Clemens, center, admires Jean Paul Gaultier and also Vivienne Westhardwood, however he is just as affected by Macy’s and also Marshalls.Photo by Justin French for The New Yorker
Last summer, the fashion designer Telfar Clemens was reasoning about cargo. In July, his label, Telmuch, relocated its studio from a warehome in the Brooklyn area of Bushwick to 4 shipping containers down the street. The containers were stacked across from a corrugated-metal quonset hut in a gravel yard that redubbed a landing-sexpedition airport in a tropical country, exposed to the elements and conveniently dismantled in an exodus. As Clemens designed his Spring 2020 collection, he was considering the cargo economic situation. Globalization has created a lingua franca of T-shirts and jeans, sweats and also tracksuits, polo shirts and also basketround shorts. These daily clothes are the ones Clemens has went back to many regularly in his designs. The label’s garments are standardized creates that seem to have actually undertaken a procedure of estrangement. They’re offered under the slogan “Not for You, for Everyone.”

I visited Clemens one afternoon last July in the red Hyundai shipping container that he was making use of as an office. He is thirty-5, lanky, and also graceful, via a gap-toothed grin and a smoky laugh. That day, he was wearing a net tank height through Rastafarian stripes from the dollar store, Telfar knee-length denim shorts, a gold Telfar-logo necklace, and also babsence Converse sneakers. For the Spring 2020 arsenal, Clemens was crossing the Atlantic to show in Paris for the first time. He and also Avena Gallagher, Telfar’s longtime stylist, had actually determined to play via an archekind, that of the freshly arrived immigrant naïf known in the West Afrihave the right to diaspora as a Johnny Just Come. Clemens called it “you’ve-just-come-to-this-country sort of styling”: new and also secondhand apparel linked in slightly the wrong way. On a board were photographs of Clemens wearing assorted iterations of the look: a starched collar underneath a hoodie, running shorts over fishnets, track pants paired through a blazer. The repertoire had actually a lot of cargo pockets. Some were in the standard places, on pants and also vests; others were affixed to the sleeves of T-shirts or along waistbands.

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Clemens was born in Queens, to Liberian parents. He began his brand as an undergraduate at Pace College, in 2005. At the time, many type of of his friends dressed in ways that crossed sex lines, and also, a decade before Gucci, Balenciaga, and Tom Ford had actually coed runmeans reflects, Telfar’s clothing were marketed as unisex. The label was as a lot an art practice as it was a clothes firm, and, for many kind of years, Telfar was worn generally by a tiny, learning cohort of world, the forms that frequented the roving New York party GHE20G0TH1K and also review the online arts-and-Internet-culture magazine DIS.

Clemens has always biked around New York, and also many of the ideas for his designs have come from glimpses of pedestrians: a tank top tailored to look prefer it has actually fallen off one shoulder; “drop-waist jeans” that mimic boxers peeking over sagging pants. Clemens’s occupational frequently pays subtle homage to street retail, with its gold chains pinned in lines on red velveteen cushions and also sundresses on headmuch less Styrofoam mannequins. Recently, on a trip to Florence, Italy, he noticed that common puffer jackets, watched versus the city’s medieval style, resembled suits of armor. The ruched costumes in Italian Renaissance paintings reminded him of the braided T-shirts marketed in beach communities. The resulting collection, a Telfar press release sassist, was “like a drunk Medici daughter on spring break in Ocean City, Maryland also.”


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The design Johan Galaxy walking in Telfar’s Fall/Winter 2020 display, in Florence, Italy. The collection was influenced by “a drunk Medici daughter on spring break in Ocean City, Maryland.”Photo courtesy Vanni BassettiThe sole owner of his label, Clemens admires developers like Jean Paul Gaultier, that put guys in skirt suits and also obtained from the uniforms of waiters and seafarers, and also Vivienne Westtimber, whose partnership to London’s punk scene bears some resemblance to Clemens’s ties to New York night life. But he is just as influenced by Macy’s and Marshalls. “I desire to be Michael Kors, however on purpose,” he has sassist. Gallagher provided that Clemens often refers to his aunt’s Talbots catalogues: “He has actually always been super interested in what everybody wears fairly than what the rare perkid wears.”

In 2017, Clemens was the recipient of the C.F.D.A./Vogue Fashion Fund award. He invested much of the prize, four hundred thousand dollars, in the manufacturing of the Telfar Shopping Bag, which comes in three sizes, and also is modelled on the dimensions of Bloomingdale’s shopping bags. It became the label’s best-offering item, and has jokingly been referred to as the Bushwick Birkin. The Birkin, a bag made by Hermès, deserve to retail for tens of countless dollars. The smallest Telmuch bag can be had for a hundred and also fifty dollars. The brand releases new colors on the initially Friday of the month, when, as Babak Radboy, Telfar’s artistic director, explained, “civilization don’t need to issue around the rent aobtain for twenty-five days.”


“The label is like the fashion indistinguishable of a 1970s black punk rock band also from Britain,” Jah X, a New York-based SoundCloud rapper, who freshly released a track called “Telmuch Bag,” told the magazine Dazed. The Telmuch bag regularly accompanies a certain school of street style. Apparently bored via Minimalism, and too damaged or hierarchy-averse to dress expensively, a generation elevated through access to the entire background of televisual culture, on YouTube, and also to a bounty of vintage clothes, on eBay, currently specializes in the rejuvenation of hyper-particular Amerihave the right to phenokinds. Their outfits are a kind of cross-dressing. You might see, at a fashion party in New York City, a guy that looks all set to attend a monster-truck rally talking to a nineties raver chick.

I live in Bushwick, where I alert Telfar bags all the time. As I was getting to understand Clemens, I preserved a list of the human being I experienced transporting them: a guy via a flattop haircut on the train draped in an Eileen Fisher-esque assemblage of a wool poncho and also scarf, through a tan Telmuch bag and dark painted nails; a tall, thin male via short platinum hair wearing a red tartan dress and white platform sneakers, holding a tiny white Telfar bag and dancing at the ago of the neighborhood bar Rebecca’s. On Instagram, people post images of themselves with their Telfar bags from Paris, Seoul, and also Montgomery, Alabama. Radboy explained the committed Telfar customer as a “black-nearby, queer-adjacent” perchild who, until freshly, was not regularly discovered in fashion declaring. Gallagher said, “We’re making clothes, but I think we’re mindful that we’re trying to represent our civilization and our friends.”

One day, the perchild I spotted wearing a Telmuch bag was Clemens, pointing at me and also winking over the shoulder of a drag queen he was hugging at a warehouse party close to a Superfund website in Ridgelumber, Queens. It was 7 A.M. on Labor Day, and also he was coming off a d.j. gig. He was shirtmuch less and also wearing dark, flared Telmuch jeans, Telmuch jewelry, and also a big lemon-yellow edition of his namesake bag, worn across his body. Clemens defines himself as a “really outgoing loner,” and also his friends respect the odd hrs he likes to store. “You can never before get Telmuch to go to dinner, bereason he’s asleep between 5 P.M. and 8 P.M.,” the artist Khalid al Gharaballi, Clemens’s frifinish and former roommate, told me.


In conversation, Clemens has actually a tendency to drop a certain sort of visual reference—to, say, the means a womale dips her nails in a glass of champagne in “Showgirls,” one of his favorite movies, or to the ballet flats that female office employees wear in the time of the summer. (In 2013, he made a unisex version.) In their photo shoots, he, Gallagher, and Radboy favor to comment on fashion’s background of whitewashing and also cultural appropriation. They have actually photographed their tattooed friends in cuddle piles, mocking the prep-school sexuality of Bruce Weber’s Abercrombie & Fitch catalogues from the nineties, and, in a play on Ralph Lauren’s lengthy history of finding “inspiration” in Native American craftsmanship, they have put a Telfar logo design in a dream catcher. A series of Instagram videos last autumn to promote Telfar’s jewelry line satirized Dockers ads from the late eighties. In the older ads, a group of largely white banker kinds sat approximately discussing golf. In Telfar’s version, friends talk around astrology.


At last year’s Met Gala, wbelow the layout was camp, Clemens dressed Ashton Sanders, an actor from “Moonlight,” in a faded-black jersey tailcoat paired via breeches, a cravat, and also white lace stocemperors. Clemens, whose hair was in a prom upexecute via tendrils framing his face, wore a garment that looked split dvery own the middle, favor a unisex-bathroom graphic come to life: a suit, made out of white jersey and also printed with the words “Telfar 2020” in college-athletics font, worn through a one-shouldered black silk slip dress that had actually a hint of the mall about it. “Taking these things that civilization are used to wearing and recontextualizing them for a new perkid and also a new time is what renders many the stuff ‘me,’ ” he shelp.


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At Telfar’s début in Paris, the label’s Spring/Summer 2020 repertoire was shown alongside a film featuring the actor Ashton Sanders and a script by the playwappropriate Jeremy O. Harris.Photograph courtesy Mitchell SamsRadboy, a small, bearded guy via round, wire-framed glasses, showed me a current photo spread that Gallagher had styled for Garage magazine. (Radboy and also Gallagher are a pair and have actually a five-year-old son.) In the photographs, by Roe Ethridge, Clemens and the playwbest Jeremy O. Harris, a constant collaborator, pose for a formal portrait in coördinated knit polos and also lounge naked on white couches under the chandeliers at the Belvedere, the clothing-optional men’s retype in Cherry Grove. The imperiods looked both acquainted and also not. A seventies porn shoot around 2 men in love on a army base? A Life profile of a U.N. diplomat?

“A lot of the images and also things that we perform are about visualizing a various civilization,” Radboy shelp. “A lot of the imeras don’t seem to take location this particular day.”

“But they will certainly,” Clemens shelp.


“Not in the previous and also not later on,” Radboy said.

“But probably tomorrow?” Clemens sassist. “Like, after you watch it, you begin acting like it a small little.”

Radboy went on, “We’re literally periodically reasoning, What perboy doesn’t exist? And then, choose, a month later on, on Instagram, that person exists.”

In enhancement to working for Telmuch, Radboy, the boy of Iranian immigrants, is the art director for Bidoun, an arts magazine around the Center East and also its diasporas. He is also, with Gallagher, a starting member of Shanzhai Biennial, a conceptual-art cumulative that as soon as explained itself as a “multinationwide brand posing as an art-task posing as a multinational brand also posing as a biennial.” At Telmuch, Radboy has actually tackled the duties that Clemens is happy to avoid, like negotiating through corpoprice sponsors and talking around national politics. Radboy is a high-idea kind of perkid. That day, he was contemplating just how an idea he’d had actually for a magazine dubbed Radical Parenting can be included right into the Spring 2020 runmethod display.

“Is that a actual magazine?” Clemens asked, just half paying attention.

“No,” Radboy sassist. “It’s the idea that eextremely day you reproduce your life.”

“Uh-huh,” Clemens shelp. “I mean . . . I acquire the principle of being pregnant with yourself.”

“You’re prefer a newspaper,” Radboy defined. “Eincredibly day, you have actually the new edition, and it’s the very same as the last one, and it reiterates whatever that’s true about the civilization and your own body, also if you don’t want it to be true.”


“Wow,” Clemens said.

Like many kind of indie fashion labels, Telmuch provides marketing arrangements with larger suppliers to help fund its runmeans reflects. On a lapheight, Clemens and also Radboy looked over the first images of a teamwork via Converse. A T-shirt was published through the picture of a basketround player posing choose a ballerina in a pair of Telmuch shorts, an instance of what Clemens calls “acquire the look”—reasonably affordable T-shirts published through graphics of people wearing even more expensive Telmuch apparel.


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Babak Radboy, Telfar’s artistic director, explained the committed Telfar customer as a “black-nearby, queer-adjacent” perboy who, till recently, was not regularly uncovered in fashion heralding.Picture by Justin French for The New Yorker
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Avena Gallagher, Telfar’s fashion director, shelp, “We’re making clothing, however I think we’re mindful that we’re trying to recurrent our world and also our friends.”Photo by Justin French for The New Yorker
Clemens regularly dresses friends for performances, and also friends frequently work-related in exadjust for garments. One weekfinish, the R. & B. singer Kelsey Lu, who was preparing to perdevelop at Afropunk, the annual black-music festival in Brooklyn, dropped by, delivering a large Telfar bag in fire-engine red. She wore her hair in thick red plaits, and her eyebrows were painted electrical blue. Clemens embraced her and led her to a clothing rack.

“Pretty a lot everyone is sort of dressing themselves,” he sassist, pulling out a leather jacket and a pair of jeans through flares made out of gray T-shirt knit. “I want you to pick things you actually favor.”

He aided her into a one-shouldered Afro-Jamaican string dress. Lu stood thoughtcompletely, sifting with the coat hangers.

“What’s this?” she asked, holding up a little beige rectangle on a hanger.


“It’s a knee brace,” Clemens sassist. “It’s a knee-brace bag.” The knee brace had actually its very own tiny cargo pocket.

Radboy frequently talks around the difference in between “representation” and also “presence”—between, say, a white-owned label paying a black artist to pose in its clothes and also to post the image on Instagram, and Clemens dressing his friends for a party that he films and puts virtual. The distinction matters at a time once the fashion industry is proclaiming new ethical requirements. Clemens has noticed that push around Telfar regularly supplies words prefer “diversity,” “area,” and also “inclusive.” “I’m, choose, constantly being had,” Clemens sassist, dryly.

In the previous three years, Telfar’s runmethod mirrors have come to be mini-festivals featuring a details type of New York indie celebrity, such as the singers Kelela and Dev Hynes; Harris, the playwright; and also the performance artists Wu Tsang and boychild. “I feel choose Telfar circulates around a lot of—I hate to say it, yet, ‘babsence excellence,’ ” the writer, artist, and also experimental chef Precious Okoyomon told me. Okoyomon newly cooked for a Telmuch dinner at Mission Chinese Food, whose chef, Danny Bowien, is also a friend of Clemens’s. Clemens made clear that his collaborators are not typical “brand ambassadors,” in the means that Jennifer Lawrence is a “face” of Dior. Harris said, “Somepoint that they carry out a lot with their productions is just let everyone jam.” For the Fall/Winter 2019 arsenal, called “Counattempt,” which was designed about the tropes of cowboys and country music, models crowd-surfed in a mosh pit at Irving Plaza. “You can’t acquire insurance for that,” Clemens said, proudly.


For Paris Fashion Week, the Telmuch team decided to make one of its most ambitious tasks to date—what Radboy dubbed a “multi-director” film. In the film, a traveller, played by Sanders, confronts a hostile protection administration. Harris, the poet and also d.j. Juliana Huxtable, and also the visual artist Diamond Stingily would certainly add scripts, in addition to the filmmaker Clayton Vomero, whom Radboy had hired to direct. “We’re functioning with a team of friends that I’ve recognized for over ten years,” Clemens explained. “Their takes on whatever before we want to carry out will be what we desire. Their eyes are favor our eyes.”

A few weeks later, on the first day of the film shoot, Clemens crammed right into a white van with his makeup artists, his hair stylists, a studio manager, a number of models, a rapper, and a singer, and they headed to Staten Island also. Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello’s “Señorita” played on the van’s radio. Oyinda, a British-Nigerian pop singer who regularly models for Telfar, hummed along.

“I love the radio,” Clemens shelp, scrolling on his phone. “I listen to eexceptionally station.” He tries to capture the day-to-day roundup of brand-new music on Hot 97 at 2 o’clock. “I listen to 105.1. I listen to Z100 at an early stage in the morning,” he shelp.

“That’s your vibe?” one model asked.

“Eextremely vibe’s my vibe,” he said. The van crossed the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. “Staten Island also is cute,” Clemens happily observed. They pulled as much as a marina complete of tugwatercrafts referred to as Miller’s Launch, and everyone erupted in excitement.

“Whoaaaaaa, look at this!”

“Cuuuute!”

On a landing close to the water, a group of 5 models in Telfar cargo-wear were rehearsing a dance, marching in area. The dance had been inspired by the poet Aimé Césaire’s “Notebook of a Rerevolve to the Native Land” and was choreographed by one of Clemens’s friends, Xavier Cha. Pregnant and dressed in a htransform peak and also babsence motocross pants, Cha stood by the models, counting out the moves.


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Gallagher, that is little and straight-backed, through lengthy dark hair, wore a long denim skirt, a life jacket, and also clogs. She was busy making certain that the models were wearing the best jewelry. The models skipped rocks as they waited to be ferried out to a barge, while Clemens and also his crew functioned from an additional boat that had been set up as a staging area. When the R. & B. artist Ian Isiah got to the barge, he belted out a song, his white outfit and also lengthy hair blowing in the breeze. “Ian is extremely ‘Share My World’ ideal now,” Clemens shelp, finding the perfect visual referral in the 1997 Mary J. Blige album.


Vomero and his crew seemed disoriented by the casual spontaneity of Clemens and also his team. During the following shoot, at Oakhardwood Beach, Clemens checked his hair in the reflection of someone’s sunglasses, then paddled in circles on a handmade raft in the water. He was shirtless, via a silver-barbell belly-switch piercing. “I like that black sailboat,” Gallagher said, looking out at the water, as Radboy rearranged pieces of drifthardwood.

The tide line was littered with plastic bottles, tampon applicators, pieces of accordion pipe, plastic cups. Someone appeared to have done laundry in a tiny stream and also laid it out over some rocks to dry. A Jamaican-Amerideserve to design named Johan Galaxy, dressed in a gray Telmuch cargo vest and also a blond wig, emerged from a changing location. “Where’s Telfar?” he asked, and then observed the number on the raft. Clemens was progressively floating amethod toward the horizon. “Oh, my God, why are y’all letting him play?” Galaxy shelp. Production employees were dispatched to swim the raft back to shore. When Clemens alighted, he automatically started inspecting the models, zipping zippers, tying drawstrings, tugging at waistbands, folding cuffs.

“Come, come, come,” he beckoned to Galaxy, and also turned him approximately. “I love this trashy-ass beach through this outfit.”

Clemens is on the road for fifty percent the year, overseeing the production of his collections in Italy and China or visiting showrooms in Paris. When he is in New York, he stays with an aunt in a two-bedroom apartment in LeFrak City, a substantial real estate complex in Queens whose buildings were called for different nations in honor of the 1964 World’s Fair. Clemens’s aunt relocated into the LeFrak apartment the week he was born, in 1985. His household invested his initially year in New York, where his father, Major, acquired a master’s level at Pace. Then they returned to Liberia, wright here his mommy, Hawa, and Major functioned as civil servants. In 1990, civil war compelled the family members to relocate earlier to New York. Clemens remembers hearing Technotronic and also Whitney Houston on the radio, eating his first Butterfinger and his initially slice of pizza, and mistaking the abandoned site of the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park for Disney World. Clemens spoke Liberian English, and also was placed in a course for English-language learners at P.S. 206. His teacher drew bit monograms on the chalkboard making use of each student’s initials. Clemens’s monogram, a “T” inside a “C,” became Telfar’s logo.

Anvarious other fifty percent dozen loved ones shortly joined the family in LeFrak. Clemens slept alongside his cousins on blankets on the floor of a bedroom. His parents slept in a dining nook. In 1993, the family relocated to Gaithersburg, Maryland also, a suburb outside Washington with a big immigive population, wbelow numerous of Clemens’s aunts, uncles, and cousins already lived. Clemens recalls that his elders had a suspicion of outsiders; he blames the show “Unfixed Mysteries.” “The initially generation did not desire you to be Amerihave the right to, duration,” he sassist. “You get an Amerideserve to accent, and also they’re, prefer, ‘Why’d you say that choose that?’ We were expected to go back, however we never before went earlier.” Clemens is close to his household, and also his mommy publications every one of his take a trip and also pertains to many of his mirrors. “He was an extremely nice boy,” she shelp. “His household loves him, a lot.”

Clemens started making clothing as a teen-ager, bleaching shirts and taking acomponent jeans and also putting them earlier together to watch just how they were made. He acquired an education and learning in residence music and also hip-hop once his older friends took him to the Paradox, a night club in Baltieven more. He did not think much of high institution or of life in the suburbs. “I obtained bored of being tright here, and also simply the concept of being there,” he said. In 2003, the day after he graduated, he left for New York, and that loss he started classes at Pace, wbelow he stupassed away accounting. He moved right into a dorm in the financial district, dvery own the street from Century 21, the department keep that sells discounted designer apparel. In in between classes, he inspected the stock. He also adjusted vintage clothes, which he sold to a consignment keep in the East Village dubbed Funky Lala.

The summer of 2004 was a optimal of the “tall tees” trfinish, when teens were walking around in oversized white T-shirts. Sometimes the tees were muumuu-size, getting to the kids’ knees. Tbelow was even a rap song around the phenomenon, “White Tee,” by the Atlanta hip-hop team Dem Franchize Boyz. Clemens began to buy five-packs of white Hanes T-shirts and deconstruct them. He made a single T-shirt out of three T-shirts and one more out of a mix of T-shirts and also tank tops. A friend that operated in SoHo at the Vice keep, a retail outlet of the media firm, proved the shirts to the store’s buyers, that determined to offer them.

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Clemens started his label via the three-number checks that he picked up eincredibly week from the Vice store. An aunt that functioned for a sleepwear agency offered him via jersey-knit remnants. To assistance himself, Clemens d.j.’d at downtvery own bars with dance floors—Lit, Happy Ending, Home Sweet Home, Orctough Bar—and also at a gay club in the East Village dubbed the Cock. He continued to be up all night, went to classes in the morning, slept for a few hours in the early afternoon, woke up, functioned on his collection, and also repeated the cycle. Sometimes he’d buy something to wear from Century 21 and rerotate it the following day.