Archive for the ‘Step Ahead’ Category
Christelle De CastroYara Flinn is sitting in her Williamsburg studio talking about her line when she gets an email alert. It's Japanese retailer, Tomorrowland, with a sizable order. It's an exciting moment to witness for a designer still in the infancy period--a time when her business might look like a big operation from outside, but is mostly just a one-woman team. With the Japanese customer in mind, it makes sense most of the order is for dresses in sizes 2 and 4--but another part of the order comes as a surprise. “Oh my god they’re ordering the snood! 8 of them," Yara says, referring to a fur collar she created that was never meant to be produced. Flinn pulls out a crop of expensive synthetic fur in browns and blacks. “I just made them for my show—I sew them myself." Flinn’s initial creative interest wasn't in fashion, she wanted to pursue art. She attended Oberlin to get her BFA. "I tell people I got all my weird out there." Having grown up in Manhattan she was looking to get away and have a chance to do something different. With her tall, slender 6"0 frame she says, "Everybody already knows I used to play basketball," with an eye roll. So she flipped the switch and worked on sculpture and video installation instead. She's still a sports-fan, but nowadays she'd rather talk about the Steelers. She flips through photos on her Blackberry to pull up a picture of a guy she saw on the subway who was dressed in head-to-toe black and yellow fan garb. "When Black and Yellow comes on in the club I'm on the tables," she laughs. After graduating and moving back to Manhattan, Yara decided to get behind a sewing machine.“I wasn’t a good enough artist to do what I really wanted,” she says. “But I love the idea of making something functional instead of purely aesthetic.” Flinn's artistic versatility allowed her to move organically into the fashion world. Flinn launched her debut collection in 2007 under the name Nomia, with three dresses that she sold to Barney's in her first season. Half-smirking, she says, "It's never been as easy to get my stuff back in." Since she made her start as a designer, Flinn has developed full seasonal collections, sold to retailers all around the world and shown at NYFW four times. Growing up in a city that serves as a cultural mecca gave her a sense of comfort to experiment, "I never felt like I had to 'make it." But she does have a keen understanding of getting her stuff in front of the right eyes. “You can make an amazing collection and if the right people don’t see it, it’s never going to get out there.” Five years into the business, Nomia is a sophisticated, clean and thoughtful line that draws inspiration from artists, objects, and minimalist designers.
Artist and producer Toro Y Moi transforms before our very eyes Words: Jess Bloom Photos: Courtney VokeyIt’s easy to get a little flustered around Chaz Bundick, aka Toro Y Moi. He’s soft-spoken and sincere with the charm of a kitten waking up from a nap. On stage, it’s another story. The lights go up and he puts on a high energy show with a full band in front of an audience ready to dance. Behind his keyboard, as Toro Y Moi, it’s hard to believe that this is the same guy. “That’s the weirdest part,” he said. “You make all this stuff on your own and then you’re playing it to sometimes thousands of people.” From Honolulu to Luxembourg, Chaz has played over 150 shows since the release of his debut album, Causers of This, in January of 2010. In that time he’s also released a second album, an EP, a handful of remixes and a couple more albums under the side projects Les Sins and Sides of Chaz. His music has largely been categorized as “chillwave” but make no mistake, a lot of hard work goes into these ultra-relaxed beats. The rise of chillwave, as a defined genre, goes back to the summer of 2010 when music bloggers began to notice a trend among new artists like Washed Out, Neon Indian, Memory Tapes and Toro Y Moi. The sound was 80s-inspired lo-fi synthpop with simple, repetitive melodies. In his breakout single “Blessa,” Chaz sings: “Come home in the summer/Live a life that you miss/It’s alright, I’ll fill you in.” In the background, the music warbles like an old record being played underwater. For hot and hazy summer days, tracks from these new chillwave artists made up the perfect soundtrack. Summer ended but Toro Y Moi didn’t. In February of 2011, he released Underneath the Pine and the enviable reviews rolled in. It was everything we loved about chillwave but with an unexpected dose of funk. Tracks like “Still Sound” and “New Beat” are groovy and who can even remember the last time there was a sincere occasion for the word “groovy”? “I don’t listen to hip hop to make hip hop beats,” he said. “It’s not like that.” Instead, Chaz cites obscure and under the radar films as inspiration. The way a film soundtrack shapes the scene and affects the audience’s emotions interests him. When he expresses his interest in scoring a movie one day, the music video for “How I Know” instantly comes to mind. Actually, Toro Y Moi has an impressive selection of music videos, from “Still Sound,” which was shot on Super 8 film in his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina to “Low Shoulder,” which stars 60s It-Girl Daphne Sherman. Chaz Bundick goes by Toro Y Moi because he thought that using his name made him sound like a singer-songwriter and “singing and songwriting is not just what I’m doing—I do more than that.”
Words: Mish Way Photos: Marc Lemoine Music critic darling, Marnie Stern tells us the difference between press and a paycheck. It's scary how powerful of a source Pitchfork is to North American music. Nobody knows this better than the finger-tapping, guitar sensation Marnie Stern. The 35-year-old New Yorker has been praised time and time again by the critics at Pitchfork for not only her three EP's pressed on the celebrated indie label Kill Rock Stars but her unusual guitar technique and live performances. Pitchfork likes Marnie. They like her a lot. As musicians, rock journalists and avid readers have learned for over the past 15 years, Pitchfork likes you and the crowd will follow. But Marnie has yet to benefit from this modern day, one-plus-one-equals-done-success formula. "The amount of press I get compared to the people who actually listen, like really care about my music, is so weird," Marnie admits between puffs of a cigarette followed by laughter. "It's, like, five thousand to one." Of course Marnie is exaggerating and she'll be the first to admit it. As a self-proclaimed "negative Jewish girl", Marnie talks fast, sarcastic and loud. She's putting herself down, cackling about it and casually listing her latest accomplishment all in the same sentence. She's complaining about how boring her home life is between weeks off from constant touring and then sighing relentlessly about the fact that she has to lug "all her shit" (her guitar, her suitcase and her dog) to the airport tomorrow to embark on another US musical jaunt. Since Kill Rock Stars released her debut EP "An Advance For A Broken Arm" in 2007, Marnie has been touring all over North America and Europe to support the buzz of her complicated career. After The New York Times called her debut “The year's most exciting rock 'n' roll album," and Pitchfork followed suit with familiar praise, the press was on her tail. Not only was her unique style of guitar playing and shrewdly sweet vocals talked about constantly, but her intricate, math rock-inspired approach to song assembly was recognized with enthusiasm. People were noticing. Marnie was named one of the "Greatest Female Guitarists of All Time" in the spring issue of Venus Zine while Plug Music nominated her for punk album of the year. After toiling away with new riffs in her rent-controlled Upper East Side apartment, Marnie soon released her follow-up album This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It is It and That is That, which gained praise as well landing at number 44 on Pitchfork's highly acclaimed "50 Best Albums of 2008" list. Marnie and her infectious, oddball songs were popping up everywhere from The Fader to Chart Attack to The New Yorker to Stereogum. It seemed every journalism source worth their salt was talking about Marnie. Then came her latest 2010 record, simply self-titled, chalk full of catchy pop melodies soothing deeply personal issues of death and getting dumped all the while wildly swimming beneath her signature finger-tapping. "The last record was more buzz popular and the audience was the Pitchfork crowd," Marnie says. "They came [to my show] because it was a hip record. They didn't seem to like it or get it." Growing up in New York City, Marnie attended "a B-tier, Gossip Girl" private school on the Upper East Side, where she recalls creativity was stunted and careers in finance were praised. She spent her youth partying in the city, mingling amongst celebrities and living the bratty New York existence. Her main source of music came from the radio. "To me, Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots were the same thing. I didn't know anything." She took a few guitar lessons at the impressionable age of fifteen, mastered the essential chords and played around with "Joe Lies When He Cries" girlish melodies, never taking any of it too seriously. Marnie graduated from college with a new perspective on art and music. She discovered bands like Hella, Pony Tail, Battles and Deerhoof and became inspired by their mathematic guitar playing. She spent her days working 9-5 as a secretary while burning every night away working on guitar. "It took me so many years to even begin to figure out what I wanted to do. The neighbor used to say, ‘Tell Sheryl Crow to pipe down,'" Marnie laughs. Still feeling lost and a stranger to the competitive New York music scene, she felt captive to the rules of song construction until receiving some life changing advice from a friend. "Just put a shit load of layers on it." "I was like, 'You can't do that!' and he said, 'You can do whatever the fuck you want.' So, I did. It wasn't until 2006 when I got a home computer and Pro Tools that I started to multi-track and that changed everything." Marnie started playing around the city, just her and her iPod as a backing band. She handed out her demos to promoters and record labels she adored but was reluctant about the whole process. "My music was so weird and it didn't make much sense," she remembers. "I played to nobody for years. Thinking back it was awful. I was stuck in this purgatory world, but I was getting better at writing music." Then, came her lucky moment. After ten years of playing to nobody, Kill Rock Stars responded to her demo tape and wanted to put out her record. Even though they were weary about her age—like the world of sports, female solo artists are as good as dead at thirty—they went for it. "After a decade of shit it was all so amazing. I was so sure that I would just be writing songs in my bedroom forever, for no one." After three successful records, a whirlwind of unexpected but well-earned media attention and countless tours, Marnie is in now back in purgatory. Struggling to write her fourth album, possibly cutting ties from Kill Rock Stars and switching over to new management, she is in limbo. "I'm getting muddled into that fucked up world where I feel like I should be making money off [music] to live and that really ruins creativity," Marnie tells me. "But I can't help it. What am I supposed to do? Eat ramen? Forever?" Marnie's press attention seems grandiose compared to the actuality of her income and record sales. Oddly enough, she's vocal about it. While most artists wouldn't dare admitting their troubles to the press, Marnie spills her heart as though we have been friends for years. Having lived her life as the underdog whether it was as the poor girl at a rich school or the only girl playing math rock or the only math-rock nerd left standing in a musical landscape of lo-fi garage bands, Marnie isn't afraid of her position. She's refreshing and honest, even if she thinks she is flailing. "The way the music business is now...well, there are just so many bands," she exasperates. "No one is critical. It's all about having as much music as possible. Nobody listens to anything for more than 30 seconds." For someone that can spend up to "five fucking hours" perfecting one simple guitar riff, this change in the musical landscape is frustrating. Bands Marnie once looked up to and adored like Hella (whose drummer now plays with her), Ponytail and Battles aren't on the forefront of the scene. A new crew has taken over. "I don't hear any [new music] that gets me excited," she complains. "That is the worst part. I like that healthy sense of competition. It's what I thrive from and it's gone." Beyond her frustration is a mature musician who is still toiling with ideas. Even though today feels like everything is bad tomorrow she will be on a plane to Los Angeles to embark on a full US tour. She'll return home to old New York, wait a week and then be back on the road except this time in Europe. Her original demo tapes she sent to Kill Rock Stars in 2006 will be released and then, Pitchfork will write about how great they are. Things will look up. "I never want to become that bitter musician who is pissed but there is a part of me that is just like, Motherfucker! Put some effort into it!" She says. "I want to hear effort. You can tell when something has been slapped together in five minutes." Marnie sighs and let's out an "Oh God" so nasal and drawn-out she sounds like Fran Drescher. "I'm very comfortable in the underdog position," she sheepishly admits. "I don't know how to be anything else."
Julia Wertz at her home in Greenpoint, BKJulia Wertz is no longer drinking at the movies, but she's still walking across the Brooklyn Bridge to get to there. By: Mish Way Photos: Rafael Rios 28-year-old graphic novelist, JuliaWertz named her latest book, "Drinking At The Movies" after one of her favorite activities. Every week, Wertz would walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, buy a big beer and go see a movie on her credit card points, alone. Lately, she's dropped the beer from the equation altogether, which she says was "probably the best decision I've ever made." Now, instead, she eats burritos. Wertz is the author of cult favorite graphic novels, The Fart Party Vol. 1 & 2, she’s the editor of “I Saw You: Missed Connection Comics” and the creator of The Fart Party website. Born in the Bay Area, the tiny, 5’2 brunette with an equally tiny voice got into comics during her last year of college when she was diagnosed with Lupus. Being sick at home diminished her attention span and the four paneled pages of comics seemed to make sense to her. Inspired, she tried creating her own and found her calling. Wertz launched her website in 2005 and the ever-popular The Fart Party was born. Wertz is sarcastic, cynical and sharp-tongued – a little firecracker, but she’d probably hate being called that. “I don’t keep an audience in mind when I make comics,” says Wertz. “If I do that, I start tailoring the story to fit a more interesting story then what actually happened.” Her work is devastatingly biographical. Earlier strips focus on her relationships, her love for cheese, hate for waiting tables, winter weight and irritation with babies. She strings inside jokes through all her panels like a secret language. Wertz may write with only herself in mind, but her stories are relatable and heartwarming, even when she’s making jokes about abortion. “Cartoon me is a lot more negative and ornery,” she says. Wertz in real life has never been the same girl who appears on the page, especially not these days. “Sometimes I don’t like the person cartoon me seems to be.” In the beginning, cartoon Julia would often eat the limbs of people who annoyed her, stuff babies with cocaine for drug smuggling purposes or spread her butt cheeks to defecate on a stranger who asked her a stupid question. “I like to fancy that I’m a lot more accepting and happy in real life.” Her work isn’t considered standard comic book fare. Wertz is kind of a lone she-wolf in the comic book pack. “Superhero comics are mostly a boys game but that’s because most women just aren’t not that kind of stuff, it’s not for a lack of trying. They just don’t care about it.” But being a strong, successful female is a typically masculine art form doesn’t really faze Wertz. She thinks gender has little to do with any of it. “There are so many female cartoonists that most indie comics I read are by women, but only by default. I don’t really like to differentiate between male and female artists. I think that in art, it’s a pretty level playing field and both sexes labor away at work that is an isn’t accepted by the mainstream.” “I moved to New York over three years ago but am just really starting to appreciate it,” Wertz who is originally from San Francisco says. This is an oddly positive stretch for Wertz considering that frustration with New York was a reoccurring topic in her comics. “I have this newfound love for the city that I never thought I’d have. I like going on long city walks, eating little pies at the farmers market. I find that I get my best ideas on those days.” Currently, Wertz is busy promoting her new book, which means the days of 9-TO-5 employment are long gone. “I kind of miss working at coffee shops,” she admits. “I miss the feeling of ending a shift and being completely done for the day. I can’t even watch TV anymore. I always have to be working on something while I watch. Now that comics are my work, I never really clock out.” But, Wertz seems happier now. When I ask her to name the five things that can always kill her signature cynicism she lists “Pizza Island [her cartoon studio], people that say ‘good morning’ to their neighbors or people on the sidewalk, my horrible cat, eating ice cream in the park and outdoor movies in the summer.” “I have a very negative streak in me that I rode for many years and am just coming out of now which I attribute to quitting drinking and starting to get out of my own head and communicate with others more.” She still needs her solidarity. For that, there will always be her walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. "Walking always gets my brain churning and that’s usually when I come up with a bunch of new ideas,” she tells me. “Or maybe it’s just the burrito.” See how Julia Wertz feels about fashion below.
Interview: Hana May Photos: Kenza Chaouai Una Kim, one of the founders of Keep Shoes, has been DIYing it since she was in high school. She staged one of her most memorable projects when her parents were out of town. She threw a concert at her house. “Not only did I organize the show, I cooked a huge meal for every one who came over, and I even made the paper that the invitations were made out of, using a blender and old newspaper.” Members of the bands that performed that night now play in little-known bands like Animal Collective, who Keep also happens to have a collaboration coming up with. Her early efforts may not have thrilled her parents, but it would be hard for anyone not to be proud of Una’s ability to make something out of, well, anything. “I think both the DIY ethic and the sense of community and family really empowered people to feel that you could make anything, that you were capable of anything,” Una says. “That realization was one of the most fundamentally influential things in my life.” With this experience and confidence, Una launched Keep with Margot Jacobs in 2005. Originally from the East Coast, Una relocated to the West Coast (she completed her MBA at Stanford), where Keep is based. The West Coast lifestyle has had a strong impact on Una, affecting the style and beliefs with which she infuses her line. All Keep shoes are all cruelty-free. No animals were killed in making them. And, as Una puts it, “No kids, no whips, no factories where you can’t take bathroom breaks.” Una still misses the East Coast every day, but has no plans to take Keep away from sunny L.A. Sticking to the do-it-yourself ethic, Una has kept Keep independent. But as such, Una sometimes has problems with the big kids. Large companies have so many resources, so Una believes they should be the ones driving culture. “Too often, they’re too scared, too paralyzed, too lazy or too encumbered to be able to produce their own creative, and therefore pay scraps to real artists and end up co-opting culture with watered down designs.” She believes companies are incapable of connecting with intellectual human beings, which is why big companies have so much trouble designing sneakers woman actually want to wear—which, shockingly, aren’t always pink. “I am sure there are lots of women who want to wear pink and sneakers; I just don’t know any of them.” As a philosophy, Keep values its friends and family and keeps them near. This helps Keep stay grounded. The Keep extended family reaches from Ray Potes of Hamburger Eyes to Wendy Yao of Ooga Booga (who both happen to be hearty past features). Shoes are named after their friends and family, and their most recent lookbook paid homage to the people that had helped them build to where they are today. With their fifth anniversary on the horizon, we caught up with Una to talk about shoes, life and success. From punk music to taking shots at Nike to the shoes she likes to wear (which aren’t always her own), learn all about Una Kim and Keep. Punk and independent music and arts scenes were a huge influence on you. What would you say was the biggest influence? I think music and art was the framework through which I discovered things—it was how I met people, how I got into different interests. It was something of a filter through which I processed the rest of the world. Most of my closest friends to this day are people I met through music – whether it was playing with them, booking their bands, or just listening to their records. I think when you grow up with people who are naturally creative and curious, you in turn are inspired to be creative and curious. This helped in demystifying the process of creating things. Can you explain what you meant by this? When you realize that the things or people you idolized, like musicians, are humans just like you, then you approach the world as a player and not just as a spectator. So often when you’re young you don’t value your own creative energy. You think it’s not as valid as people who are established. Punk and indie rock fundamentally changed that. Labels like Dischord and Simple Machines, which were based so close to me, not only produced amazing records but also encouraged and educated their listeners to participate and also produce. They were saying, ‘We make music and you can too.’ A simple philosophy like that can change your entire relationship to culture. You played in bands. What instrument did you play, did you sing and what kinds of bands? I sang in middle school chorus. I grew up playing piano and cello, and played those instruments in bands, but mostly I played the drums. It’s hard to describe what kind of bands I was in. I guess whatever music I was into at the time. Some were more experimental than others, some more pop-y like a Talking Heads meets Minute Men. You have your MBA and run a creative company. How do you balance your right brain and left brain? It just happens naturally. I’m not sure, but I think that’s my secret weapon. The Keep name was partially based on the idea of a keepsake. We weren’t named Keep just for the idea of a keepsake, though that was part of it. I like the concept of a keepsake, that an object could hold a memory and be valuable enough on a personal level to want to treasure it. But I also like all the other connotations of “keep” such as “earning your keep” which signifies independence or to “keep at it” which suggests perseverance. What are your favorite personal keepsakes? In regards to keepsakes, I am a bit of a pack rat so I have a lot of little things that are favorite keepsakes of mine. I’ve got a little coin purse that my grandmother used to carry around with her until the day she died. I have a pretty big coffee mug collection--probably one of the reasons why we have a Keep mug. Keep was initially created as a brand for women, when did men start adopting your silhouettes and wearing the shoes? Since day one I’ve received emails from guys who wanted to wear the shoes. We expanded our size range pretty quickly, starting with the second season. I didn’t expect to get that much love from the dudes, but it was pretty heavy from the beginning. I think it really says something when you have a women’s company appeal to men, because the inverse is usually the norm. I suppose I felt vindicated in a certain sense, because so many things I was into growing up were denied to me, simply because it didn’t come in my size. But beyond the initial smugness, I’m just happy we appeal to a broad range of people. I’m psyched that guys like Keep and I hope they continue to buy Keep and support it. Gender, especially in fashion, is such a construct. Just like what you like and support the things that resonate with you. That’s all I could hope from my customers. You’ve said having bigger companies copy your styles at times helps you by making the mainstream public more aware of your aesthetic. With your aesthetic pretty well known now, do you still feel the same way? Of course it annoys me when companies steal our designs, but it’s more out of principle than anything. A large company has so many resources, I feel like they should be the ones who drive culture. But too often they’re too scared, too paralyzed, too lazy or too encumbered to be able to produce their own creative and therefore pay scraps to real artists and end up co-opting culture with watered down designs. They buy their way into understanding the consumer, and that just annoys me. I wish they just stuck with what they knew best. That’s why companies like Patagonia or Nike in the early days were so rad, because they created their own culture around what their core values were--they were originals. Now Nike just chases cultural tail like they’re a horny teenager with no game. It’s disappointing. I supposed I am too tired to care when people copy our styles. I think the beauty of Keep isn’t just in the colors or the materials, but what the brand represents. I also think that consumers, the ones who really care, can tell when there is an implicit understanding of the aesthetic in the product. I think it’s funny when brands rip us off and make their version of Keeps and they get it all wrong--they just make us look better. Though sometimes they do an exact replica and that’s hard to swallow. Some people will always care about who the original is. At the same time, if you don’t care then that’s cool. Buy Keep if you like it, leave it if you don’t. We’re just a shoe company, so there’s no point in taking it too seriously. Do you wear other shoe brands? Sure. People say I don’t wear my Keeps enough. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a band wearing my own band’s t-shirt. It’s not in my nature to be a 24/7 promoter. Maybe that’s why we aren’t bigger or more successful. If I don’t rock Keeps, I wear Clarks or a particular kind of Birkenstock. Sort of crunchy hippie if you know what I mean. I wear New Balance running shoes. Flip flops. I do live in Cali after all. Heels? I wear heels on special occasions. Typically when I’m in New York or on the East Coast which is funny since you walk more then. I like Marc Jacobs heels from the early 2000s--that was a good era for Aerosoles as well. My most recent heels purchase was from Slow and Steady Wins the Race. In general though, I look pretty soccer mom-ish on the day to day in Cali. I’m one step away from wearing my mom’s SAS orthopedic shoes. What Keep styles are the most popular right now? The Ramos is our number one, all time classic. The Nuss and the Benten always do well and we just launched the Solis and that’s been getting a lot of love. Will you ever move back East or relocate the company back East? I don’t think we’ll ever re-locate the company. Will I ever move back East? I’m not sure. I guess being bi-coastal could be cool but I’m a long way away from having the dough to do that. My family is all on the East Coast though, so never say never. I love my life on the West Coast, but I do miss the East Coast almost every day. What advice would you give young female entrepreneurs? There is no crying in business. Suck it up, don’t let your emotions overrun you. Always be cool, calm and collected. Work hard, work smart, and don’t bitch. Don’t take things too seriously. Believe. What’s coming up from you and Keep? Personally, I’ve got about three other companies coming up that are in the works. Hopefully getting married soon if the economy stabilizes enough. As for Keep--Keep will keep being Keep. There is a men’s clothing line coming in the future. Also our fifth year anniversary is coming. Plus a collaboration with Animal Collective that will benefit charity as well as a project with British based artists Atherton Lin. Where’s your heart at? With my family, always. You know who you are.