jerseys, basketball jerseys, using various fashion fabrics, tweaking those styles while translating them differently into fashionable pieces. All of which creates a type of stylistic juxtaposition. Like creating a hockey jersey out of linen or turning a baseball jersey into a onesie. By adding those subtle changes and twists as a different element, is very much who I am. All different kinds of sports jerseys became my inspiration really. And ways to translate your clothing. I want Phlemuns to show versatility that can transition between daytime and nighttime clothing. Sports uniforms have as timelessness to them, which goes into a lot of what I stand for.
Do you have a particular process when it comes to designing new pieces?
A lot of my designs, style, and aesthetic come from trial and error and not knowing how to do something. I’m learning to appreciate this now because I’m not confined to the structural teachings on how to make clothes the right or wrong way. I like to test things out, and if something doesn’t work or I don’t know how to do something specific, that adds elevation to my creativity. I frequent Goodwill and see racks of ill-fitting clothes and take them home and repurpose them. With the denim pieces I create, I buy tons of fat-man jeans and cut them up and cut patterns out of one leg panel. So the piecing and panelling comes from not having yards of fabric to cut from. That is a lot of where my aesthetic comes from, testing different things and working around what I don’t know how to do, but at the same time teaching myself new elements.
How would you describe your collection?
I try to make clothes that aren’t particular to one type of person. Especially because I have such an eclectic style. One day I’m really hip hop influenced, the next day I am western- or rock-and-roll-influenced, and the day after I’ll dress super punk. I try to portray that in the clothes I create so that any type of style of person will find their own niche within my line. I never want it to look too fashion, or too street wear, or too earthy granola. I love mixing these styles so that all types of people would be interested in wearing my stuff.
So would you say your pieces are mostly Unisex?
I am really influenced by women's clothing. It has always been in my life because I grew up with older two sisters. I am in touch with my feminine side, and I appreciate women's clothing so much so that its become an inspirational tool for me: to see how I can transform feminine cuts more masculine and then translate it back to a more feminine piece. It’s this weird back-and-forth that my brain loops between masculinity and femininity and that is how I’ve come to make things unisex.
What are your thoughts about today’s fashion industry?
I’m opposed to the structure of the fashion industry. It’s not how it used to be. Its turned into a total mockery. It’s on some other shit now that isn’t genuine anymore. It used to be more about people doing what they loved and shit that they believed in.Yeah, it's for the money, but now they produce for the quick dollar or for the opportunity. I’m old-fashioned. I want to present my work to people who care, instead of only showing my line for popularity and bragging rights. It doesn’t seem like it's about the clothes and the artistry of making clothes anymore. Now there’s the sense of being seen or what is the hottest trendy thing now. Everything is now, now, now. Also, due to technology, we are so wrapped up in the next thing, what’s hot, what’s new, what’s next, what’s this, what’s that? Its not really that necessary. I like to take a step back and slow things down. I want to take a different approach to fashion. My goal is to create pieces that change peoples mindset of how they look at clothes and fashion as a whole. I want to construct pieces people genuinely want because they truly dig it, want to keep it and wear it forever. Keeping fashion timeless and personal because you really like that shit! Not because it’s what’s now and you want the reaction of everyone else liking that shit!
What trend would you kill tomorrow?
I have always hated the Comme des Fuck Down shit. And Compton shit because I used to live in Compton and bet the majority of people who wear it have never ever been there before. And with the Comme des Fuck Down shit, I bet those people don’t even know who Commes des Garçons is. I’m down for it if you knew where it originated from and maybe even own something from Comme des Garçons, but aside from that its just a dick-rider kind of thing. Where you see something you think it's cool, you buy it, you hop on it, you sport it, when you really don’t know where it originates from or that it actually means something to someone.
Whats Next for Phlemuns?
I've come to the realization that it's time to get legit. At first I was making clothes only for me to wear. And now there is a demand. So its time to get my shit lined up (with the fades on the side).
For more Flemons, visit his website.