‘We’re an underground American brand being mainstream.’
Long before there was ‘diversity’, ‘community’ or ‘non-binary’, there was Telfar Clemens.
Interview by Hans Ulrich Obrist
Photographs by Roe Ethridge
Styling by Avena Gallagher
Creative Direction by Babak Radboy
Back in 2005, long before ‘diversity’, ‘community’ or ‘non-binary’ were buzzwords and three years before the United States had elected its first black president, a young man named Telfar Clemens founded a label to make non-racial, non-gendered fashion. For over a decade, he produced his original, unique and groundbreaking clothing of repurposed classics and twisted basics, and for over a decade, much of the fashion press – System included – simply ignored him. In 2017, Telfar won the Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund and they (we) had to take notice. Today, after years of running his own show at his own pace, the rest of the world has caught up with Telfar Clemens and his ‘horizontal, democratic, universal’ fashion.
Because Telfar really is its own thing, a label that effortlessly crosses the borders between art and fashion, while creating both. It is the vision of a designer who believes in collaboration, in working together with a constant group of creative friends and acquaintances, people like designer Shayne Oliver, artists Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch, and, perhaps most importantly, Babak Radboy, now the label’s creative director.
Their latest initiative, the Telfar World Tour is fashion presentation as concert, a touring show featuring the clothes on muses, singers and models. Held off-season and sometimes off the fashion grid, the concerts are symbols of the brand’s attempts to reach new audiences and live up to its slogan: ‘It’s not for you – it’s for everyone.’
This summer, the Serpentine Gallery’s Artistic Director Hans Ulrich Obrist sat down with Telfar Clemens and Babak Radboy in New York to discuss where it all began, how the brand manages to operate both inside and outside the system, and why the Telfar brand really isn’t inclusive.
Read the full piece in System No. 12, with a 48-page story shot by Roe Ethridge, styled by Avena Gallagher and art directed by Babak Radboy. Click to buy.