[June 15 2016]
Leading up to LVMH’s third annual prize announcement tomorrow, the Canadian designer (and at 19, the youngest finalist for the prize) VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI and his business partner SAAM EMME headed down to New York to shoot a preview of their spring ’17 collection with Parisian photographer ARNAUD LAJEUNIE in a moody Brooklyn Airbnb.
PAIGE SILVERIA — How long are you in New York for?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — Until Sunday morning. We just have some meetings and then the photoshoot for this on Saturday.
PAIGE SILVERIA — With Arnaud Lajeunie? Did you know him beforehand?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — Yes.
SAAM EMME — Well, we just really liked his work and we reached out to him about working with us. We clicked over email and set up this shoot.
PAIGE SILVERIA — What’s the idea behind the shoot?
SAAM EMME — We wanted to do it as a way to start working with Arnaud and also to develop the visual language of the brand. It’ll be a little bit of a preview for spring ’17 in line with LVMH. It will also combine some more retrospective pieces or signatures that we’ve been building into an attitude that is very of the brand.
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — We found this really nice room; it’s an Airbnb that we rented. It’s like one of those Greek revival-style in Carroll Gardens. ARNAUD shoots in a very specific way that is cinematic and moody. And the colors and the light of the place we found just reminds me of a movie set. The room is really well decorated and feels very lived in at the same time.
SAAM EMME — It doesn’t feel like a set; it’s very organic.
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — We’re shooting the girl as if it were her apartment, very natural.
PAIGE SILVERIA — How many people work with you?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — Three full-time, one part-time. Me, Saam, a seamstress and another guy who’s doing some drafting and sewing for us. I usually do all of the sampling and they just do a small production run if we have to or they’ll fix something. And then we have a bunch of interns.
PAIGE SILVERIA — Why are you still in Toronto and not here?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — The biggest reason is that I can’t get the visa. It’s pretty hard to get a green card from Canada if you want to work here. You either have to go to school in the US, marry a US citizen, enter the green card lottery or invest half a million dollars and provide five jobs for Americans.
PAIGE SILVERIA — Are you still trying to figure it out?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — I’m not sure that we’d want to move here. It’s cheaper for us to operate in Toronto. And I don’t think we’re going to bring the line here anymore because just doing market in Paris works better. Buyers stay longer in Paris because it’s the end of fashion month and their schedules are a lot more open. Some buyers, especially from the Asian markets, skip New York all together. Because if you’re a smaller shop or on a limited schedule and you’re only making one trip, it would be to Europe. You can do London, Paris and Milan. And pretty much anyone that you want, if they’re a big enough brand from New York, will be represented in Paris for sales anyway. It’s like a one-stop shop.
PAIGE SILVERIA — And you speak French.
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — I’m a little rusty.
PAIGE SILVERIA — Tell me about your shows. You’ve chosen a dance studio and gallery spaces for your locations?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — For spring ’16 I rented a dance studio in SoHo. It was through a friend of a friend who was renting a bedroom that was off the side of the studio. It’s one of those spaces in SoHo that, I don’t know how, but is rent stabilized. She wasn’t paying that much and it was right above Alexander Wang or something. Some kind of wacky guy owned the place. He was really particular about some things that we were doing. He claimed that we’d have to rebuff the floors afterwards because he thought the dust was scratching the floor treatment. And then for fall ’17, we ended up skipping New York because the collection was late getting finished. So we just shot like a simple lookbook in Paris. So that was less of a thing. But working on spring ’17, we’re getting a headstart. So I want to have something more.
PAIGE SILVERIA — Do you already know what you want?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — We’re still working on it. A lot of it depends on the budget of what’s going to be left. If we do get a cash influx from that LVMH prize, it would make a whole difference. We’re just waiting on that.
PAIGE SILVERIA — When did you two begin working together?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — Before the end of last year. It’s going great.
SAAM EMME — I’m VEJAS’ business partner and I came on initially to handle the sales. I ended up having to handle almost all of the operations side of the company. I don’t design the clothes, but I always have input on like how the collection is merchandized, on visuals. I think we work really well together because sometimes VEJAS has a really good idea for a strategy or some element to the business and I have an idea that might translate really well into a piece.
PAIGE SILVERIA — What did you do beforehand?
SAAM EMME — First I worked at a modeling agency as a booker, then I was working in buying at a department store. Most recently I was doing consulting and sales for some other brands. So I have experience in the more curatorial side of retail, the production side of the agency and then more of the creative side of sales with the consulting. So it was a good wide base for me to branch out from and to have the experience to do this.
PAIGE SILVERIA — How did you meet?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — We’ve known each other for years. We met on the Internet through mutual friends. We finally met in person in October when she came to visit Toronto. She was staying with me at my apartment for a couple of weeks before she got her own place. She came into work with me one day and was like, “This is a mess,” and proceeded to clean up. Then she never stopped coming in.
PAIGE SILVERIA — Where are you from?
SAAM EMME — The west side of Canada, from Alberta.
PAIGE SILVERIA — So many people were displaced by that fire recently.
SAAM EMME — I’ve heard so much about it because the city where I’m from is quite close to where the fire is really affecting. It’s caused so much of a ripple effect. The industry is based on the oil sands too.
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — It’s going to have a trickle down effect on the economy.
PAIGE SILVERIA — You say you met on the Internet, where exactly?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — Tumblr.
SAAM EMME — We talked a few times. And we always followed what each other was doing. I remember I bought a couple of pieces early on before this was a brand.
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — I was just making pieces and taking a picture of it.
PAIGE SILVERIA — I didn’t realize Tumblr was such a tool for meeting others.
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — Well, not for me. Like when I was 15, it was a thing.
PAIGE SILVERIA — Instagram has just replaced it?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — Tumblr is really for a younger audience. But Instagram is a bigger deal because it’s a much wider demographic. You already see a lot of big businesses trying to create a presence there.
SAAM EMME — The interface and the premise of Instagram is much simpler.
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — Instagram is more social.
PAIGE SILVERIA — Do you make Instagram friends and meet people there now?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — Not anymore. I met a lot of people through social media when I was younger.
PAIGE SILVERIA — How long ago was that?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — Oh, like two or three years ago. But now, I don’t use any of it other than for the brand.
PAIGE SILVERIA — How do you feel about all of the attention the brand has gotten recently?
SAAM EMME — Maybe a bit territorial?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — Yeah, I just don’t think I’ve done enough to merit it. It’s not really much to talk about.
PAIGE SILVERIA — Do you feel good about the general perception of the brand?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — Yeah, but I feel like some people have gotten it wrong. In the first two seasons, everyone kept focusing on gender. It was less about the clothing than the models I was using.
SAM EMME — And something about the spirit of New York.
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — Yeah, it just overshadowed everything else.
SAAM EMME — This season especially, in terms of the press strategy, it’s been really important to define for ourselves what our brand is and not let others project different ideas onto it.
PAIGE SILVERIA — How are you going about refocusing the perception?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — A lot of the time we have to explicitly say, “That was press from the past. That’s not our perspective.” And we can create our own content for the story, like we’re doing here with the shoot with ARNAUD.
SAAM EMME — We try to create content that really speaks to the visual identity of the brand. Something that is very hand-to-mouth between the brand and the consumer. Because it’s our own production; someone hasn’t pulled our garments and done what they want with them. Making time to do these special projects that we really believe in on our own terms is super important in saying, “This is what we’re doing and this is where we’re going.”
PAIGE SILVERIA — How would you describe what you’re doing and where you’re going?
SAAM EMME — The brand is very much about taking basic elements—whether that be a fabric or a shape or a familiar garment—and twisting or perverting or alchemising them into something that is a little bit alien and unique. I think fashion is over this moment of beauty, beauty, beauty. A natural reaction is to create something that’s a bit ugly or bizarre or off-putting. That’s the direction of where the clothes go. VEJAS is also a very conceptual designer. He’s very much a puritan about the clothes and building on his techniques and the fabrics.
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — I collect a lot of images. It can be just an object and I’ll try to take the shape and manipulate it into something you can wear. Transposing certain elements from something or colliding two things that are distinctly different from each other. Like a bomber jacket into a pair of pants, or a pattern or texture from another item and trying to force the fabric to take on that shape.
PAIGE SILVERIA — Where do you source imagery from?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — All over. I used to find a lot of pictures on Tumblr, but now if I see something, I’ll take a photo of it. And then research that. Lately I’ve been looking at old technical drawings for garments from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s on Pinterest. It’s kind of ridiculous.
SAAM EMME — You don’t look at the clothes and think, this was on a Pinterest board, but it was. But VEJAS’ isn’t taking a literal inspiration, he’s looking at a technique or aspect.
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI —Now I’m looking at retro silhouettes like a bolero or a fuller skirt and then transposing elements that are very opposed to that. Like hardware or synthetic materials. I’ve also been looking at close-ups of the lines of car engines and heavy-duty machinery and transposing them onto a 1960s silhouette.
PAIGE SILVERIA — Back to the topic of gender, whom are you creating for?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — Before there was a lot of talk about whether the clothing is genderless or unisex. Most things, like a shirt or pant, anyone can wear it. But I guess now, we’re just combining men’s pieces with women’s pieces. Just throwing it all together.
PAIGE SILVERIA — Are you addressing which gender each piece is intended for?
SAAM EMME — We don’t label them differently. We just scale the sizing.
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — If an account is buying for the men’s floor, they’ll just buy pants and tops and jackets in larger sizes. And the women’s buys will be the more feminine pieces like a dress, a skirt and a jacket in smaller sizes.
PAIGE SILVERIA — And when you’re looking on Pinterest, are you looking at both men’s and women’s clothing?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI —It’s all just thrown up there. You just scroll through. I don’t know who puts this stuff up there, but there are these weird scans of Russian sewing patterns. And a lot of graduate students will throw up their weird technical swatch developments for whatever they’re working on as like it’s a journal entry. There are just so many things thrown at you.
PAIGE SILVERIA — So many different communities out there.
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI —Oh, I’m just looking at it. I’m not a member of the Pinterest community.
PAIGE SILVERIA — Where are you now with manufacturing?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — We have a factory in Toronto that does maybe 80% of our production right now. Things like leathers, which is a growing category for us—leather jackets and bags—we’re doing it all in-house. As the volumes grow, it’s going to be more complicated. It’s really hard to find a place with the right level of finishing and a good price point in Canada or the States. So we’re looking at Italy or Portugal. It’s just a matter of meeting manufacturer’s minimums and about the dialogue of back and forth. The samples, the patterns.
PAIGE SILVERIA — Have you been to Italy yet?
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI — No, so when we go to Paris we’ll go down to Italy to meet with some people as well. It’ll be our first time there.
PAIGE SILVERIA — What else are you doing while you’re in New York?
SAAM EMME — If we have some free time, we may go to the Met, see some art, do some touristy things or just relax.
VEJAS KRUSZEWSKI —We may do some retail research. We always check Celine and Proenza. You always see stuff on the runway, but it’s nice to see it in person. It’s always interesting to see how everyone finishes their things. It’s always a little different.
Photo Arnaud Lajeunie and Text Paige Silveria