This story is part of Image Issue 16, “Interiority,” a living archive of L.A. culture, style and fashion that shows how the city moves from the inside. Read the whole issue here.
Bryan Escareño doesn’t like being boxed in. Since its inception, his brand, Amor Prohibido, has been a vehicle to challenge notions of what should be, both in his own life and in the culture. “People are expecting the cholo aesthetic,” says Escareño. “‘Oh, he’s a Latino designer, he’s going to give us flannels and graphic tees. That’s what we’re going to expect from him.’ You want to put me in this box? Well, here’s this.”
The latest iteration of “this” being Escareño’s new collection, a collaboration with Echo Park concept shop and boutique Género Neutral, which was the exclusive retailer for the pieces. Dubbed “Gender Neutral,” the collection is the most overt step Escareño has taken in expanding people’s view not only of him as a designer but of the possibilities for fashion in 2022.
The seven-piece capsule plays with fluidity through silhouette, fabric and options for styling — purposely leaving undefined the questions of who should wear the clothes and how. Consider the asymmetrical black skirt that can be adjusted in a variety of ways depending on your mood. Or the paneled sheer mesh turtleneck in a mix of soft colors that mimic the hazy rainbow found in a soap bubble. The wide-leg baby-blue pants feel like both a relic from early-’90s L.A. and an omen from the L.A. of the future. And the see-through black button-up, done in a lacy mantelé fabric, is already the limitless staple piece of summer.
Ashley S.P. and Jennifer Zapata, founders and co-owners of Género Neutral — which gets its name from the way the duo presents all clothes on the floor together, next to one another; there are no womenswear or menswear sections or labeling in the store — say this collaboration was a long time in the making. Escareño has been nudging them to carry Amor Prohibido in the store since they opened it over a year ago, and customers have been asking for the brand as well. When Escareño wanted to tap into a new clientele, Género Neutral served as the bridge.
“He wanted to do something his male clients, who are his primary customers, could see themselves in, as well as tap into the women’s market,” S.P. says. “We do things genderlessly, and he really wanted to explore what that looked like too. That’s where the collaboration comes through.”
The other three pieces in the collection — two cotton cut-and-sew T-shirts and a hat — blend the Amor Prohibido and Género Neutral universes together by marrying aesthetics and logos.
Amor Prohibido’s fan base goes harder than most, probably because of the way Escareño has used his clothes as a way to tell stories about the L.A. community. “I love going through old photos of my family at barbecues in Venice and seeing what my uncles were wearing because it inspires me,” he says. “My job as a designer is to elevate it.” The brand’s trucker hat has become a cult classic — a staple sighting at art shows, fashion parties and Sunday kikis at Elysian Park.
Escareño, a hustle-minded artist who grew up playing soccer in Venice and later Inglewood, worked in the corporate offices at Ross after college before he broke his wrist in a cycling accident. While he was taking time off work to heal, he came upon a vintage sewing machine and taught himself the craft. It was a natural step for someone so style-minded — throughout his youth, he worked for the sole purpose of buying sneakers — and he quickly realized he wanted to be in a more creative environment. He started making clothes and became a buyer for Wasteland, where he would wear his early designs for an audience of co-workers and customers who wanted to know what the next dope thing in fashion was.
His designs are particularly fitting for the current moment, S.P. says. She has noticed that especially in L.A., customers have embraced a more fluid mentality when it comes to dressing. Since Gender Neutral opened a door, “Most of the people buying the skirts have been men,” says S.P. In other words, clothes are clothes — and who they’re for depends on whoever puts them on that day.
With each Amor Prohibido collection in the last five years, Escareño has been stretching out and testing his limits. In this photo essay of the collection, he investigates, with photographer Julian Burgueño, the capacity for clothing to hold court in the castle of high art. Here, Gender Neutral is featured alongside works at the Getty Center. Each shot — captured while bumping Nate Dogg in the galleries — places models Natalia Lemper and Eliseo Equihua in dialogue with the iconic pieces showcased on the wall and in the halls. As rendered by Burgueño, the clothes add new layers to the work, like a collage. Boundaries between art and style evaporate. Gender Neutral is revealed as a force powerful enough to transcend binaries.
Photographed at the Getty Center with assistance from Chris Burgueño. Makeup by Jessica Monzalvo; styling by Daniel King; videography by Elias Lopez, behind the scenes footage by Alejandra Rios.
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