“Have I not commanded you?” questions the handout at rising New York designer Wesley Berryman’s spring ’17 NYFW debut. “Be strong and courageous. In the face of such discrimination, proudly express who you are.” The presentation is outlined as a rock band’s set list with the title “One More Final: Screaming Metal” written beneath the designer’s name in a comparably campy, emo font as the one used on My Chemical Romance’s 2006 The Black Parade artwork. Berryman’s work is always tactfully referential, pulling together these minor details to help support his larger vision, which uses fashion as a vehicle to empower the unsung, much like MCR’s music did for insecure teens in the early aughts.
The designer first developed a cult-like following on Tumblr for his over-the-top DIY outfits, featuring 8-inch stripper heels, custom studded jackets and horned head-pieces, that inevitably attracted swarms of Little Monsters at the height of Gaga’s career. Years later, Berryman’s URL fans have become his IRL friends and collaborators, and those allusions to Mother Monster are still proudly prevalent throughout his clothing and brand message. This collection, in particular, felt like a natural response to the Born This Way era, when ’80s hair metal aesthetics were reimagined through Nick Knight’s stylized lens and the concept of inclusivity was dramatized with religious narratives: “It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H.I.M.”
The parallel is appropriate, however; Gaga brought this message to the mass market, while Berryman’s smaller, but impressionable online presence showed how Born This Way’s values could be applied to a real, relatable individual. Now, the designer’s facing God and walking backwards into Hell—a statement printed on several pieces this season—to deliver high-concept, high-quality fashion to all the outcasts at approachable prices. For spring, Berryman presented a focused collection of dark, tailored denim pieces with lacing details and “Wesley” band tees—a lineup that offered something fresh, beyond the baby Eckhaus Latta movement that’s been informing most of New York’s newest designers for quite some time, now.
As one of Berryman’s biggest longtime fans, BULLETT caught up with the designer to talk about his official debut:
What inspired this collection?
The inspiration for this collection came from my love for emo music—My Chemical Romance, Panic! At The Disco, Pierce The Veil—the emotions and dark subject matter has always spoken to me. My younger self was so insecure, so unhappy and this angsty music was my drug. This informed the graphic band tees you see in this collection along with the oversized silhouettes which cover any insecurities one may have. Big denim jackets became security blankets, long black hoodies were sweat stained from constant wear.
Inspiration also came from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. In this anime, the EVA units—giant angel-monsters—were essentially caged into a prison-like body armor that allows humans to control their every move. But when pushed too far, the EVA would go berserk and break free from the armor, restoring their own free will. I wanted to channel this by creating elements that unzip and reveal. I see clothes as an armor that we wear and once we are stripped bare we have nothing left to hide who we really are. This essentially perpetuates my idea of forging self expression.
What do you find most valuable?
Staying true to my vision. I see my creativity as a gift from God, and it’s my duty to respect that and deliver exactly what it is that I want to say. I also believe in the power of craftsmanship. I think this is one of the most important things when it comes to being a designer. I design, pattern, cut and construct every single garment. I know how to make a damn good quality garment because this is my craft. I take that very seriously, and I practice and nurture my skill. Half of the performance art of being a designer is making things for people to wear and live in, so they better not have one seam out of place.
This was your NYFW debut. Did you feel any pressure?
For me, I didn’t go into this thinking of it as my ‘big debut.’ I’ve been creating for years, since I was a child. So this was just the next step on the staircase of my journey. But I knew this would be my biggest creation yet, so I wanted it to scream, ‘Wesley Berryman,’ and that just came naturally when designing because it came from my soul. It was innately me. I didn’t feel any pressure until the team I worked with started getting bigger—stylists, hair, makeup, photographers. I was so blessed to have found a team of people who truly believe in my vision and were willing to help me. That’s when I felt pressure, because I didn’t want to let them down.
I love the messaging you printed on these pieces—who wrote those?
The literature of this collection is all very inspired by religion and the Bible. I’ve mixed Bible verses with my own words: ‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. In the face of such discrimination, proudly express who you are.’ Scripture has a very powerful voice—it’s almost finite and demanding. I use this as a commandant for my community to inspire pride. ‘I will face God and walk backwards into hell,’ is me saying I will do anything for you, I will reject my religion and descend into the darkest place I know, all for you. And that’s how I really feel for my LGBTQ community. I would do anything to save them—to inspire them to love each other and themselves. I always like to include text on clothing because it’s romantic and literally speaks what I want to say.
Are there key design elements essential to your brand?
There’s always something strong about my silhouettes because I want them to evoke strength. I want to create an iconic look that is undeniably ‘Wesley Berryman.’ The lacing has been something I’ve revisited again because it’s fun and makes a statement. I always try to have some sort of customizable element to the clothes, whether that be zippers, details you can clip on and off. I like the idea of my customer making the garment their own. Jackets are my favorite thing to design, so they will always be a huge point. Black is clearly the color I identify with most, so I use it most and sometimes exclusively. Black is very ‘Wesley Berryman’ and will always be relevant in fashion.
Who do you design for?
I design for God, the gays and myself; I design because I would die if I didn’t. But once I found that my art resonated with people, they became my focus. I learned that my art was a powerful tool for influence, so I hope to create a fantasy that others can live in, as well. A lot of people find clothes comforting, and the way you express yourself is very important. I want to inspire self-love mostly. With my messaging [and] the world I create, I want people to be inspired to be themselves. Nothing makes you feel more yourself than an amazing outfit.
Are there any artists you look to for inspiration?
I look to writers, poet, and actresses. A huge source of inspiration for me is the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. He inspires every second of my life. For Rilke, loneliness was celebrated. His writings taught me to use my loneliness as a well for creativity—all his pain and darkness became the inspiration for his art. Nothing inspires me more than Rilke.
Do you think people take fashion too seriously?
People take fashion way too seriously, but also not serious enough. I do love to have a hint of camp in everything I do because life is too short to care so much about clothing. But I also take a great deal of care when it comes to design because it’s my art and I know how powerful it can be. I honestly believe it can save lives—it has saved mine. So in that regard, I take it very seriously. But it’s also just clothing, so why not have fun? Some of the words I printed on my shirts came from memes, so that’s my hint of camp this season. Concepts that inspire my collections are usually so dark [that] if I didn’t add some humor, it wouldn’t be enjoyable.
Throughout your life, what has prepared you to launch this brand?
Every single moment—all the bruises and scars—all the times I was kicked in the teeth have prepared me for this. Most of all, the struggles I’ve endured being in this industry have made me ready for this next step. I never have much luck as an employee; I have authority issues and authority always hates me, as well. So working for other people has pushed me to go out on my own because I was so unhappy creating someone else’s dream and getting shit on in return. But more importantly, my own drive and creativity has prepared me to tackle this. It’s hard work putting a show together. I had some amazing supporters, but it’s mostly a psychological struggle with oneself to keep pushing—keep sewing till the very end.