Back Issue__ Erik Hart, Crazed As Always
Fahsion designer Erik Hart is happy navigating the fashion industry from Los Angeles but didn't move there for the weather
Photos: Sarah St. Clair Renard
Prepare to feel lazy. Erik Hart, the man behind Factory by Erik Hart, probably has most of us trumped when it comes to jet-setting and art making. When we called him up in Los Angeles he explained that he was "crazed as always" putting together a pop-up shop, shooting his summer collection, designing for fall 2012, moving his studio and getting ready to take off to London and the Netherlands. He also planned on developing a fragrance, but "time didn't permit."
Erik officially landed on our radar with his spring 2012 collection at New York Fashion Week. The procession of asymmetrical jersey dresses and draped jackets got it right. His pieces are fresh, flattering and street ready. He invigorated neutral fabrics with sharp tailoring and balanced the collection with abstract prints that he's been working with since 2010. "I don't change what I do every season," Hart says. "I don't follow trends or try a new look. It's really the evolution of the print and the aesthetic."
Before starting his semi-eponymous line, Erik was best known his streetwear brand Morphine Generation. In 2003, he put together some handmade samples, then walked into stores and collected orders. Within no time, his silk-screened tees and hoodies graced the backs of Hollywood stars from Tom Cruise to Mila Jovovich. "That's basically how I started my business," he explains. "Door-to-door, walking into stores and selling it myself because it was always an extension of myself or my sensibility or at least an idea, I should say."
Talking to Erik, it's hard not to be reminded of the overused Thomas Edison quotation: "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." Ultimately it seems that the abundance of inspiration in Erik's life is what leads to all the hours of sweating it out in the studio. This is a guy who really loves what he does and it's a cool feeling to be a part of, even if that just means wearing one of his dresses.
You're always up to a million things!
It's because I don't really put a separation between work or creativity or relationships--it's all one and the same.
Do you ever feel like you're being stretched too thin?
I think there's always an element of stress. It comes from the creative industry, for the most part. I started doing this 8 years ago or so, and I always had a good team around me, but I've always been responsible for doing all these things like creative direction or photo shoots or art projects. It's just what I do. Sure, there's a lot going on but in order to have things executed the way you like, and to be an independent designer, it comes with the territory.
Speaking of territory, What's the fashion scene like on the West Coast?
Between New York and Los Angeles, it's interesting to see the way things happen on both coasts. I would say that New York is a much more social city where there's constant interaction with other people and a constant stream of ideas. Los Angeles is in a little more isolation. You have more space and you're more self-reliant, on your own means. The art scene is one of the best in the world right now because artists can come here and get cheap rent and have big studio spaces and be insular and focused on what they do.
Any artists in particular?
There are so many amazing people. One of my favourites is Dan Graham. He's really amazing. There's really too many to list. It's endless. The galleries here are really quite amazing too. There's a lot of amazing things going on in Chinatown--lots of spaces opening up there, spaces in transition. I went to this party a couple of weekends ago in East Los Angeles in a huge warehouse space. You can get 10,000 sq. ft. for $1500 a month and have your own small museum. I think there are similar parallels to what's going on in Berlin and LA. There's lots of space and cheap rent, the creative outlet is much more free.
As you get more successful, do you feel any pressure to relocate?
I go to New York quite often--we just showed at Milk Studios' Fashion Week. They were really great and supportive. We're out there quite a bit but no, I mean, there's pros and cons everywhere. I think from a press perspective it's great to be in New York and have that constant exchange with magazines and work on editorials and other projects but if anything comes up you can always travel to do it. I have a good situation here [in LA]. Not to say that New York or Europe wouldn't be a good situation but what I have here makes sense.
The weather doesn't hurt things either.
I don't really care about that for the most part. I think being in the studio we spend nine hours a day indoors. We're always in the studio so the weather doesn't matter. I actually prefer cold weather to be quite frank.
Do you take the weather into consideration when you're designing your collections?
Not at all, actually. For the most part, obviously, there are restrictions of certain fabrications, but the way I approach my collections is seasonless. I'm a firm believer in seasonless dressing. I think the whole notion of retail is antiquated--fall delivers in July so we're delivering fur and leather jackets when everyone is sweating? I like to design things that can be layered in fabrics that you can layer and wear year-round whether it's winter or fall or spring or summer. Anything from my spring collection you can make work for fall, anything from fall you can pretty much work in the winter. I think seasonless fabrications are key components of what we do.
You've also described Factory by Erik Hart as an "interdisciplinary exercise." What makes your line different from other straight up clothing lines?
I think of myself more so existing as a musician or designer or photographer. I do all those things so I think of myself as more of a creative. Most of the people I work with and collaborate with and a lot of people I know are not limited to one field. You can't be. How can you not want to explore other things and challenge yourself and learn other things? The first thing I did was photography, then it turned into music, then it turned into styling and then it turned into a fashion line, then it turned into art direction. All those things are integral to the things I do. For example, a project I might work on in Europe influences a collection I might come back to do in LA and something I do in New York might influence a photo shoot. It's all interconnected so the multidisciplinary aspect comes from a standpoint that it's not one-dimensional. It's multifaceted. It's not just about clothes on a hanger, just clothes, my work is dependent on the audience so there's clothes on the hanger and then you have to envision the clothes on the person and then what setting you'd like to see those clothes in and what's the setting in relation to the objects in that setting and then how do you document that setting...it's endless.
Your clothing is definitely artistic, but it's still very wearable. Sometimes, in fashion, those two qualities can be mutually exclusive.
I don't consider the clothes that I make art whatsoever. I don't think they're art. They're much more functional and I do think art can have that line. It surrounds the collection, and ideally what the collection is about comes from an art perspective, but the clothes are a proposition of an idea. More of an object. Standing alone, I don't consider them art. An influence can come from art, or conceptually speaking from another artist or form, but the end result isn't the interaction. The end result is to create beautiful things that people want to wear and incorporate into their daily lives.
The access to people's information exchange, ideas and concepts, is much broader now than when I started eight years ago. With Tumblr, you have teenagers from the Midwest who have a more developed eye, aesthetics, concepts--even if it is a little bit surface at first. People's eyes are being trained from a very young age and constantly inquiring and digging deeper.
Because of platforms like Tumblr, there's greater brand recognition for independent designers than ever before.
Yeah, there's so many avenues. I just used that one example. It's limitless. For example, I met my girlfriend because I saw her work on some blog a couple of years ago and thought it was beautiful. She was in Moscow and I said, "I'd like to work on a project with you," and I went to London and she was in London and we started working on a project which turned into an editorial and a short film and it turned into a relationship. It evolved on the Internet.
That's so romantic.
The original intention wasn't but, yeah, you can be inspired and be exposed to so many people's work. It creates a dialogue. I like that idea because there's still that thing that doesn't make up for an actual conversation or meeting in person or a phone call, which is nice. Human contact should never be neglected.
Between all your projects and traveling the world, how do you keep your energy up?
I meditate. I practice Transcendental Meditation and I think that's a large part of being able to deal with stress, for me at least, and staying balanced. Otherwise, I'm a ball of stress and anxiety and not much fun to be around.
Lastly, where's your heart at, Erik Hart?
It's in the present. That's all I can say. It's not longing, it's not lacking.