Kevin Emerson

Photos by Tao Antrim

The designer Kevin Emerson makes unique hand dyed garments that take our modern obsession with psychedelic aesthetics and flips it on its head. With a spree of collaborations in the past year, heís quickly becoming one of New Yorkís exciting new voices in fashion. Heís recently moved into a studio with Tony Tafuro, another bespoke garment artist who shares his creative ethos. 

What inspires you to produce in such small, custom batches as opposed to mass production? 

I want to touch every single thing myself and care about everything I make. I’ve done 200+ piece dye jobs in my old bedroom at my apartment when I used to do more commission stuff and it started to kill me after a while. But I’m grateful for every single gig I’ve gotten and all the people I’ve met and gotten to work with.  It’s not about being a brand so much for me. I like what I do, I love working with different people and seeing what we can get done in the most natural way possible. I’d get super bored making 500 of the same thing by hand and it would probably start to look like shit.

Do you see your shirts as similar to sculptures or paintings ó as individual pieces of art? 

There’s some special regard given to some that either took forever or I just really liked for whatever reason, but nothing is precious. The one-of-one’s are artworks, but for me there’s context; It’s a one of a kind, hand-treated item, but because they’re wearable and not wall-works, I like the idea of people just wearing them however they want.

How did you get into dying in the first place? 

We would do it at camp and stuff when I was a kid. I grew up in western Massachusetts. My older sister is a lifer Deadhead. She had so many Dead and Phish shirts while I was growing up and I loved them. It’s always been something that caught my eye. But the first job I took was the CNY one-off thing.

Photos by Tao Antrim

Do you have a preference for doing collaborations, or would you one day like to produce a line from top to bottom? 

I’d love to do everything. At the moment I’ve been working a little more on independent stuff and it’s been nice. But I’m not going to stop working with other people, why would I? I love working with people, I feel like when you can connect with someone in a creative space, you can do a lot of different things. I just want to keep making art in general and if designing a line of clothing independently or for someone else manifests itself and makes sense, I’m down.

Do you see what you do as recycling in a way? 

Sometimes. When I work with vintage clothes maybe more-so. I hope to do much more in the future with that. It takes a little more effort in terms of finding the right quantity of certain things, but I really like working with used stuff.

Photos by Tao Antrim

Whatís it been like in the new studio? 

It’s been good. We definitely need more space, but I love it. It’s in a super convenient location for both of us, there’s food nearby, and Labor just opened up on the corner which is cool.

Do you feel like the two of you build off of each other creatively? 

For sure. We’ve been able to find a rhythm and work pretty naturally together. Interaction is the center of the project we’ve been doing. Reaction to the other person’s work. Over time and by trying tons of different things we’ve found other methods and been able to challenge each other and try new things. 

Celebrities like A$AP Rocky have worn your stuff, how do you balance not wanting to burn out or be hyper-limited with releases? 

The fact that the shirts have gotten that visible is something I couldn’t have dreamed of and it rules. But I’m not going to reroute my ambitions based on someone wearing something I made. If an artist wears something that came out of our studio, personally it’s huge for me, but I’m not going to start mass-producing things we make as one-offs, it wouldn’t feel right.

What has working with collaborators taught you about your own practice? 

I guess it’s just made me more confident in my abilities, to be trusted with something like that and be able to deliver. Every person and every brand has a different workflow so being able to do it in a very hands-on way with different people is a great experience.

Do you consciously try to subvert some of the clichés about tie-dye? 

With my work with Tony, I don’t think we’re aiming for darkness, I feel like our work just naturally meets in a weird place. Color is a huge communicator in itself and I just enjoy exploring tones and pairings, then building off of that.

This story appears in issue #2 of Secret, available now.