Allow us to introduce nine artists and designers who use everything from acrylic paint to their own bodies in the service of pushing the boundaries of beauty. Their creations offer resistance, innovation, delirious escape—and in an age of “alternative facts,” we need it all. These are the New Creatives.
“In fashion, many big companies won’t take a stand politically because they don’t want to alienate consumers,” says Greg Rosborough. His menswear label, Abasi Rosborough, co-founded in 2013 with fellow Fashion Institute of Technology grad Abdul Abasi, isn’t so timid. The line’s collections have names such as Diaspora and Dissident, one of its lookbooks features a black model at the Lincoln Memorial, and the clothes are manufactured in New York City, largely by immigrants. “Our business revolves around working with immigrants,” says Rosborough. “They’re the epitome of the American dream.”
To go into a grocery store and still have people appreciate [your clothes] means that you’re creating something egalitarian.
Both designers have a connection to the current immigration debate. Abasi, who spent nearly eight years in the Army, eventually working as a missile technician, is the son of Nigerians. Rosborough grew up in Arizona, close to the Mexican border. But more than a critique of public policy, their work is a revolt against the entire concept of menswear, the standards of which have barely changed in decades. “How is it possible that with everything evolving around us—communication, architecture, automobiles—the thing that’s closest to our skin hasn’t evolved in even the simplest way?” asks Rosborough.
By contrast, Abasi Rosborough clothing features all-natural fabrics that let the wearer move easily, seams that follow the body’s anatomy and magnets in lieu of buttons. Their futuristic vision is catching on: In February, the duo was nominated for the prestigious LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers, voted on this year by Marc Jacobs and Kendall Jenner, among others. But will fame make them less outspoken? “I don’t care if we alienate anybody,” says Rosborough. “If we’re ignoring what we’re actually thinking, the whole thing’s a sham.”
You both have had successful careers designing for other labels like Ralph Lauren and Engineered Garments. What made you guys want to start your own?
GREG ROSBOROUGH: The whole idea started on an airplane. Beginning of the flight, sitting in my seat, buckled in. An elderly woman comes down the aisle with her carry-on. The male flight attendant tries to lift her bag into the overhead compartment. He gets the bag about shoulder height and he can’t get his arms any higher ’cause his suit jacket is restricting his movement. So he puts the bag down and takes his jacket off. I was just sitting there, and it was one of those lightning bolt moments. I got back from that trip and thought, “Somebody’s gotta step up and push this thing forward.” And I was looking at other designers, and they were just making the lapels wider or shorter, adding or subtracting a button, changing the color. I always do think that two heads are better than one, and so I was thinking to myself who might be interested and has a cool design aesthetic and a strong work ethic. So I emailed Abdul. We probably hadn’t spoken in three or four years.
ABDUL ABASI: I love a challenge, and what he proposed was probably the most difficult thing you could do in menswear: which is reinvent the suit. I was just like, “Yeah. Let’s do it.”
What you guys are doing is definitely different than anything you’d see on the street today. Do you think men are brave enough to wear something that makes them stand out so much?
ROSBOROUGH: On the interior of our label we have this quote: “The vision of who or where you want to be is the most important asset you have.” Our clients all have a strong sense of individuality. That comes through in all aspects of their life. They live this curated lifestyle. They’re particular about their furniture, where they’re traveling, the magazines they’re reading, their coffee. They define themselves very much on an individual level, not as they might be defined by society or what a man should be. As opposed to being afraid of wearing something that stands out, they want to wear something that says, “I’m individual.” You put it on, people ask you what it is. I mean, I was at Staples buying boxes the other day and a guy asked me where my jacket was from. It’s interesting because that’s a dialogue completely away from the fashion context. It’s everyday life. I’m standing in line at a check-out counter. We’ve both had it happen. It happens on the subway all the time.
ABASI: The beauty of that is it’s the court of public opinion. Greg and I can do some things that are whimsical or avant-garde, and in the fashion bubble of New York you would get it. But to go into a place like Staples or a grocery store and still have people appreciate it means that you’re creating something that’s egalitarian—that’s universally understood as good design.
So aside from rocking Abasi Rosborough, what’s one piece of practical style advice you can give to the average man?
ROSBOROUGH: One thing I have learned is that the people who are the most sure of themselves actually wear the same thing every day. Steve Jobs wore a black sweater and blue jeans. The sweaters were by Issey Miyake. He had like 20 of them. And what it becomes is your identity. This is what Steve Jobs looks like.
It’s like Michael Jordan when I was a little kid. You always see him on the basketball court. Red Bulls uniform, red Bulls shorts, Jordan shoes. And the first time I saw him in casual clothes, I was like, “Who is that?” I didn’t even recognize him. So I wear black jeans seven days a week. It’s the same pair. It’s not even like I have a rotation. And when they’re destroyed I’ll get another pair. I like the idea of having two blazers and maybe you rotate out what’s underneath them. Maybe you change your tee shirts. But consistency is kind of a beautiful thing. Because you really begin to feel like that’s who you are. You don’t need to be surprising people. And you also feel more like yourself every time you put those things on. You’re not like, “Well, I’m this guy this day, and I’m this guy that day.”
ABASI: Look at it as phases of life. Because clothing is skin, right? So when we’re born we have our birthday suit. We can’t change that. But what we can put on our body we can change. And when you’re young you want to try everything. You want to experiment. The older you get, you become more fixed and sure of who you are. I’m 36. I’m a little bit older. I used to wear the pink suit and all that. Now I just wear all black or monochrome every single day. And no diss to anyone who does that. If you’re that guy who’s a dandy and has 12 different suits and the socks and ties to match, do it. Just make sure you do it in a confident way. I don’t like that whole style advice—like don’t wear blue with brown or whatever.
ROSBOROUGH: I will say, the one thing I always see where I’m like, “Aw, God,” is a lot of men’s suit jackets have the vent in the center back or the double vent on each side, and when they come from the store they have a little bit of stitching, like an X. It’s meant to be pulled out. They should pull it out for you as soon as you buy the jacket but people forget to.
ABASI: I’m guilty of that.
ROSBOROUGH: You did it?
ABASI: I didn’t know!
ROSBOROUGH: You’ll see these guys on the subway and they’ll be feeling pretty dapper. You know, “I got my new suit on.” And it’s like, “Dude, you’ve still got the stay-stitch.” I always wanna be like, “Hey, I’m a designer. Can I help you real quick?”