If fashion is something that actively references the past, it was only a matter of time before a designer began looking to the mid-2000s for inspiration—an era when teenage subversion meant Hot Topic shopping sprees, curating Fall Out Boy playlists on your iPod nano and visibly loathing all things mainstream as a way to segment yourself off from shitty bros in high school.
LA-based designer Brian Rowan’s used these memories to build his independent brand, Rowan, breaking into New York fashion last September with a nostalgic My Chemical Romance-inspired collection. This season, he channeled a more aggressive emo and played up the juxtaposition of inner turmoil and external projection, because as much as we all wanted to seem like angry, confrontational badasses with our cheaply dyed hair and band tees, most emos were just sheep in wolves’ clothing.
We caught up with Rowan during NYFW to see his fall ’16 collection up close and talk about referencing lyrics by From First to Last, getting kicked out of private Catholic school and designing for misfits.
Video: Paul Daunais
You pull inspiration from a nostalgic time period we all went through, but why do you feel it’s important to readdress?
“I wanted to start at the beginning of where my identity came from. I’m inspired by my personal experiences, so I started from when I began to build my identity and go from there. I continued with that for this season, and I think it’ll be able to go in different ways in the future, but right now I’m happy doing this.”
Tell me about the lyric, “Dreaming of you in a pool of your own blood,” which appears on pieces in this collection.
“They’re lyrics from a From First to Last song. They were this band that Skrillex was in when he was emo, and I liked them a lot when I was a kid. I was friends with this MySpace scene girl, who dated somebody in From First to Last, so I met them all back then and I just wanted to reference them. I felt like last season’s emo was a little moody and sad, and now this felt way more aggressive. I wanted to get some screamo in there.”
You’ve introduced a suiting element, this season. Where does that come from?
“Making the collection, there was this private school outcast vibe that came through, because I was reflecting on my time in high school. I went to an all-boys’ private, Catholic, Jesuit school and I got kicked out senior year. They just didn’t like me. They didn’t have a reason; they just said, ‘We don’t want you to come back next year.’ I was a little happy to be honest. I think my parents weren’t. I hated high school, so I would come here and sneak into clubs.”
By senior year, switching schools would be weird.
“It was weird, but I just was relieved to get out of private school. So there’s a whole private school vibe in the collection, which is why I did the ties. I had to wear a tie every day. I mean, I would wear Hot Topic ties with skulls on them and shit, and I put piercings on them. I was the only emo freak at school, so I was thinking about that. I did do a really aggressive appearance when I went to school there. I had a bowl cut that covered my eyes, I had a septum ring, I was the only gay kid, too, which is why I did this rainbow hoodie. The rugby shirt this season was what ‘those boys’ wore, but I made mine out of body jewelry.”
How does being based in LA affect your work?
“I think the one thing that ties LA all together is that everyone’s kind of into sex appeal: peak-a-boo cleavage, cut-outs, sheer. Everything about LA is sexy. Even this collection, it’s emo as hell, but I’ve got the butt crack. It just comes through, I guess.”
What’s your technical background?
“I didn’t go to a design school, I went to a regular school and studied costume design in the theater program. Everyone else I went to school with was an actor, and I was the only one interested in fashion. Also, theater kids there were kind of cliquey.
Theater kids are cliquey.
“Even in college I was a misfit, but I learned a lot. I was friends with a really weird band of noise freaks in Baltimore, which was cool. There were also a lot of dance projects that were going on that I would costume. I made friends who taught me the basics of pattern making, which I also learned a little bit in school. I figure out something new every day.”
You’ve manipulated denim in a really interesting way this season, so that it almost resembles leather.
“I was thinking about things that look different on the inside than what’s on the outside—this idea about when you’re an adolescent misfit and feel like you don’t fit in, you put the aggressive exterior on, while inside is different and may be really soft.”
Your last collection had a lot of denim, too. Is denim a core material for your brand?
“I like using it. I think it’s really wearable and really accessible. There are a lot of different things you can do with it, so that’s inspiring.”
Is accessibility important to you?
“Yeah, I want to make clothes that people want to wear in their everyday life, and wear out.”
That’s what’s so important about your brand. It’s accessible, smart and has these references that are immediately recognizable. What’s the story behind the lamb iconography?
“Part of the concept behind this season was a misfit black sheep in wolf’s clothing. It’s soft and then it puts on the wolf’s clothing and gets aggressive. I’m also really inspired by precious moments, I think it’s really cute. So Amber Bradford did the drawing, and she helped style the last show—she’s a really good friend. She named it ‘Eterna Chiron’ because Chiron in astrology has to deal with your inner wounds and what you spend your life trying to heal. I thought that was really fitting for the collection, thinking about what’s on the inside. There are all these sweats that are different on the inner layer, too.”