This story is part of Image issue 7, “Survival,” a collective vision for the L.A. of our dreams. See the full package here.
Bryant Giles briefly pauses from creating his latest body of work — titled “What Now?” — to contemplate the significance of mohair in his current wardrobe. “I’m into fuzzy stuff right now,” says the artist from his Los Angeles studio. “It’s just cozy.”
The Chicago native channels a look synonymous with icons including Johnny Rotten, David Bowie and Kurt Cobain, who all famously wore mohair sweaters. Like him, they are known as much for their style as their craft. Giles, who has been straddling the art and fashion worlds to great success, has embraced the soft yet prickly fabric undaunted by the traditionally light or pastel shades in which it typically shows up.
The fuzzy nature of a post-lockdown mindset is what informs “What Now?” Debuting in early December at a Jeffrey Deitch group show at Art Basel in Miami Beach, Giles’ new works evaluate the layers of our current society, including the artist himself. “Who am I at this point and who do I want to be? Where do my morals lie?” he said. It’s a theme that’s more universal than ever. Usually his art has been drawing and painting on canvas and clothing — until now.
“I’m excited and actually, I think, enthralled is a better word to just separate the two,” Giles says of doing an art exhibition and a a stand-alone clothing collection and art exhibition. “With this collection, I really wanted to separate my art visually from my designing, which I feel like is two different variants of me. I’m at two different places. At first, it was just so natural to do because I love both equally and I think the instinct in that situation is to just combine the two. I love expressing myself artistically, so why not just paint on my clothes? I’ve been doing so for so many years that I feel like I’m starting to grow out of that and just want to grow more into doing runway — really serious pieces.”
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Giles has had notable fashion collaborations with Nike and Hermès. His first full unisex collection will be released in January with more collaborations to follow. Given his artistic prowess and penchant for sartorial expression, the evolution to two clear-cut mediums should be seamless.
Here, Giles shares more insight on his personal style, latest work and staying inspired.
Describe your style in six words.
It’s just one word for me right now: comfortable — trying to be comfortable. Even if I have six layers on, as long as I’m comfortable mentally, I’ll adjust physically. I’m just trying to be comfortable overall. Comfortable and experimental with myself, trying to step out of my comfort zone sometimes, but also being comfortable at the same time. It’s a contradicting statement. Experimental but comfortable. When I was working on a collection, I was really enthralled with the process of making or reinventing everyday comfortable wear. I was trying to reinvent simple silhouettes of a fleece or simple silhouettes of a hoodie. How can you reinvent a hoodie to make it more comfortable but at the same time have it look more contemporary? Sometimes it can be even more challenging to redesign something so simple than it is to design like an ostrich leather trench coat or whatever. I really do appreciate simplicity and I really do have an appreciation for those who put on their uniform, whether it’s bright or low-key, and just leave the house comfortably, mentally and physically. So I always keep those people in mind and I’ve kept those people in mind while designing this collection.
Inside Issue 7: Survival
Writer Rembert Browne investigates the mysterious ailments that just showed up one day
Writer Zinzi Clemmons wants you to be able to stay in the city as long as you want
Artist Muna Malik recycles the emblem of a failed democracy
Journalist Cerise Castle pays tribute to the city’s forgotten site of refuge and devastation
Actor Marque Richardson lets us in on the only 20-year-plan that matters
You’re meeting up with friends somewhere in Los Angeles. It’s 9 o’clock at night. What are you wearing? Do you have a uniform? Or is it whatever you’ve been painting in all day?
A white tank top, mohair trench coat, leather pants and some sneakers or some sandals. That’s what I wear — and sunglasses at night. I have these sunglasses that have clear lenses with a yellow tint. Sunglasses at night? I don’t know. It’s just something I do. I think it’s funny. It’s a completely different vibe going on mentally at nighttime. It’s incognito. I’m into fuzzy stuff right now. Mixing mohair and stuff like that. I’m into mixing that with denim and boots and stuff. I like mixing denim, fuzzy things and boots like a good boot and glasses. My sweater right now is the Kurt Cobain thing, but it’s just cozy.
You’re quite stylish. Is your work a reflection of that?
I always think the way I dress changes when I present a body of work. It exemplifies a mood and mindset and feeling and, at the time, is how I carry myself. In the future, I’ll do [clothing] pieces here and there sprinkled with art. But it makes it more special when you’re not seeing it all the time. We live in an era that’s like fast food of information and art and product. I want to be able to take my time and put out something that has an impact and make something that I’m proud of. I would like to control the anticipation and not have people get tired — to keep people on their toes. Of course, to be able to take your time is a privilege, and I never take that for granted.
When’s the first time in your life that you distinctly remember paying attention to clothes?
I remember I had this cousin, my older cousin, Joseph, who was really into streetwear and stuff like that. And he got me into it because he would just watch Pharrell all the time. And, at the time, it was Lupe Fiasco. It was Kanye, GLC, just all those guys. He would watch those guys all the time, and I began to watch his style and what he was wearing at the time. And I started to copy it, and then from there, I just branched out into it myself because I’m just a boy from a small town in Indiana who moved to Chicago. So, it was different for me and it was just exciting. The kids in my school didn’t really care about it at all. But when I went to my cousin’s house, he’s just spending all day watching these music videos, telling me about this and that, and it really enamored me and got me so involved in it. And I think by middle school, I was completely in it. That’s all I did in my free time — just indulge in fashion and just try to be on top of it even though people around me didn’t care about that at all. I was still really into it. And I had a lot of fun with it. That’s what made me get into everything that I’m into — having fun with that.
What’s kept you inspired the past 18 months of the pandemic?
Essentially I think what kept me inspired was constantly having people around. Because of quarantine, people have whoever they have around them 24/7. That kept me inspired for the most part. Then when that situation was no longer, I went on a journey traveling and trying to find that inspiration. I realized I had a conversation with someone, and they were just like, “You don’t go find inspiration. You just do it every day.” And then I was just like, “OK, that’s a conflictive statement.” What’s kind of kept me going is the idea that there is something more to learn tomorrow or there’s something more tomorrow. The mystery of tomorrow sometimes gives me a reason to even be here today. I think it’s the reason I’m still making anything and still waking up day to day.
Because fashion is a barometer of our culture, is what we wear more important than ever right now?
I think this is a very big identity moment for fashion. Since so many people were kept inside. We’re seeing more experimentation now than ever because so many people bundled up so many ideas. And since things are kind of opening back up, I feel like it also brought up creative moments from people. So it’s kind of like a renaissance. I’ve seen a lot of emerging designers and younger designers just creating some phenomenal stuff, some different things. I feel like a lot of it is credited to the time that everyone just had to sit still and think. It’s nice.