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New York Style in Revolt:
David Henry Brown Jr. Uses Style as Intentional Communication

New York fashion has built its global reputation on a competitive spirit. The crowded and diverse city streets has always fostered an environment where different styles and cultures influence one another with social displays of sartorial experimentation.

Regardless, the onus of appealing to Middle America and the rest of the globe has resulted in "standardized products that lack distinct historical, cultural, or aesthetic symbols", such as those produced by Donna, Calvin, Tommy, and Ralph who are becoming synonymous with New York fashion.

Despite the dispassionate approach to fashion many larger designers have settled into, creative designers still manage to exist in New York. Though varying in design styles and techniques, they are all against making standardized products that smooth over the ethnic, socio-political and geographical differences of a diverse American and global population in order to appeal everyone. There have been a few memorable occasions when New Yorkers have experimented with counter-cultural fashion sensibilities; however they have been largely insular or resulted in an "alienating phenomenon that speaks largely to itself." New York needs to become a place that nurtures the discourse of fashion that can be both conceptually and intellectually challenging rather than subversive or inaccessible.

Conceptual artist and fashion designer David Henry Brown Jr. first began visiting Williamsburg in 1993. At the time he was producing installation art and later moved into performance based-art at The Mustard Factory. In one of his earlier projects entitled, 'Alex Von Fursterburg' David dealt with issues of celebrity fanaticism by assuming the role of a Von Fursterberg family member and using the cachet of this name to frequent parties where the rich and famous schmoozed and boozed, and to pose for photos with immediately recognizable faces such as P.Diddy and Donald Trump.

David's initial crossover from art to fashion occurred one month after 9/11 when he made a shirt with an airplane design, which he then wore to a night at Club Luxx and a party in Manhattan. Even though he was reluctant to wear an image that was so blatantly controversial, he decided to wear the shirt as a way "check the response" of the public. Much to his surprise and curiosity he was swarmed by people whose reaction was intensely positive. He was photographed wearing the shirt and on more than one occasion people asked where they could purchase one. This response fuelled his probing mind's fire. He wondered why and how people would be attracted to the image of something that at that time had potentially "apocalyptic significance". He concluded that by taking the image and co-opting it artistically into clothing, it had become sexualized (on the skin) and therefore desirable. At this point he began to realise the potency of fashion as a medium, and its ability to communicate messages with more sensuality than art. He said that "Art has to be considered intellectual and in order to be intellectual, it can not be functional, which is what fashion is… if it is wearable."

His designs are refreshingly wearable, and like his art, they invite discussion and criticism on several levels. This crossover appeal expands the boundaries of traditional New York fashion. In the upcoming September issue of W magazine, artists worked with fashion editors and the super-model Kate Moss to "tap into the interchange between art and fashion" in a move to revisit the concept that fashion magazines exist for "the sale of ideas rather than mere clothes." (Quote by Cathy Horyn of NYTimes.) This would seem to concur with Brown's definition of wearable art, in that the artistic messages are hung on bodies rather than just on the wall of a gallery.

David likes to compare his method of injecting subtle and provocative ideas into vintage clothing and fabric to the way in which a musician samples music. During the design process creative energy skyrockets as the control he has lessens , separating him from designers that create from scratch and monitor each step of their design process from fabric to finish. One of his major influences is Marcel Duchamp, the French artist who attempted to capture the effect of chance on everyday life. DHBJR "captures chance" in his spin-art designs by using a printing process involving a machine that he created himself. Currently he is working on a range of 'fly swatter' t-shirts that he makes by loading an actual fly swatter with ink and smacking a garment. The result is a superbly original eye-catching mess.

Some of his first attempts at fashion: plane imagery after 9/11, and the mangled tie shirts reveal his other major influence, Punk ideology. In Dave's words,

"Punk as a fashion aesthetic involves the reduction of craftsmanship (or even the appearance of craftsmanship) in order to amplify a simpler social communication. For instance, in the "Filth and the Fury," Johnny Rotten explains the social problems that influenced him to wear ripped-up, dirty clothes. A garbage strike was occurring in England which left the streets overrun with smelly garbage, and Johnny felt that the best to deal with the garbage was to wear it."

Other familiar items from the everyday were taken by punks and equally blessed with new purpose, such as the safety pin, which became an item of jewellery in the late 1970s. A few of David's suits (illustrated on this page) have reinterpreted this idea essentially with added embroidery and appliqué. The suit, a symbol of conformity, has had its meanings turned and twisted.

When asked about fashion in Williamsburg during an interview at Verb coffee shop on Bedford Avenue , he responded:

"I feel that the physical expression of fashion - clothing, appearance, image - are important signifiers here in Williamsburg. There are large amounts of tribal sub-genres here. However clothing can be ambivalent, and it may or may not indicate someone's persona due to the theatrical nature of clothing, in that the street is like a stage."

However he does not think of this as superficiality, because he believes clothing is linked to emotions. He explained, "If someone truly believes in what they wear that is enough to make it 'real', and that raises questions about what is real or not."

Brown is looking forward to eventually collaborating with a skilled multi-disciplined team where he could have the role of creative designer that most importantly will push boundaries. He enjoys the energy of fashion shows and plans to stage his own soon, though at the moment he is focusing on creating a comprehensive website that will allow him to transmit overseas. He misses making art and hopes that he will soon be in place to have time for both worlds.

David Henry Brown Jr will always be looking for inspiration. As an artist he feels he has matured, and he has trained himself to look for this inspiration by continuously asking himself a sequence of questions "that allow me to deduce ideas from day to day life. After all, genius does not come from within; so much as it comes from being an active part of the world, by training your awareness… by building awareness software in your brain!"

CURRENTLY EXAMPLES OF
HIS WORK ARE ON DISPLAY:

AT 31GRAND IN WILLIAMSBURG YOU CAN VIEW "THE SKINS OF WHITEMAN" AN INSTALLATION ART-FASHION PIECE
31 Grand Street Brooklyn, NY 11211
tel: 718-388-2858
www.31grand.com
[email protected]
hours Friday-Sunday 1-7pm or by appointment

DAVID SILVERSTEIN GALLERY IN CHELSEA
WHERE DHBJR HAS CONTRIBUTED WORK TO THE "150 ARTISTS make 150 T-SHIRTS" EXHIBITION

520 West 21st street
TEL: 212 929-7902
http://www.silversteingallery.com

DAVID HENRY BROWN SELLS HIS FASHIONABLE IDEAS AT LANDING
3RD AND WYTHE, WILLIAMSBURG, Brooklyn 11211

TEL:718-218-9449
www.landingbrooklyn.com
HRS: 12-8 7 days a week
In 2002, Brown was a finalist in the Gen Art Styles Competition. (http://www.genart.org). His work will appear in the second print issue of The Blow Up magazine.

He also does custom "Disorders" from his studio. Contact David Henry Brown:
[email protected]

--Sarah Kuhn
[email protected]


all photos by Conrad Ventur

quotes taken from Christopher Breward's 'Fashion' which appeared in Oxford University Press 2003

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Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
[email protected] | August 2003 | Issue 41
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