Photography by Storm Ascher
There was a black hole in mid-2000s culture when Myspace was the exciting go-to site, Mall Goths were the cool kids you strived to emulate and Warped Tour was the hottest ticket of the year. This was an era of innocent subversion, relying on My Chemical Romance lyrics to appease your pseudo-rebel appetite, and one that’s been largely overlooked in fashion ever since.
For LA-based designer Brian Rowan, memories of being an unapologetic emo teenager provided the backbone for his unisex SS ’16 collection, “It’s Not a Fashion Statement, it’s a Fucking Death Wish.” (Yes, that’s the name of a MCR track from 2004). The designer staged his show in the Lower East Side’s Coleman Skater Park—a fitting venue—where models wore oversized bleached hoodies, safety pins, denim with giant Tim Burton-style stitches and tops stamped with the melodramatic statement, “I’m not okay.” (All looks were styled by Amber Bradford).
Rowan pulled inspiration from his queer ethos, creating clothes to fit all body types—a successful mission, as exhibited by his lineup of non-model models, including rappers Mister Wallace and Chapman. A nostalgic remembrance of teen angst, Rowan’s under-the-radar presentation revived a time when style was driven by attitude and answers to life’s biggest questions were found in Hot Topic’s CD section. We caught up with the designer to talk about his background, Coleman Skater Park and emo culture.
Talk about your background in fashion.
“I started making clothes as a teenager. I would DIY t-shirts, write slogans on pieces and Frankenstein a lot of the basics I grew up wearing into something I found fitting at the time. I studied costume design in the theatre department at the University of Maryland, which was good for me. I developed this sense of giving my designs a narrative and trying to tell a story when making work; I learned a lot of technical skills in school, but it was frustrating taking theater classes when I knew I wanted to be doing fashion. I left school and decided to intern for other designers, which is really where I learned the bulk of how to bring a design from the sketchbook to fruition. I moved to LA almost two years ago, where I’ve really grown and developed as far as producing work.”
Why did you choose Coleman Skater Park for your show’s setting?
“The park is beautiful; I love the pipes and ramps, and I love that it’s underneath the bridge with city soundscapes and all the hustle. I skate in LA, where I’m based, and a skatewear vibe came through when all the pieces came together, so Coleman Skater Park felt like the right choice. Some of the skaters weren’t too happy we chose their spot; some of these kids were heckling the models a bit, but [my models] were literally wearing something that said, ‘I’m not okay.’ In retrospect, it was pretty appropriate given the nature of the collection. I wanted to be respectful of their space and didn’t feel right with the models staying on the corner ramp, so we moved to the garden adjacent to the skate park.”
Where does the title, “It’s not a fashion statement it’s a fucking death wish,” come from?
“The title comes from a My Chemical Romance song of the same name. It’s a bit heavy and dramatic, but it’s really driven by this “Fuck trying to be cool; I’m doing me and if that leads to my demise then so be it.’ With the vibe of the collection, the dramatics are appropriate.”
How did this collection challenge you?
“This collection had a lot of elements to it that I did for the first time, with using unique hardware, specialty stitching and tons of different dye and wash techniques. Some pieces have this really clean jagged hem effect, which is really fun looking. I love all the puff 3-D embroidered pieces. The giant Frankenstitch jeans and the Nancy boy tops were really fun to make and they’re fun to wear. I’m at this point where it’s all a learning process and about developing my aesthetic as a designer.”
Were you an emo kid growing up?
“I was a total emo kid. I grew up in a pretty conservative part of the DC area, where I didn’t fit in; I used my clothing to express my attitude. I wanted to capture that same attitude in a different light. In retrospect, there’s something really beautiful and communal about that time in life a lot of my peers went through. We were angsty as fuck, but we had each other, our music and movies. A lot of the references come from that kind of pop culture: Tinkerbell, Slender Man, Chuck Palahniuk. I did some patchwork pieces as my own tribute to Sally from Nightmare before Christmas. I listened to a lot of a Placebo making this collection and a lot of their lyrics really reflect the story I was telling in the clothes.”
Why was the collection’s unisex element important to you?
“It wasn’t even a conscious decision to make the collection genderless. I didn’t frame the collection around specific gender roles and I don’t want the clothes to adhere to norms. I just wanted to make things for people to feel comfortable in. As a queer designer, I’m just coming from a place of, ‘Duh, boys can wear dresses and skirts, and girls can wear a button-up and slacks.’ That’s a no brainer.”