"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a maker," says Wilde. "A creator that manifests my thoughts into reality, by my own hand, by just doing. People don't often think about what clothes mean the way they do with works of art -- but maybe they should."
As the founder, art director, and chief designer of The Bohemian Society, Wilde is known for infusing the methods and attitude of visual art into his singular garments. A natural polymath, he creates textiles with body-printing, translates ideas and processes into multimedia and video-based works and unforgettable live art spectacles, and uses politically charged symbols, words, and even gunfire to create texture and narrative in both his clothing and visual art. He distresses, deconstructs and recontextualizes vintage clothing and unconventional textiles, literally tearing found fashions apart and recombining them into expressive, unexpected profiles, textures and wearable sculptures.
Wilde's large-scale mixed-media paintings and collages employ this same process-based technique of interpretive recombinance -- a certain destroy-to-rebuild approach to generating meaning -- as well as purloined billboards, hand-painting and industrial stitching. He has a long history of working as a street performer, programming a cable access tv show, writing and acting, and is very proud of getting kicked out of art school for being a "weirdo." In truth Wilde's first loves have always been visual and performance art, and thus not only does he approach fashion as an expressive, personal, and artistic undertaking, he makes visual art using the same sensibility, and frequently the same materials.
Such is very much the case with The Black Rose, Bohemian Society's newest collection of garments for men and/or women. In a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk -- a German concept translated as a total or universal work of art, achieved by a comprehensive synthesis of many art forms. Importantly, every individual garment besides being assembled like collages from deconstructed and recycled components, is then uniquely finished by Wilde himself with elements of painting, drawing, and text, clearly articulating their status as studio works. These are clothes that carry meaning in their forms, manifesting narratives of autobiography, symbolism, and material processes as complex and expressive as any painting, without giving up any of the edgy comfort and wearable sex appeal that defines the brand.
"The Black Rose means a lot of different things to me," says Wilde. "In a way, it's me on a hanger. Starting with where I'm from and through all the people, stories, and places that have made me who I am. Everything that defines me as a person also finds a place in my art and in my clothes. It's all connected. It's a history." In Canarsie where he grew up, no one called it the mafia, it was just how things were. The name Bohemian Society is itself a nod to the culture of social clubs and the importance of having people to belong to -- and the apparent references to secret societies from the Illuminati to the gangs of LA are quite deliberate, down to the collection's use of blackletter gothic script. Far from romantic however, Wilde's family was also touched by violence when his mother was killed by a gunman who was never caught. His use of bullets and gunpowder as tools of design, and the black rose tattoo on his arm, have always been about her.
But it's also been about the creative influence of William Burroughs' shotgun art, Johnny Cash as the original Man in Black, and the flamboyant nihilism of New York punk scene. When Wilde talks about reviving the '80s in his designs, it's the entropy of social and economic injustice that gave rise to punk rock that he's talking about. Not for nothing, but living and working in LA's Skid Row these days brings that resonance to the foreground on a daily basis. In fashion terms, black used to be the province of artists, rebels, rockers and criminals and now it's the height of upscale mainstream. It's almost not even funereal any more. But The Black Rose, remember, is not only about fashion. In its monochrome variations of surface, texture, shade, reflectivity, and movement, the textiles speak the language of modern painting -- like Ad Reinhardt got his hands on a blowtorch and some liquid latex and went to town on the Costume Institute at the Met. And while that kind of crossover might be an easy thing to imagine in this post-Warhol era of fashion/art collaborations that have yielded stunning and very collectible results, examples of individuals who are truly equal parts artist and fashion designer are harder to come by.
It was during a recent extended trip to Berlin that Wilde saw with a renewed clarity what success in the style industry had threatened to obscure -- that he is that individual. There he discovered that the spirit of chic scavenging, an arte povera style of making something new out of the ruins of the old, coexisting with the ghosts of death and destruction, gallows humor and all-night dance parties were still very much the order of the day. That seemed right to him. "I didn't bring anything with me, but I got there and all I wanted to do was make clothes, make art. I thought I was exploring a new city, but what I found there was myself."
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