Underground’s Digital Natives…
Updated: Jul 5, 2019
Patrick Michael Hughes Men's Fashion Editor
(Jacket and Trousers by Brian Swift, Leather studded collar by Roberto Calasanz)
The underground is in fashion again and it’s not what you think. There is a new digital generation of activist well-educated performative fashion artists celebrating individuality and the future.
The sensory overload of the nineties nightclub may not spring to mind as fertile ground for futuristic themed dressing but in fact it was and its now seeing a style revival. The infamous New York night was Wednesday’s ‘Disco 2000’ at the Peter Gatien’s Limelight Nightclub during the early and mid nineties. The party was hosted by then Club Kid leader, party promoter, now freed felon Michael Alig.
The party night was essentially promoted as a ‘style summit’ a vibrant electronic techno fashion weekly for creatives beyond the mainstream. Future fashion themes dominated from week to week. The attire of arrival was paramount; it was often a vivid display of metallic shine to neon glowing costume, ‘Divine like’ drag to raunchy fashion experimentation confronting sexuality and gender. As the evening progressed and the techno environment grew more Gothic to hedonistic, some zealous club attendees would change their look to echo the venue’s growing darkness. There was a shadowy sexual character to Limelight’s Disco 2000 beyond the mixing of all identities and fashion visions in a fallen Episcopalian Church. The nineties nightclub techno future was dark and cavernous however; in unexpected moments it revealed freestyle statement glamour.
(Knit Swarovski top by Brian Swift, Leather shorts Charlie By Michael Zink, Wrap wrist cuff and chain by Roberto Calasanz)
Much of what would have been seen as shocking has long since been assimilated into mainstream twenty-first century popular culture and fashion thinking. The dissemination of nightclub techno colors is part of the packaging of the Iphone Xs and identity pronouns are a part of the workforce communication. The in your face premise of ‘Camp’ is seen on Emmy award winning reality TV competitions and is the forthcoming Costume Institute’s MET Ball theme for Spring 2019. Long before there were reality stars and the selfie the world of Limelight’s Disco 2000 lived for visibility on party nights the NYC Police were on hand to control the crowd of tourist blocking traffic in the street outside of the venue to watch what was the oddity of urban life.
The underground’s new generation of performing personalities are entrepreneurial digital natives recognized in fashion’s most recent creative wave.
At present showmanship is often tempered with a stronger artistic reference and fashion history. In London the work of Central Saint Martins MA graduate Charles Jeffery’s underground London party and fashion label LOVERBOY was the 2017 winner for British Emerging Talent Prize and a nomination for the prestigious LVMH Prize. His theatrical fashion shows are hard to get into even with an invitation, he has an online following 82.4 thousand. LOVERBOY is froth English history and individualism from the street, tempered with performing escapism and LGBTQ issues. His Spring 2019 collection was themed around future scientific possibilities of body modification.
(Racoon Fur hat Marc Jacobs, Beast Shorts by Brian Swift, leather elbow length arm wrap by Robert Calasanz)
Within the subculture of themed dressing there is immigrant experience, kink and nightlife. Private Policy a brand founded by Chinese designers who trained in New York at Parsons School of Design. Haoran Li and Siying Qu have shown collections in New York and most recently London Fashion Week Men’s Spring 2019. Their menswear collection with women’s was sponsored by GQ China. The collection looked to the young Asian student experience of studying abroad and finding new footing in western undergrounds, collectives and activist communities. Their London runway debut with nightclub lighting featured punk styling with clothing and accessories highlighting BDSM lifestyle. Hip-hop was also mixed with traditional Chinese details.
(Foiled drop crotch trousers by Brian Swift, made to order shoulder harness by Roberto Calasanz)
A native New Yorker and men's designer Brian Swift is keeping the independence of underground alive in his ‘garish techno –optimistic universe’ which he describes as glamorous with unforgivable color’
His goal is to make LGBTQ nightlife clothing everyday clothing. Swift claims his home as the Internet and that he can often be found taking selfies. His selfie ‘Unnatural Asymmetry’ was exhibited in the Jadite Galleries in New York, and the In the Museum of Contemporary Arts San Diego 25 under 25 Exhibition.
Swift’s connection with music and fashion can be seen with his collaborations with Kerin Rose Gold for Missy Elliott’s 2015 WTF (Where Are They From) the mirror ball, Disco Tracksuit was his design execution. He has also applied thousands of Swarovski Crystals to a tuxedo for Alex Baldwin for #Baldwinbowl Amazon Echo commercial. His undergraduate days at Parsons School of Design were without a doubt busy with commissions and collections. Swarovski sponsored his graduation collection, which caught the eye of MILK Group in New York and Los Angeles.
(Foil long trucker jacket by Brian Swift, Leather cage shirt by Roberto Calasanz)
Swift’s men’s collection and fauvist photography also caught IRK’s eye and we wanted to see what is happening in his world
IRK: Have you taken any great selfies lately?
There’s been a few recent selfies I’m particularly proud of! one in an elevator one on an escalator
IRK: ‘Club land’ future themed clothing is very specific direction for a designer; beyond the visual eye candy what is your affinity?
I find menswear in its present form extremely restrictive. People feel more comfortable expressing themselves in the context of “going out,” so I think placing my work in the context of nightlife makes it more approachable for people. As for the future, I love researching emerging technologies and using them as a springboard for my fashion design work. In my lifetime, I’ve watched LGBT rights activists use the power of the Internet to spread and amplify their work with tremendous success. I hope to celebrate the progress they’ve shaped with my expressive brand of menswear.
IRK: What is your experience with the underground nightlife scene in New York? What do you think is different about the current generation’s future themed dressing?
I find the current underground scene in New York exciting and stressful in equal parts. The use of social media as a promotional tool for a lot of events means there’s always too much to do, but that’s also the beauty of it. To a degree, this makes it less “underground” in the traditional sense as anybody can do a search and find events, but I think the accessibility this creates is worth the trade-off.
I think the current generation’s dress practice is fast. It’s fast because I’ve seen joke images from fashion meme accounts go from Instagram to an IRL look in the course of a day. I think its also extremely well informed and self-referential, as the current generation can research, then disseminate specific trends through their social media accounts.
IRK: Do you believe the future is sexy?
I’m not sure I can support a singular vision of what the future may look like, as I believe the future is going to be about individuality. I think we’ll see new several new ways of defining beauty, from customization (automated customization) to new forms of body augmentation or even body-machine interfaces. I’m really excited to see what communications technology is going to follow the Smartphone…
IRK: What can we look forward to in your menswear?
I’m playing with a few new categories right now! Garments that excite me, but I haven’t had the time to experiment enough with in the past. Without saying too much, I’d like to work in a lot of niches
IRK’s Digital Men’s Fashion Feature for F/W 2018-2019, drew upon the fast capture and glimpses of fashion in a nightlife venue photographs in the moment. IRK's model for this feature is Eric Chong who we spotted at New York Fashion Week Men, he is also has been working in nightlife as a DJ spinning large venue formats with old school vinyl. All leather handmade accessories are by Roberto Calasanz.
Photography & Styling: Patrick Michael Hughes Men’s Fashion Editor
Model: Eric Chong @by9thplanet- Mother Agent Jahn Hall @jahnhall
Clothing by Brian Swift @alacritous
Accessories by Roberto Calasanz @robertocalasanz @demaindumbo
Leather shorts: Charlie by Michael Zink @charliebymz
Racoon Hat by Marc Jacobs