Back in 2012, Harlem-based designer Rio Uribe was still just toying with fashion. Up until that point, he'd had fun making prom dresses for the girls at his high school and rocking some of his own unique creations, but he never imagined he'd rise so quickly to become the force behind a nationally recognized brand that wins prestigious industry awards and presents at fashion week.
In those days, Uribe would trek down to shop from the vendors along 125th street to buy traditional African kufis and baseball caps. When he'd get home, he'd create a whole new hat by taking the brim off of the baseball cap and putting it on to the kufi. He started selling these one-of-a-kind hats to hip New Yorkers and his scenester friends, who lit up social media with his hot accessories. It didn't take long before his new design caught the eyes of both DKNY and the costumers behind The Hunger Games series. After successfully creating pieces that were featured in the spring/summer 2013 DKNY runway show and making custom visor hats and accessories for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay films, Uribe had the momentum to finally launch his own brand: Gypsy Sport.
With only five collections under its belt, the brand has managed to garner a lot of acclaim. By mixing sportswear with non-Western influences and utilizing fabrics usually designated for women, the label is helping redefine menswear. Gypsy Sport garments feature soft, luxurious fabrics like silk, tulle, and lace. They also boast unconventional proportions, to challenge the more conservative shapes that are commonly found in menswear. Uribe has even sent guys down the runway in crop tops and shirts so long that they could double as dresses.
At Gypsy Sport's spring/summer 2015 menswear presentation—staged guerrilla-style in Washington Square Park—male models strutted around the park's central fountain in dresses and crop tops they styled themselves. Uribe also had female models walk throughout the park in oversized basketball shorts and jewelry made from plastic MTA subway cards. The show, which was one of the more exciting of last season, helped cement Uribe's genderless design philosophy.
Uribe's hard work and relentless creativity is really starting to pay off. He recently nabbed the CFDA's emerging designer award. And today, he will be presenting his latest ready-to-wear collection at Skylight Clarkson Square in Tribeca at the inaugural New York Fashion Week: Men's. I caught up with Uribe to talk about how he got into fashion, the influences behind his upcoming collection, which is inspired by the Lord of the Flies, and his predictions for the future of men's fashion.
VICE: How did you start designing?
Rio Uribe: I started with baseball hats that I called "evening hats" because they were something you could wear out at night that didn't have a logo or brand name on it. I was inspired by the way traditional cultures have costumes that men wear and a lot of those outfits are finished off with a particular kind of hat. I was living in Harlem at the time and I noticed that every street vendor sold kufis and baseball caps. So I started taking the brims off the baseball hats and putting them on the kufis.
Is your logo, which represents a place called "Haturn," come from your beginnings as a hat designer?
We call this place "Haturn" because it looks like Saturn. It's two hats balancing on each other. Haturn is the world we are creating by balancing urban aesthetics with worldly aesthetics. It's a balance of strong fabrics with light fabrics. It's a mesh up of opposites and everyone is welcome.
What did you want to achieve with Gypsy Sport that you didn't see out there already?
Ultimately, I'm inspired by adversity and diversity. Those are two things I grew up with in every aspect of my life. So I try to reinterpret those themes in the clothing. By mixing things that are equal and opposite. We did a collection that mixed religious references with sacrilegious references. It's that kind of thing.
How did the theme of diversity run through your spring/summer 2015 show that was staged in Washington Square Park?
Diversity came through in the casting and in the clothing. We often take shapes from other regions of the world. We have taken a Sari and figured out how to turn it into basketball shorts. Or we have taken a sarong and tried to pull the neckline so it's a full T-shirt.
Another big thing in fashion is this push to have more diverse models and sometimes that falls flat because brands have their one season of casting all black models and the real issues that a lack of diversity signal aren't ever addressed. But Gypsy Sport seems to have an authentic multicultural family vibe every season. How do you go about casting your shows?
Casting is one of my favorite things to do. What gives us that kind of real vibe is I use actual friends and we do street casting mixed with sports casting and [traditional] model casting. We would advertise on Instagram that we are holding a casting and I have friends who spot people on the street and they would say, "This guy has to be in your show." Also we use some athletes from different sports centers that send their players our way. I like the clothes to be in an active setting because Gypsy Sport at its core is a sports label.
You also let the models pick what they want to wear.
I like to see what they want to wear—what makes them feel comfortable. There isn't a need to really sell the clothes on the model if they are gravitating towards something naturally. We've had guys come into casting and ask to try on dresses, so I think it's something inside people who want to shine and want to stand out that make them—regardless of gender—gravitate toward certain styles.
It seems like you are beyond traditional gender boundaries but the traditional fashion world who have embraced you is somewhat conservative when it comes to menswear. Have there been moments where you gotten push back?
My interest in fashion is as genuine as can be. A few weeks ago I had a meeting at a American fashion magazine based on gender, and I don't think I was who they were expecting to come into the office. I've gone places to drop off samples and I've been sent to the freight elevator or the messengers' entrance because I'm a Latino male and kind of nondescript and people have been surprised that I'm the designer of Gypsy Sport.
Do they ever challenge the aesthetic of Gypsy Sport as a menswear brand?
Editors have had a hard time trying to categorize the brand. One question I get a lot is, "Is Gypsy Sport actually menswear?" I think it's hard for any publication that's based on a gender aesthetic to see what we are doing. I started with making hats because it's a genderless accessory.
For this collection what were your inspirations?
For spring/summer 2016, I was mostly inspired by mixing women's wear and men's wear fabrics. It's a lot of silk that's traditionally used for men's business ties and I work them into tee shirts and Bermuda shorts. I finished everything off with either raw or unbleached denim.
Any particular theme you used throughout the collection?
If there was a theme it would be camping. Lord of the Flies inspired me. It's a movie about the great outdoors, it's kind savage and I brought that into this collection because I used a lot of raffia and all the silk has a raw edge and there are some cowrie shells in the mix.
You don't see a lot of designers who play with feminine motifs especially in American men's fashion. Why did you decide to bring those elements into your line?
I don't see how feminine something is until people point it out to me. I've had friends say this is so masculine for your designs and I didn't notice that until they commented. When I started designing, I only had a women's bust so I used a lot of draping and that is inherently read as a feminine characteristic. So putting draping into menswear pushes Western clothes a little bit, but it's not my intention to make something feminine or masculine.
It seems like a critique of masculinity.
For me, it's about the increasing feminization of the world. People are becoming in-tune with themselves and that is seen as feminine. But with that you get confidence and security and maybe that has made men want to wear dresses. Growing up for me I did always liked women's clothes better than men's clothes. I always thought, God, girls get all the best shit. Now, I get to use some of those elements in what I do.
Do you think that's the future of American menswear?
Guys have been wearing feminine clothes for ages. But in Western society, it's somehow seen as a rebellious. But men in other parts of the world get to wear dresses, or long tunics. I would love to see men wearing liberate body-conscious stuff. Flowing, draping clothes can be menswear, too. But I really want people to appreciate my clothing for the design, and not because it is men's or womenswear.
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