Jean Claude Tribe is even more interesting than his name would suggest. Visually, he is avant-garde; he feels most comfortable in stark blacks and whites, and his ensembles are often crafted from industrial textures and manipulated into extreme silhouettes. Professionally, Tribe has successfully channeled an abstractly artistic compulsion into art, fashion design, styling, music, and modeling, blurring the lines between his subjects, mediums, and content. His trademarks are likewise instinctive, even primitive — a diamond, a triangle, and a circle (representing fashion, music, and art, respectively), and two Adam Ant-esque white lines under his left eye, which Tribe saves for photo shoots and performances.
Born in 1992 and raised in LA, Tribe quickly realized his passion for music and fashion before moving to London at age 16 to study business, contemporary art, and poetry. Upon graduation and his return to LA, charisma saved him from having to decide what to do next. “London definitely made me a people person,” he says. “When I was not feeling so confident I would remind myself that if I could succeed in London at sixteen I could definitely do the same years later in Los Angeles.” Tribe began to throw parties for artists to meet and network, and party photos began to go viral. Recently, he has designed his first unisex clothing collection, Collection Zero; created a SEX shirt worn by Steve Boi; modeled as the face of Paris French-punk brand, Enfants Riches Deprimes; collaborated with Third Kingdom on an EP in addition to Tribe’s upcoming solo album; and has been featured in Vogue Italia, British Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. Tribe has also collaborated with photographer Timony Siobhan to create a conceptual series of images of Tribe posed incongruously amongst floating black rectangles, which you can see above. We spoke to Tribe about being a Myspace scene kid, his wall of ideas, and being a momma’s boy.
Did you grow up in LA? As a teenager, what did you wear (or what did you want to wear), and what kinds of things were you interested in? And in these interests/style/etc., were you in the majority or minority?
I was born in Los Angeles during the climax of the LA riots. My family quickly moved us to Orange County in hopes of a more safe upbringing. As a teenager I was labeled a MySpace “scene kid.” I had snake bites and wore skinny jeans. Being an African American “scene kid” at an Orange County high school definitely made me a minority. As I grew, my style completely switched and I turned very “preppy.” I was not a leader in fashion then, I followed the crowd and craved trends. Regardless of my style, music was always my passion. I was president of my high school choir and was voted “Most Likely to go to Hollywood” in my senior year book (cliché, I know).
What was the first thing to make a big impression on you artistically?
MGMT’s album Oracular Spectacular had a huge impact on me artistically. When it came out there was nothing like it, both musically and visually. I was a very close-minded person when I first heard “Kids.” I listened to it 100 times that day. Their lyrics opened my mind to thoughts, beliefs, and ideas foreign to me. Andrew and Ben are phenomenal poets. I feel like no one gives them the credit they deserve.
Who do you admire, in any field and for whatever reason?
I admire Kate Bush. Wuthering Heights was way before its time. I feel like every musician takes a piece of her onstage whether they know it or not.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed or have artist’s block? How do you push though that? Do you feel pressure to be creatively “on” all the time?
Yes! I am always overwhelmed, I am so hard on myself! Artist’s block is not the issue. The issue is having too many ideas and not enough time. I write down all of my ideas on Post-It notes and stick them to a wall in my room. There are about 100 post its on the wall now. It’s the best feeling to add and remove them. My wall of ideas has helped me stay sane.
How do you deal with criticism?
I love constructive criticism. I am always running concepts and ideas by my friends and family. I do not deal with negative criticism. I just remember that everyone has an opinion, whether it be good or bad. My work has always been therapeutic for me. I surprisingly do not art or create for anyone. It is humbling to learn that my work has inspired another being, but that is not what drives me.
How do you decorate or fill your home or personal space? What do you like to surround yourself with?
My space is very minimal. I work in my space often so I decorate it with materials I use regularly while creating. I live in a white room surrounded with paint, canvases, vinyl, couture, and some of my favorite black and white photographs by Bruce Davidson and Ryan McGinley. I collect crystal and sleep with black tourmaline under my pillow every night for protection.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I play my piano and drink a cup of black coffee every morning. Then I do yoga, go for a run, and have a nice dance in the shower before heading work. I also do social media and marketing consulting for various companies. After work I usually have a photo shoot, rehearsal, event, or business meeting to attend. I am always on the go. The more you do, the more you learn.
You said in an interview, “I’ve seen so much lazy talent gone to waste and it scares me.” How do you motivate yourself when you feel lazy, and would you say that the above quote represents your worse fear?
When I am feeling lazy, I think about my mom. My mom was born in Guyana, South America and moved to the US with her family when she was seventeen. She raised my sister and I as a single parent while obtaining her law degree. That alone gives me enough drive to keep going. I want to able to support her, buy her a new house, and the green Jaguar she’s always dreamed of. I am a proud momma’s boy!
How did you choose the triangle, the circle, and the diamond, to represent music, art, and fashion, respectively? Do you always wear two white lines under your left eye?
The tribe shapes came to me in a dream. In this dream, I was on stage headlining my first tour. Everyone in the audience was wearing a shirt with one of the three shapes. I did not understand what they meant at the time. I woke up in the middle of the night and documented my dream. The next morning, while reading back, it all made sense. The shapes each represented my passions — triangle (music), circle (art), diamond (fashion). I used to wear the lines under my left eye everyday. It’s my Adam Ant-inspired signature. I have recently decided to save the lines for photo shoots and performances only. I would like to leave a little mystery behind them.
Do you have a personal philosophy?
I have always lived by Diane Von Furstenberg’s quote: “The most important relationship you have in life is with yourself, for you will always have and be with yourself until the day you die.” I feel that so many people do not respect themselves. You must teach people how to treat you. If we do not treat ourselves with respect, how can expect the world to?
Tell me about London, where you lived and attended London Metropolitan University. I read that you moved there at 16 to study business, contemporary art, and poetry — that’s really efficient, both time-wise and subject-wise. Did you have a strong idea about what you wanted to do after you graduated? What do you think makes the London music and fashion scene (or culture, generally) distinctive from anywhere else?
London was phenomenal. I moved there directly after my freshman year of college at CSU Dominguez Hills. Yes, I started college at sixteen! I was moved up two grades in elementary school. I never felt like I belonged in California. I was very depressed and needed a change. I applied to London Metropolitan University and was thrilled to be accepted. I lived in an apartment in Islington for three years while studying. I would travel to Paris, Berlin, Wales, and Amsterdam on the weekends with my roommate and make it back in time on Monday for class. I did not know what I wanted to do after graduation. I just knew I was obsessed with music and art. I think London’s fashion and music scene is distinct because they have always been a step ahead of many other countries. I remember watching bands like Beach House and Toro y Moi at small pubs throughout the city. Three years later they were playing Coachella and Glastonbury. Same goes for fashion! I bought my first pair of harem (drop crotched) pants in London. When I returned to the States my friends would laugh and say I looked like I was wearing a diaper. Now harem pants are seen on the runway, every season.
You started hosting parties for LA-based artists to meet and network after coming back from university in London. How did you start doing this? Are you naturally a people person?
My parties were always spontaneous and by word of mouth. My favorite one was at the sleazy Hollywood Inn. I encouraged everyone to push the boundaries with their outfits. Photos from the party went viral. London definitely made me a people person. Once I got back to Los Angeles I felt confident going out and meeting new people. I was a bit shy in my younger years. When I was not feeling so confident I would remind myself that if I could succeed in London at sixteen I could definitely do the same years later in Los Angeles.
What kind of impression did you want to make with your SEX shirt for Steve Boi?
The morning of one of my first parties I spilled black paint on the white button down shirt I planned to wear that night. Instantly the idea came to paint SEX all over it — the idea of taking a formal white shirt & making a controversial statement with it intrigued me. I wore the shirt that night and images from the event went viral and later on I was asked if Stevie Boi could wear it during NYFW. Its crazy to think something that propelled my career was the result of an accident.
I really love your strict use of black and white in your art and fashion work, like Collection Zero . Though many people may not admit it, I think those are the colors most people are drawn to and feel most comfortable wearing in their everyday life.
Thank you! Yes, I completely agree. I feel that people who only wear black and white live colorful lives. A lot of people hide behind their clothes; this is the main reason why bright neons and busy prints do not interest me. Without busy prints and color you are forced to see the person for who they are. No mask, no distraction, only opportunity for a genuine connection.
You were the face of Enfants Riches Deprimes, and you’ve been in two different Vogues and Harper’s Bazaar. What was it like when you started modeling? Also, which magazines do you read?
Modeling happened on its own for me. I am not signed to a modeling agency. I have always just been a musician. I am friends with a lot of models. I went to visit one in New York and when I arrived onset the team though I was the male they had casted for the day. I booked my first shoot a week later. Enfants Riches Deprimes contacted me after seeing me in a Damir Doma ad. I definitely feel more like of a collaborator than just a model. I love to pick designer’s brains and create in front and behind the camera. I am an avid reader of British Vogue & Bazaar UK, they are both nostalgic for me.
How would you describe the sound of the music you make? How did you start producing music on a professional level?
My sound is a melting pot of all my inspirations. Acoustic soul, synth harmonic, eclectic riffed. It is so hard to categorize music these days. I started producing music on a professional level when I worked with Saeed of Third Kingdom on our collaborative EP Intergalactic two years. We have been friends since high school and he will be producing some of my solo album.