New York-based brand Whatever 21 first began as a creative outlet for founder Brian Whatever, then a designer rookie, who’d screen print store-bought tees on his bedroom floor and sell them on the Brooklyn streets. This outsider passion project has since developed into something much bigger, from net-inspired merch to a promising Spacore lineup and now full cut-and-sew collections, like the one he presented during BULLETT’s Fashun Tweek this past September.
Marked by the existential tagline, “Ready to Die,” Whatever 21’s spring ’17 range tapped into suburban nostalgia, when self-loathing teens would lounge in their parents’ basements, straighten their jet-black bangs and scroll through Hot Topic, planning the most dreadful outfit they could possibly wear to Ozzfest. With its monochromatic color palette, reworked logo in that classic Myspace, skeletal font and wide, laid-back silhouettes, Whatever 21 made a strong case for a mall goth revival—something Brian’s appropriately labeled, “High-End Hot Topic.”
The accompanying lookbook, featuring model Cheeky Ma, DJ Nar and rapper Dick Van Dick, perfectly embodies Whatever 21’s attitude this season—rebellious, humorous and aggressively in-your-face. See it full, above, and learn more about Brian Whatever’s namesake brand, below:
How has Whatever 21 developed since you first launched the brand?
I was really into ‘Internet Aesthetic’ circa 2011 and I didn’t know anything about designing clothing, but I knew how to screen print. I started the brand as an outlet for me to create a tangible wearable art object. Whatever 21 literally started on the streets—I was buying tees from the dollar store and screen printing them on the floor of my tiny bedroom to sell hanging off the fence by the Jefferson stop in Bushwick. As the brand grew, so did I as a designer. Working with Lindsay Jones (of Músed) was a game changer for me. She poured her heart and soul into working side-by-side with me for two seasons, teaching me all she knew as a designer. I designed SS ’17 much more independently with Lindsay and I working mostly as consultants on each other’s brands rather than her helping so much on mine. This [collection] is by far the most ‘me’ there has ever been in a Whatever 21 collection—my mind, my hand, my heart.
Bring me through this collection’s inspiration—I’m getting a serious mall goth vibe.
I like to call it, ‘High-End Hot Topic.’ It’s definitely a throwback to when i was younger. I shopped at Hot Topic, [and] listened to Marilyn Manson and Type O Negative. My parents didn’t have a basement for me to hang out in, so I would wait until my dad would leave the house to buy groceries or see with his friends so I could play my Korn CDs on full blast and scream along in my room. I went to Ozzfest like 5 times. I didn’t always dress like a goth freak, but a lot of my friends did. The mall goth vibe is totally what I was going for—an update to Tripp and Jnco and UFO.
How do you think Whatever 21 speaks to what’s happening sociopolitically?
As with every Whatever 21 collection, there’s an element of humor and irony that goes along with the looks. This collection has been nicknamed, ‘Ready To Die.’ It’s a playfully dark mantra in a time that is looking very realistically bleak. I think it echoes how many of us feel and have felt both pre and post-election about the state of the world and our lives. Of course I’m not really ready to die. I think there’s a lot of work to be done and I’m actually now, more than ever ready to live and ready to fight.
What’re the biggest challenges of being an independent designer?
Of course cost of living is everyone in NYC’s biggest struggle. I haven’t worked a day job in 2 1/2 years, which is both liberating and terrifying. I pretty much work nonstop, sometimes 7 days a week because I have to run my brand, as well as freelance and work various jobs. I don’t get to see my friends as often as I would like. But I’m incredibly grateful for my community. The artists and designers I know are family to me. My friends are so supportive and we have each other’s backs no matter what. I fantasize about leaving NYC sometimes, but I honestly can’t see myself doing what I’m doing anywhere but here.
Who do you design for?
I try to make Whatever 21 something that can be worn by anyone and everyone. I’d say 85-90 percent of the collection is one size fits all. Many items are modular, tactical or multi-functional, so that people can wear the garments in a way that they feel best suits their look or needs. I try to keep costs low, so I can sell it for a price that people can afford because I know I for one can’t afford to buy anything from most of my favorite designers. I design Whatever 21 for the people, for my homies, and I design it for myself. I wind up wearing Whatever 21 just about every day not because I’m trying to self-promote, but because i’m actually making the clothes I want to wear every day.
What attitude were you trying to achieve with this lookbook?
Freakshow—Dick, Cheeky and Nar are three of my favorite freaks. Each one of them is a true individual. I wanted them in this lookbook because they are all incredibly creative and talented, and I knew they would convey the dark humor of the collection and serve looks just by being themselves. The models did their own makeup. They had a huge part in the creative direction of the shoot and the styling, which was a collaborative effort among the three of them and my friend Cecily Feitel, who designed most of the jewelry and accessories. Working with artists who model is vastly different and far more gratifying than simply working with ‘models,’ because when that many creative minds come together, the final product is guaranteed to be that much more next-level.