Exclusive Phlemuns Interview - The New Brand That’s Remixing the Rules of Fashionby
Los Angeles based designer, James Flemons, is building more esteem with each passing collection of his line. He's dreaming up new dimensions and crafting innovative silhouettes for both genders that are already becoming immediately recognizable. With signature design schematics featuring a DIY kind of eccentricity, James produces an array of pieces ranging from shin length trousers, a modge podge of assorted denim fused into singular garments, large lace up details in the most interesting of places and ‘shoulderless’ dresses that fall way past your shoulders. His looks that has already entranced the likes of super celebrities, including Solange Knowles, Zac Efron, and Miley Cyrus. The tag line, “More genuine than Ginuwine,” describes his personal style, as well as the values and standards he puts forth in the creation of his clothing line. This is Phlemuns.
In the past, he has contented himself with muted palettes and tweaking classic silhouettes for his unisex Phlemuns line, and, moving forward, relied heavily on bold patterns and colors for fall. Three years of understated, yet innovative collections and James has really honed in on a distinct look that's frankly lacking on the runways. Gender fluidity and multi-functionalism define his designs, as does the process of recycling both as a practical system of making clothing and as a concept. James’ lack of formal fashion tuition is also a key influence on the overall output of the brand- “I feel like I haven’t been constrained by the rules, so trial and error has created this kind of creativity that I’ve come across,” he explains in a past interview with Dazed and Confused Magazine.
ICONHOUSE was thrilled to catch a moment of James' time and chat with him about all his endeavors- past, present, and future. Not only did we learn more of his relationship to fashion, but of his relationship to the fashion industry and society as a whole.
Photo by Wayne Stambler
Jess: First of all, I'm so excited that you graduated from FIDM. You studied Product Development right? Did what you learn going to FIDM translate into what you’re doing now? I mean, I’m sure it must.
James: Yeah, there’s definitely useful things for what I’m doing now. But, it was more split evenly between business and fashion, suited more towards working under somebody else or a team. And I guess I left not really knowing how to go about things on my own completely. I didn’t feel 100% comfortable with my ability to make a garment and all the ins and outs on techniques you could do. My classes were more about testing everything out, not necessarily developing your skills and mastering them. When I went there, I was awful at sewing, like terrible. Looking back, I don’t know how I can make a really nice garment now when I was always the last one in class trying to figure everything out. But, it was great as far as learning to know the basics. And the fact that I don’t know all the rules has kept me open to creativity because a lot of my creative process is testing things out. Trial and error can turn into me creating something that I never would have conceptually thought of. So, I kind of look at it that way now. Not knowing everything has just kind of expanded my creative process.
Jess: And it’s so much more of an artistic creation that way than if you're just sticking to ‘okay this is how you make a shirt and now I’m gonna make a shirt and this is the shirt’. And did you have any kind of mentor or somebody that kind of gave you a push in the right direction?
James: No, I didn't and to this day I wish that I did. There’s still so much I don’t know and, within the scope of people around me, I’m the most knowledgeable on what I do, which is a little frustrating sometimes when there’s still so much I don’t know. I would have loved to have someone as that person for me. I guess I’ve come close, like when I lived in New York I had a friend that I was supposed to help out and then learn things from in exchange, but it ended up going in a different direction. And then I worked on a project out here with Bernhard Willhelm and he wanted to take me on as a half employee, half student kind of situation, but I guess the timing just wasn’t great because things got too busy for me that I couldn’t really take that on. So, it was kind of a little too late in the game for me.
Jess: You’ll pick it up as you go along! I don’t think it’s ever “too late”.
James: Yeah for sure! Well, I recently just met one of the girls of the duo of Ekhaus Latta; she’s based out here. She was talking to me about how so many designers are just not open to sharing things and want to keep fashion this almost secret world, and I just don’t believe in that. And she’s definitely the same way, so we decided it would be nice to get together and talk, ask each other questions, like work together and stuff. So that’ll be really cool and I think that’s where I’m finally gonna find my somewhat mentor.
Jess: That sounds like a perfect opportunity! So, I read about the barbie sketch book and how you got started, but, I mean, what really inspired you to become a designer, you know? Aside from finding this sketchbook and realizing that you liked to draw, where did you start getting the actual ideas? When did it hit you that this was meant for you?
James: I guess that’s kind of difficult because it’s just always been a thing, I don’t even know where it came from. It originally started as me just being very artistic. I was constantly drawing, like all the time, and my parents were very encouraging of me sticking with that and drawing and expressing myself through that. And I don’t know where the interest came in clothes. I was really, really into music videos when I was younger, it was a big obsession of mine. I love music videos and all the different clothes that they had and the expression through that and that’s kind of where I started. I would draw all the outfits I would see in music videos and I don’t think there was ever a click or a little lightbulb over my head like, ‘alright i’m gonna be a designer’, it has just always been in my world.
Jess: And when you started taking classes actually geared towards fashion, did you start finding designers that you really gravitated to? Do you have any current or past designers that you find inspire your work or just your creative process ?
James: Yeah I mean I constantly have, I’m not even really aware of it, kind of a natural pull toward Jean Paul Gaultier and old Alaïa (I still like his stuff now, but it’s kind of a different vibe than his stuff from the 90s). Jean Paul Gaultier is someone I have always looked up to and admired for his creativity and how he mixed all these different worlds almost. He was never just glamour or punk or minimal or crazy, it was always a meld of all these different things together which is kind of how I think when it comes to designing. Cause I have so many interests and I pull from so many different worlds and styles and types of fashions, I think that's what I connect with most. In college I was really, really into Alber Elbaz and Lanvin. I always felt there was something so raw, but romantic about all his clothes. I remember one project we did, we had to choose a fashion house and research all the history on it and do this other part on a person involved and I did the Original Lanvin and Alber Elbaz, but yeah I remember I was really into him in college. And I think I have a lot of ideas and concepts similar to Margiela, too.
Jess: Yeah I was gonna say, there is, especially in the kind of androgyny that I think you capture really well.
James: Yeah and it’s interesting that my friends, and this has happened to me twice which is kind of strange, but they showed their moms my stuff and they were like- it totally reminded her of Margiela back in the day.
Jess: Not a bad thing to be compared to.
James: I know right, not at all. I’ll take it, that's awesome.
Jess: And as far as this philosophy of androgyny and gender fluidity goes, how do you feel personally that the industry is reacting to these ideas, because it’s for sure popping up all over the place. You see it all the time, but sometimes to me it almost seems like they’re making a trend out of a real issue that a lot of people really struggle with. How do you feel about the attention to this issue in the industry? Is it a positive thing, is it a negative thing? It’s so hard to tell.
James: I know, I kind of have mixed feelings about it cause it’s like, alright, I love that I’m seeing it now more and more, and in the back of my head it sometimes is like is this person just doing this or including this person or having this outlook just to kind of ride this wave and get a kudos for being “progressive” and “open minded”. I’ve had a lot of weird reservations about how authentic people are really approaching the situation and what not.
Jess: Yeah it’s a fine line.
James: It’s a very fine line, but it does make me feel happy, even if it might not be genuine, that there is some kind of awareness to this and a light is being shined on it, you know? Cause it is important and I think that throughout our society and culture we’ve come up with all these man made structures and rules and things of how to be a person living in society when, as human beings, we’re so diverse, you can’t put a person in a box with all these categories they label themselves as. That’s just not the way people are. I’m happy that the wall has been broken down, that people are kind of opening their eyes to just these rules don’t really mean anything.
Jess: I think it’s definitely refreshing, and the way that you yourself incorporate your own philosophy about breaking these societal rules is so cool. Now, I know that you're starting to collaborate and work with Opening Ceremony right?
James: My stuff is sold there, yes.
Jess: And so as far as this idea of fast fashion that’s kind of a super big problem within the industry right now how do you see your clothing that’s very opposite of fast fashion, translating into something like Opening Ceremony? You’re not mass producing these pieces obviously so how do you provide for these bigger audiences that you’re starting to accumulate?
James: Well, I think being at Opening Ceremony is a great middle ground for me because they do cater to- I mean there are parts that are very corporate fashion and they do have the mainstream world of fashion tied in there- but they also have that part that they’re based off this mom and pop kind of idea that there’s still connection to the artist and the craft and nurturing those kinds of people. and it’s been great because they’ve worked with me in that way, and it’s something I’m still in the midst of figuring out. Things have changed so drastically, so quickly that I’m trying to catch up and put a finger on exactly what direction I’m going in. So, I’m kind of a bit hazy right now. I know I still want to keep my brand very selective and I have been producing bigger quantities now, but I still don’t have an interest in being hugely mass produced and like hundreds of quantities ordered of a garment. I think it’s just making the right kind of relationships and standing for what you believe in, I think its cool that the only team that i do have, which really isn’t one, is my family right now. And having them as my team I think, in itself, has brought a different effect than it would be than hiring people that are within the industry. We’re very good at getting stuff done and making sure things are handled professionally and in the right way, but it keeps it still on this smaller scale of them just wanting whats best for me and they know what I stand for and they’re not trying to push me in any weird direction. I’m trying to do my best with not venturing too deep into the mainstream, but its been cool being where I am and having a new audience of people. It’s exciting.
Jess: And so all of your clothing, are you venturing out and thrift store hunting and all that great stuff to begin a garment or is everything from scratch? Take me through your creative process, where do you begin?
James: It’s usually all from scratch. The whole thrifting, recycling process kind of comes in naturally, I don’t really go out looking for things to repurpose. It’s kind of like just me when I go out and I want to find something new and I stop at a thrift store and I really fall in love with something, or interesting silhouettes that I come across that I don’t see much of, or something that fits me really well that I’m really into. So, there’s a few things that I might buy and then have my eye on and then I’ll kind of come up with my concept for a collection and then I’ll go out and figure out what fabric I want to use and then I always work off the same patterns to construct my garments. And then everything develops through my head and I sketch everything out, well I don’t sketch everything out, it’s a very much gradual, as I go kind of process. But I start sketching and then the pieces that I feel the most excited about kind of start working on those. And then while i’m making pieces from scratch, I’ll try them on with different things in my closet and see from those pieces that I’ve really fallen in love with, what proportionally looks cool and what not, and then maybe I’ll draft a pattern off of that piece and tweak it and alter it and make the sleeves different, make it longer, boxier, change the collar, something like that. So, it’s usually always kind of starts from scratch and then its a kind of gradual experimentation of putting things that are already made and aren’t made and my creative process comes from everywhere.
Jess: It’s a really organic process it seems.
James: Yeah, and I’ve decided to definitely stick with that cause I’ve gotten good reception from people seeing my identity in the clothing, so I’m gonna roll with it. When I was in college, I got so into fashion I could point out in a magazine what collection certain garments were on the model, the designers, everything, and I was so consumer with it that all my designs started just looking like a reference of someone else's. And it was kind of me having to take a few steps outside and now I don’t really follow fashion as much. I’ve realized I’ve gotten such a cool reaction from things that I feel like are coming together so organically and a sometimes it ends up being just right on trend with what other people are doing or wanting.
Jess: And when you feel like you cannot create anything to save your life, how do you pull yourself out of it? Cause I’m sure you still experience creative blocks, how do you push forward and handle waves like that?
James: I call it in my head, playing dress up, cause I have so many random things that I’ve bought over the years from thrift stores, sometimes even just women’s fabric that I think is really cool, I have a lot of my mom and dad’s old stuff that they used to wear, so I’ll kind of put random stuff together that I wouldn’t wear casually out together and kind of look for inspiration through that. And it usually happens at like 3 o’clock in the morning. So that’s helpful for getting out of my head and not being so stuck. Another thing is, I’m on tumblr a lot and I follow a ton of different kinds of blogs. Not very many that are actually fashion, just all kinds of things like science or anime or skateboarding, nature, architecture, art, all kinds of stuff, and going through and being so visually stimulated over and over and over has been a big creative tool for me. It kind of sparks these little fires in my brain to get the wheel rolling. And when I do see things occasionally mixed in with fashion pieces, it bounces things off of each other. It pushes me sometimes when I’m in a slump and I see someone else at a similar place. Seeing other young creatives doing something really cool or making it, really pushes me to be like, hey! I can do that too and fight through it and be encouraging. I never see it as, oh thats not fair,they’ve got more than me. I just see things as motivating and awesome.
Jess: Well, thank you so much for your time and participating in this conversation with me! It’s been a joy to get to know a little more about your world.
James: Thanks so much, it’s been really nice to chat!
Be sure to keep up with all things PHLEMUNS by following James on instagram and you can check out his website for more information on how to purchase a PHLEMUNS original of your very own!
By Jessica Aurell, Cover photo by Wayne Stambler