tyler, the creator is rewriting fashion’s rulebook in neon
We catch up with rap's technicolor rebel about designing his imagination, starting his own shoe company, and why he wants his sneakers sold at "fucking Foot Locker."
Photography Julian Berman
Each season, the fashion industry has witnessed new disruptions to its long-established system: opening presentations to the public, off-calendar schedule switch ups, gender-unified shows, see-now buy-now commerce, baby steps toward body and racial diversity. To those of us inside this system, these changes can seem revolutionary. But to people outside the industry, how much ground are we really breaking? Whether a collection is shown off-schedule in January or on it in February, available to purchase immediately after the finale or six months afterward, to much of the public, the runway routine all sort of seems the same. So it's fitting that one of the fashion system's biggest disruptions of late was made by a designer happily unaware of the rules he was breaking in his debut runway offering: rapper Tyler, the Creator.
After five years of producing seasonal collections and showcasing them in super-colourful lookbooks, Tyler presented his first-ever Golf Wang runway show this summer, during the inaugural MADE LA. He didn't schlep the collection to New York and parade it for a crowd of editors during Fashion Week. He didn't assemble a cast of stick-thin, stoic boys or girls to model it. He didn't score its presentation to thumping techno, or walk it in a straight line. He doesn't even have plans to show again next season, or ever again (perhaps the most rebellious move a designer can make). He presented it in his home city, and let his legion of fans purchase tickets to see it. He assembled a cast of friends of all genders, shapes, heights, skin tones, and skate abilities — two of whom took advantage of the fully functional mini-ramp he installed inside his enormous circular runway. He took a fashion show's basic elements — clothes, music, set, casting — and interpreted them his own way: in vibrant colours, with positive energy, and with little reverence for rules.
And, unsurprisingly, it made things far more interesting. Towards the end of the show (a 35-minute long spectacle that featured live musical performances, video pieces, installations, skits, and a candid motivational speech), Tyler announced his plans to try something even he'd never done before: launch a shoe company, Golf Le Fleur. He promised every kid who bought a ticket to the show would be given a pair. Since then, he's shared some snaps of what to expect: pink laces, blue flower details, and highlighter orange uppers. It's almost ironic that the mega-viral music video that shot his career into the stratosphere, 2011's "Yonkers," was filmed in black-and-white.
But Tyler's career has always been about evolution (even if some people have failed to see it). He's made music, developed live action and animated TV series, created an app, and designed far too many amazing jackets to count. Having recently released a new look book full of them, we called him up to pick his beautiful, boundless brain about why fashion should be fun.
Golf Wang seems very garment-first. There's a lot of great overalls, bomber jackets, jumpsuits, socks. When you design, do you start with a garment?
Sometimes things do start with a garment, like, 'I think it would be sick to make a tracksuit because I've never had one,' or 'I've always wanted to make a turtleneck, a yellow turtleneck, because I've never seen one.' Other times, things start with colour ways. I love cheetah print, but I wanted to try it with pink to really bring it out, so I made a button up with a pink collar to see those colours together in a different way. I draw every idea out in my notebook and they kind of just go from there — there's never moodboards. I do what I'm into at the moment, and every six months, I'm usually into something else. I don't really make graphic t-shirts anymore; it's just not what I'm into right now — I like things more with simple text. And next year, I probably won't be into that. So how I begin designing everything kind of varies. That's why it's fun.
Colour is such a major aspect of your pieces, and your presentation of them in your lookbooks, too. What compels you to use strong colours?
It's what gets me to like clothes in general, the way that they look visually. If it's not eye candy to me, I don't want to wear it and I don't want to make it. That eye candy is what really gets me off, and it's what I'm passionate about when it comes to fashion. I love real saturated shit — like blown out, full-colour shit. Even some of the stuff in the collection that is grey and brown has a pop to it. That's the way it has to be for me.
Your simplest pieces are still quite detail-oriented — even the pockets of overalls have fun linings. I'm excited to see how that translates to your shoe company, Golf Le Fleur. Tell me about why you decided to start it.
I've been doing shoes with Vans for three years and as awesome as it's been, I just felt like my ideas were starting to outgrow them. I still wear Vans, I still love Vans, but I wanted to be more in control, to make all these colourways, to make the silhouettes. And I'm over getting royalty checks; I don't want to get a certain percent for something that I thought of. So why not start my own shoe company? If worse comes to worst, it fucking fails and I move on with my life. But I'm really putting my all into it; I got colourways for fucking days.
At the show, you'd mentioned part of your motivation for making sneakers was due to the lack of black-owned businesses. Is that still something that's shaping the project?
Yeah. Whether it's a house that I own or a business that I own, I want to see more people owning some of these things. I just want to encourage younger black kids, like own shit. Let's not just keep giving higher brands all of our money. I want us to invest in ourselves.
Let's talk more about your show. You made it so relatable to people without sacrificing the element of fantasy that's present on a lot of the best runways. What were your guiding thoughts in putting it together?
I didn't know much about fashion shows, but the ones that I am familiar with seemed pretty boring — just walking up and down a lot. I'm not saying that's good or bad, it's just nothing that kept me interested; it's nothing new, it's nothing that gets my eye. So we just made the fashion show that I think is interesting.
Are you going to do another in the future?
I told myself I don't ever want to do another one, just do one and keep it special. But it really was so fun, so who knows, maybe I will one day. I'm in my own world so much, I don't pay too much attention to how fashion works, but I'm learning along the way.
Speaking of your own world, it's so multi-disciplinary. Do you move from one creative practice to another fluidly, or do you find yourself more blocking out time to work on one thing at a time as your projects take shape?
I'm sporadic. My attention span is very low, but it works in my favour in the sense that I can multi-task well. There's never a set or scheduled time, like 'tomorrow I'm just doing this.' It's more along the lines of, 'Oh, the shirt that dude is wearing is sick. If that was yellow with this on it, oh shit, I'm gonna write that down,' and then continue to do whatever I was doing. Luckily for me, the music and the clothes and the videos all play hand-in-hand. My favourite photo from the lookbook is the cheetah outfit with the pink shoes. That outfit wasn't gonna be in the lookbook because it was an idea that I thought of to put in a video like next year, to perform in it on a stage somewhere. And it came from a song I'd made that made me want to wear something like that. So everything plays hand in hand.
What excites you most about the future?
I just hope the shoes are good and people like 'em. I want everyone to have them, to a point where people are wearing them and don't even know I exist. Hopefully, I have these shoes everywhere, not just at boutiques. Like I want these in fucking Foot Locker, every skate shop. I want them everywhere because all the different colourways will have different people gravitate to them. The pink and blue ones that I wear aren't like the black and beige ones he would wear, aren't like the yellow ones that she would wear. Hopefully, it continues to grow like that.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Julian Berman, all images Golf Wang fall/winter 16 lookbook