You know that sensation you experience when you glance at someone or something, and you instantly realize you’re not alone? Well, it’s this exact spark which Wesley Berryman‘s designs fired up in me the first time they popped up on my Instagram feed. Perhaps it’s the goth darkness and raw honesty of each piece, or maybe the mix of glamour with the everyday is what got to me—I won’t ever be able to definitively pin it down—but one thing I can say for sure, Wesley hasn’t ceased to put out emotive and perfectly executed designs ever since his graduation from Savannah College of Art and Design. The now NYC-baced designer has truly built a community around his brand, having dressed iconic club kids and celebrities in the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, and his vigorous creative drive, humbleness and passion to spread love are ever-more persistent, regardless whether life serves him lemons or cake. See for yourself.
For some of our readers who’ve been sleeping under a rock, this may be an introduction to you. So, can you take us a bit back in time? How did you first get involved with fashion, what were the first steps towards founding your own label?
I moved to New York right after college. I didn’t have the job yet but I basically walked into Hood By Air and said, I wanna work for you. And that was my first gig; the only job I really look back fondly of because everyone there was amazing. After three years of interning and assistant-designing for other brands, I had my first presentation of my own. Even while working for other designers, I would go home at night and work on my own pieces. I think that was off-putting to many of my employers, I never really got along with my bosses as hard as I did try to. Deep down I knew I was destined for something greater than assistant-designing — I think my employers felt that too.
You are an embodiment of self-made and self-run. But many do not realize what’s at stake there. Can you lead us through the ups and downs of your creative process? What does it take to build a whole collection and do a runway show while producing custom pieces and sustaining a life outside that?
Running everything on my own has not been easy. I really don’t have a life outside of it. Sometimes I see myself as a prisoner of Wesley Berryman. Because, truthfully, my brand is my life. Without it, I would cease to exist. My brand creates my reality and my reality creates my brand.
How important is it for you to remain hand-made, self-run and local?
I’m not sure that it’s entirely important to me at all. I do enjoy creating, sitting on the floor of my apartment and hand sewing pieces together. But my vision is much larger than that, more global, so I want to start breaking away from the self-run aspect and move towards solidifying Wesley Berryman as a brand to be taken seriously. I just can’t do everything on my own anymore—there is so much that goes into sustaining a brand.
There is a certain sexual tension generated by the signature laced element of your new designs. Am I right? What is sexuality’s role in the design of your garments?
Sexual tension is definitely one of the roots of my design. That furrowed, agonizing feeling you get when you want someone so badly but there is something holding you back. That story plays out symbolically through my lacing. There is restraint there, for sure.
Speaking of signature designs, what’s your stance on appropriation and plagiarism in fashion? Most famously, we’ve seen Topshop quite literally steal your jeans and jacket designs. Where does such plagiarism start and end? Do you think there’s a balance between the flattering element that such copying contains and the ripping off of less established artists and designers?
I used to once dream of the day when my designs were so well known that they were being knocked off. But now that it is happening, it brings me nothing but pain and heartache. I work so hard and pour every ounce of my soul into my designs with my own two hands. Every piece I sell, I create by hand, and it takes time so I really don’t have the means to push a large amount of product to support myself. To see that being stolen, re-hashed, and re-sold by almost the entire industry is really heartbreaking. Now I just try to move beyond that and focus on what is to come for my brand. I find solace in knowing that my creativity is an endless well, which will always draw out more beauty for me to create.
What are some of your personal cultural, historical or artistic references you find yourself going back to for inspiration or research?
Religion and spirituality are my main sources of inspiration. Love, Birth, and Death could be seen as the three muses of my work. I am obsessed with Art History and the classical masters of art, because they created works as allegorical references to life beyond the physical — a guide to transcendence, if you will.
Azealia Banks wore a custom piece by you for her Anna Wintour cover art. In it, it seems like performance meets raw truthfulness, theatrical and witchy features combine with DIY cut-up elements. Do performance and theatre garments influence you in any way? How and why do you think opposing forces such as performance versus truth find their way through your work?
I’m very inspired by theatre and performance, because ever since I was a baby, I have been on a stage of some sort. Beauty pageants as a toddler, theatre as a teen, I was even on my high school step-dance team. For better or for worse, I have always looked at life as one big performance. Performance can either illuminate or darken the path to truthfulness. But without knowledge of the truth, one cannot perform. That translates through my clothes and especially for my work with Azealia. The Anna Wintour look is a performance on it’s own. Its job was to cling to the body and aid in the story Azealia wanted to tell. She isn’t actually a bat-witch, who woke up from a seventy-year slumber, or is she? Because how else could she embody that? With the help of the outfit, that truth is conveyed to the audience.
I’m absolutely in love with the Swarovski OBSESSION tee. And your chest tattoo! What’s up with you and the topic of obsession? How does it drive you as a concept? What are you obsessing with at this moment in time?
I actually got the Obsession tattoo on a whim. It was just a visceral, electric moment for me in the tattoo shop. The physical pain was so unreal, I was drenched in sweat. But through that moment of release, I was able to be inspired yet again. And for once, inspired utterly by my own self. Up until that point, I was obsessed with dressing my favorite musicians, with being a designer in New York and showing my work to the world. I pushed everything aside and was consumed with making that obsession a reality. In a way, I lost myself in the obsession. I got to a point where I was deathly skinny, not taking care of myself because literally all I could think about was fashion and my goals. I wouldn’t even think to eat. In a way, it served me well — I accomplished the things I set out to do. I’ve dressed the stars, had my own collections, etc. But at what cost? Now the tattoo is a reminder of the pain I caused myself, a reminder to be obsessed with myself first. I am the original obsession, the legend that I live for.
I bet everyone has asked you about this, but I literally can’t help myself: how is it to meet and work for one of your personal icons and role models, Lady Gaga? I am sometimes worried about meeting people I really adore and idealize, so did anything change about your perception of her? Do you have an interesting story to share from your experiences so far with collaborating with her and her team?
Meeting and working with Gaga has been one of my greatest joys, I am so grateful to everyone who made it happen. But it is such a special and sacred moment for me that I can’t divulge the details of that experience. All I can say is that I am forever grateful for what Gaga has done for me.
At last, I do want to ask you whether you ever think about the development of your label and creative process in five years’ time? You’ve dressed Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and FKA Twigs, Bella Hadid adores you and your clothes are shown in numerous photo shoots. What would you like to be the next stage, or thoughts like these are not productive for you?
I’m always thinking about what’s next. Because I have dreams and goals that go far beyond anything I’ve ever done. In the years to come, I see Wesley Berryman as an international brand that is accessible to many — a player in the downfall of fast fashion while also a crusade against the elitism of high fashion. Just as Renaissance art was a public affair, so too will my brand influence the lives of the average person. I’m trusting in my divinely appointed creativity. It has gotten me this far and as long as I respect and nourish it, I will never be led astray.