playboy carti's creative director is making internet-iconic clothing
How the 20-year-old designer Gianni Mora connected with the rapper through dad caps.
In 2015, Tumblr's most poppin' teens reigned supreme on Twitter and Instagram as well. 16-year-old creative directors, designers, and stylists were a dime a dozen and Instagram models became a real thing. A lot of smart young people capitalized off their micro-brands, selling screen-printed t-shirts and accessories to their highly engaged, cult-like internet followings. Sprinkle in a few influencers wearing their product and these newly minted multi-taskers began turning a profit and becoming bonafide creative directors. From this era, we saw the likes of Luka Sabbat, once-self-proclaimed king of the youth Ian Connor, and others get their feet wet in fashion and work their way up to places within the inner circles of Kanye West and A$AP Mob. Similarly, so did artists like rapper Playboi Carti and his friend, former roommate, and now creative director, Gianni Mora.
In 2014, 17-year-old Mora of Tuscon, Arizona created a cap embroidered with the words "I Think About You Sometimes." "I've been trying to make clothes since I was fucking 12," Mora tells i-D. It was worn by Sabbat and artists like Wiz Khalifa and Theophilus London, becoming highly coveted and one of the first popular dad caps at the time. The canvas brimmed hats reached peak fashion accessory by the summer of 2016, with every rapper and it-girl wearing them and every publication offering their take on where to get them, how they became cool, or why they haven't gone away yet. Mora's cap would be one of the first of many hats embroidered with what appeared to be handwritten, heartbroken notes.
Following the success of the hat, Mora moved to Los Angeles, where his mother lived and he'd been spending time following his parents' divorce. Despite having met through mutual friends in 2014 and not hitting it off right away, at all, Mora and Carti would solidify their friendship during a night out partying. "It was at like one of his really early shows, and we like picked up a few girls and had a good night. Since then we've been close."
Having been familiar with Mora's early designs from the internet, Carti made it very clear he wanted to work with Mora. "A few months after I met him, we became friends and he was always asking me to do cover art, merch, or t-shirts for him or shit like that. At the end of 2015, we decided to give me the title of creative director and pretend it meant something."
It does now. Playboi Carti released the song and video for "What" with A$AP Rocky via AWGE, and most recently, released the long-awaited self-titled mixtape through AWGE Records and Interscope. "For the longest [time] there was nothing to creative direct. Two years later we have budgets and shit like that so we can actually execute all these ideas we've been planning for years."
In L.A., Mora designed a line sold simply as clothing designed by Gianni Mora. "I was making clothes for a while under my own name because I didn't really wanna have a brand. I still don't really want to. I don't use tags or anything. It [this year] was just time for me to start making shit under a name other than my own."
The new brand is called Helder Vices. His latest collection, which he says reflects where he is in life, "Women, Aging, and Consumerism," is carried at 424 in L.A., Nubian and Idea in Tokyo, Glossy in Shanghai, colette in Paris, and soon, Dover Street Market in New York.
Now, just shy of 20 years old, Mora has smoothly transitioned into overseeing Carti's brand. He's selected teams for the upcoming videos for "Magnolia" and "wokeuplikethis" and will be directing another video from the tape on his own. Years in the making, Carti's merch is ready to go for his post-tape headlining shows, designed by Mora. And outside of Helder Vices, he and his friend Jonah Levine have turned Mora's love for filmmaking into a two-man creative agency, ©CCCC, working on video assets for brands like Tory Burch, Nike, and Stüssy.
Of the youth coming up at the time when Kanye West was screaming about listening to the kids and vibes on the 2015 VMAs stage, Mora is well on his way to becoming a multi-faceted creative director, with his output spanning across multiple media. If it's not what he's doing with Carti, it's the hidden messages around his personal life he weaves into the pieces in "Women, Aging, and Consuming." If it's not his bespoke Converse sneakers then it's his seven-foot sculptures of stainless steel, missiles that sit in A$AP Rocky's L.A. home and the downtown L.A. apartment he and Carti shared.
When asked about Virgil Abloh, the Off White designer and creative director for West's creative agency DONDA, Mora says, "He's set the precedent for kids who can't really decide on one creative outlet like me who wants to express myself through, film, clothes, sculpture or my shitty paintings. Virgil hacked it. Hopefully, I can be close to where he is when I'm in my late 30s, too." He's well on his way.
Text Rae Witte
Lookbook photography Gianni Mora courtesy Helder Vices