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Vice: When did you get into fashion? Telfar: I started designing clothes in high school—I basically used to make everything I wore.

by Annette Lamothe-Ramos
Apr 2 2008, 12:00am

Wall Street, House of Ninja, and Nude Burial

Vice: When did you get into fashion?

I started designing clothes in high school—I basically used to make everything I wore. Then my freshman year of college I started my first formal collection.

Weren’t you involved with the drag scene a while back?

Yes, I dressed the House of Ninja with Willy Ninja, who’s now passed away.

Do you still hang out with those people?

I go to balls occasionally, but they’re very different. They start at like 1 AM as opposed to 7 PM. It’s not the same houses, it’s not the same anything. It all changed so quickly.

What were some of the inspirations for your latest collection?

Most of it’s based on people I’d see when I went to school downtown. Mostly lawyers and Wall Street types. I took elements of their clothes and combined it with a more blue-collar style, especially in regard to the colors. I used that really bright orange that construction workers wear, the purple from FedEx uniforms, and then a bunch of other colors that look like concrete. Everything is supposed to resemble working society. It was my interpretation of 9 to 5—or what I would like it to look like. Mainly, though, it was what I would wear to work or how I would dress if I were a construction worker.

That makes sense. As weird as some of your stuff is it all seems really functional.

A lot of the pieces are just made for practical use. Some of the tops include turtlenecks that detach, and all my pieces have gloves built into them. It’s kind of like a uniform for working. I don’t make impractical, kitschy things. I feel like a lot of stores go for that these days. They don’t think about what you’re actually wearing, just what’s trendy—what’s hot.

You make jewelry, too. What’s it like?

This season’s pieces are earrings that look like nuts and bolts. It’s the whole mechanical theme again.

We wanted to ask you to draw your funeral outfit. So, what is it? What would you like to be wearing when you’re buried?

I want to be cremated.

Oh, OK then, what about for the viewing?

Just a choker. I wouldn’t wear clothes. I hardly wear clothes ever, except during winter in New York.   KATY RODRIGUEZ:
Resurrection, Roxy Music, and Overalls

Vice: Tell me a little bit about how you got started making fashion.

I’d been designing clothing off and on since I was a teenager, just things for me and my friends, you know. And now I own Resurrection with my partner Mark Haddaway. So it was just sort of a natural progression.

What’s the vibe for your most recent collection?

I was in LA for a long time and drew a lot of inspiration from the environment around me—in particular the architecture and also these flowers called birds-of-paradise. So that stuff plus old Roxy Music album covers became the themes for my fall presentation.

What’s your take on the LA fashion scene? Do you think you’d ever show a collection on the West Coast?

I think it’d be really great if people focused more on fashion in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, you can’t get the same quality of models as you can in New York. You always want the right kind of girls to get your message across, and the bigger ones are all on the East Coast. So I’d love to eventually do a show out here, but it’ll take a while before Los Angeles is able to catch up with New York.

If you could dress anyone in your clothing, who would it be?

Well, one person I actually already dress is PJ Harvey. She’s been wearing my clothing for years and she’s amazing.

Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?

[laughs] Everyone I’d like to collaborate with is kind of out of reach at this point and too high up on the ladder.

Hey, you never know!

That’s true. I guess I really love people like Vivienne Westwood, Prada, Hussein Chalayan—designers whose collection items can be worn years after they’ve been shown. It’s important to me that clothing is timeless. I want to one day hear stories about people hanging on to the items I make.

Do you wear your own designs?

I really only wear my husband’s clothing. I keep it pretty casual since I’m constantly working in my studio. I find myself in a lot of overalls and button-downs. So yeah, I have this closet filled with really great pieces but I don’t live in New York anymore, so I don’t have anywhere to wear that kind of shit. Going out in Vivienne Westwood on a regular day in LA doesn’t really work.

Proj Run, ESPN, and Russian Mythology

Vice: So how did you get started?

I grew up around the theater, so I learned a lot from the costume designers. Coming from the theater and dance world also gave me a good sense of the body and of movement. Then I did fashion photography for a while. Some of it was not so good, but it was fun. I learned about which fabrics are effective in a picture.

But you’ve had no formal training whatsoever?

Just a lot of hard work, I guess—a lot of hours spent draping on the dress form and learning how to pattern stuff on there.

You were a model at one point too though, right?

I was a fashion model for two and a half years when I first came to New York. What I would do to look like that again.

So up till this point you’d basically worked in every aspect of the fashion world except for design.

For a long time I was afraid of being creative, and I thought, “If I’m going to do this, I need to learn everything from the inside out.” So I modeled, and I worked in retail for a little while. After that, I went into performing and I started doing voice-over stuff and theater. Then my contract doing VO for Extreme Sports for ESPN expired and I literally took out my savings and had my first showing.

Where are your clothes made?

We do production in the States, and some of it in China. I prefer doing it here because you can look over the work and you can also make sure that people are not treated horribly. It does bring my prices up a little bit more, but I think it’s worth it.

What are you working on for spring?

It’s going to be so beautiful. It’s inspired by an old Russian myth. We’re going to put out a lower-priced line too. I also have a couple of television and media projects that are going to be happening this year. And we just launched handbags. I don’t get much sleep, but it’s fine.

I bet you didn’t imagine being here a couple of years ago.

After I was on Project Runway, people weren’t sure what to think about me, especially after I got cut, and that dress for which I was cut. It took a while to get past that, but once we did Fashion Week that season, I redeemed myself, and everything took off from there.

Thanks for talking to us. And PS: Let’s do this plug as clumsily as possible—you have a thing done by Bravo called Malan’s Show and it is on and it’s good.   CATHERINE FULMER:
Cobalt Blue, That Joy Division Movie, and Spacing Out In the Fabric Store

Vice: So, how long have you been doing this stuff?

Ever since I was six. On my last day of high school, I was super-stoked because I knew when I walked out of that place I was finally going to be getting into fashion.

And how did you go about it?

I went to school in LA for nine months, and then I came to New York to go to FIT. I started crafting my pieces by myself and interned at different places, like V magazine and Darryl K. Then I dropped out of school and had a show in 2002 with Matt Damhave, after he did Imitation of Christ. He was like my mentor.

Damhave as a mentor. Cute. What kind of girl do you design for?

This sounds so cliché, but my friends. Pretty, elegant, timeless pieces.

Well, it’s true so it doesn’t matter if it’s a cliché. What was the inspiration for your most recent collection?

I’d just seen Control, so Anton Corbjin, Joy Division, and Ian Curtis.

Are movies typically a big part of your clothing?

Well, I didn’t really base my 2002 show around Annie Hall, but it led to my first cover of Women’s Wear Daily and they brought up that movie, which is rad, because I love it.

Where else do you draw inspiration from?

Two collections ago it was Spanish flamenco. I used a lot of cobalt blue and a lot of graphic prints. But often I’ll just go to the fabric stores with my iPod on and zone out and things will just start appearing in my head.

Do you think the fashion industry in New York right now is good, or is it gross?

I don’t really think about it that much anymore. I did when I first started. I just wish I had more money being a fashion designer in New York. And I don’t really love that many designers here, but I love Ben Cho. He’s great.

Would you ever want to collaborate with him or anyone else?

Of course. Balmain is great too. I was looking through his last collection the other night and it’s stunning. Helmut Lang too, obviously.

What are you working on for spring?

It’s too far ahead but I know that I’m thinking a lot of white, and I’m hoping I get to travel somewhere out of downtown New York City.