Inside the world of designer Wesley Berryman
And Wesley's success has been as rapid as it seems. Having made his NYFW debut last Fall, the designer has already cemented his signature black denim and shoelace stitched look as a cult New York staple. His branding is on point. His models are well thought-out. Bridging the gap between high fashion exclusivity (he told me that he has to ignore around four emails a day from stylists wanting to use his clothing in shoots) and customer inclusivity (anyone can order a custom garment from his webshop), Wesley has found a niche way of spreading his message of love and acceptance to a vast audience that is intrigued and eager to experience more of his brand's overwhelming mystique.
With two seasons under his belt, Wesley has been working on his upcoming Fall/Winter 17 collection, and office has an exclusive first look at some of his new garments. Check out our interview with Wesley below where we talk about Tumblr and the cycles of "youth sadness," Joan of Arc, and Lady Gaga, along with an editorial featuring Wesley as both model and muse.
As I told you, I’ve been following you on Tumblr since eighth grade, which is weird to think about. Now we’re both here.
Oh my God! What was your Tumblr URL? Maybe I followed you back.
I wasn’t Tumblr famous or anything. I don’t think you did. I definitely would’ve remembered.
There were so many people.
Is all your stuff still up on Tumblr?
Yeah, I think so.
Do you ever look back at it?
I definitely have looked at it. I don’t like looking at it all that much. When I look back at old pictures of myself, I’m like, “Ugh! I actually wore that? I thought that was cute? What was I thinking?" You know?
You were pushing boundaries even back then. I vividly remember you posting pictures in your Alexander McQueen armadillo boots. As a millennial, how do you think the internet and social media played a part in forming your identity, both personally and in terms of fashion?
I had all of these resources to shape my idea of who I am and what I like. I feel like the internet made me more in tune with what I liked. I could research things that interested me. I could talk to similar people. I think that’s what Tumblr was so amazing for. We had this community, and we all had the same ideas about the world. It wasn’t just about fashion. It was everything about ourselves that we were sharing and coming together with.
It’s so weird thinking about the Tumblr days. It’s sort of dead now, but when it was in its prime, it was so huge. I feel like it influenced our generation and is a totally separate entity when compared to other social media sites.
I think so, too. I feel like people were more themselves on it, if that makes sense. I felt like I could be more myself on Tumblr, for whatever reason. Everyone else seemed like they were. And you would only post about and reblog stuff that you liked, stuff that you connected with.
There was no expectation. You didn’t even have to reveal your identity.
That’s true. It wasn’t really about showing you, but about showing what’s inside. As opposed to Instagram where everyone sees your followers and your likes and everything about you, Tumblr was more of what we were excited about and what we loved.
I’ve always seen this connection between Tumblr and darkness—even glorifying sadness, in a way. Do you consider yourself as a part of the “Tumblr Generation,” and does this theme of darkness have any impact on your work?
Definitely. I don’t know if it’s Tumblr that influences me that way, but I’ve always been a little bit more on the darker side of art. That’s where I’ve always been, and I think that’s why I gravitated to Tumblr so much because everyone was more damaged or sad in some way, and Tumblr was our outlet.
What is your relationship to goth culture?
The earliest memory of “goth culture” that comes to mind is driving to school with my sister in the morning and her playing Hawthorne Heights, and stuff like that. That’s how I was introduced to it, and it just grew from there. Being in high school and being the artist and the outcast—that was my life.
I feel like there are waves of “youth sadness.” There was the grunge phase in the 90’s, and the “emo” phase in the mid-2000’s. I feel like Tumblr was the third of those phases, in a way.
That’s so true. I never thought of it like that. I do feel like that because everyone on Tumblr was always so depressed, you know? But it does influence my designs as well because that’s who I am and it’s where I draw inspiration, so that comes out in my clothes. I try to make my clothes the essence of who I am on the inside. If you were to take my Tumblr and smush it all together, it would come out as all the things that I am. That’s what my brand is.
Did moving to New York play a part in your designs being more goth?
Well, I moved away from everything I knew. I came up here on my own and didn’t really have that many friends or connections. I was lonely, and I think that translated into my designs. I definitely put that negative energy into my designs as a therapeutic way of getting rid of it in myself. It created something that’s beautiful—in my eyes, at least.
You’ve had a very rapid rise to success in fashion. What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
I was just graduating high school. Oh, God. I guess I would say don’t take college too seriously. Hm. I don’t really think a lot about this kind of stuff, but it is nice to think about. I would say just keep going. Keep doing what you’re doing. I don’t know if I would tell myself anything differently because every single thing that I did back then has gotten me to this point. If anything, I would just encourage myself more. That’s about it.
Your designs are all unisex. Why is it important to you to push the boundaries of gender in your work?
I think that’s just where the world is going. And I’ve always wanted to make unisex clothes. I can’t even remember the moment I thought, “Oh, yes, I’m going to make unisex.” I’ve always just been drawing designs for anyone—for a body, for a human. That’s just my innate reasoning behind it. Now, I obviously know that it’s a huge social issue, and I want my art to push forward our generation’s goals, in a way. The things that we want, I want, and I want my art to help that because I think art definitely is always ahead of society and culture. It helps push mainstream towards those values which we as a generation already uphold.
Who are your icons?
Stevie Nicks. She’s playing right now. Joan Jett is definitely an icon of mine. I wouldn’t even be in fashion if it weren’t for Alexander McQueen. He’s an icon. Lady Gaga is an icon of mine, for sure.
Could you talk about being inspired by Gaga? It must’ve been something else to see her wearing your shirt on SNL.
Oh my God. I’ve always loved Gaga. Back in the day in high school, I was posting about Gaga on Tumblr, and that’s what kept me sane and inspired as a struggling gay teenager. I definitely have a connection with Gaga’s music in that way. I just think she’s an inspiring individual in any regard because she went out there and did what she wanted to do, and she has always been a voice for the LGBTQ community. That, I think, is extremely important and what I hope to do. Working with her, having my designs on her, and creating custom looks for her has been just an incredible experience.
Have you met her?
I have met her. And it was an experience I’ll cherish always because I was meeting someone I looked up to and respected so much.
What is your favorite Gaga performance? I think I know which one.
I think my favorite would have to be the Brit Awards performance that she dedicated to Alexander McQueen.
Yes. That’s the one I had in mind.
Yeah. Just the outfit, the piano, the “Dance In The Dark” section—I mean, come on. And you can’t deny “Paparazzi” at the VMAs.
That one’s a given.
It changed the world.
In what ways do music and pop culture influence your designs?
Music is probably one of the biggest inspirations in my work just because I’m always listening to it. I was brought up on a lot of great music: Fleetwood Mac, Queen, and crazy icon legends like that. The best of the best. That inspires my work only because of their drive. They were the best at everything. They did what they wanted to do. They didn’t take anyone’s bullshit. And that inspires me greatly. As far as pop culture and current music, that definitely inspires me as well because that’s what the world is right now. I definitely want to create artwork that is relevant to society and what people need to hear and see, so I think being involved in pop culture is important because of that.
What are certain references, or periods, in pop culture that inspire you?
I’m very nostalgic, so I’m always in the past in some way. I’m very inspired by the 60s, 70s, 80s, pretty much anything older. I’ve always loved Elvis and vintage stuff like that. I think it inspires me even more than current things.
Early 2000’s is a big one for me, just because I was forming my identity and absorbing so much around me at that time. That era holds a special place in my heart.
That is true. I feel like now we are just realizing how much that era affected us because now we’re seeing people referencing stuff that we weren’t necessarily inspired by yet because we were living through it.
Tell us about your new collection.
The new collection is inspired by Joan of Arc. Everyone knows Joan of Arc as the famous martyr for her cause. I was inspired by her because I look at her as a hero, a heroine that people looked up to in her time. They looked to her as someone that they needed. I think of that in relation to the LGBTQ community and how we all need to be like Joan of Arc. We need to be martyrs for our community. That’s what I was firstly inspired by: her as a strong female warrior, her armor, how she carried herself, her obsessions with religious visions. She would not deny her obsessions. That is so inspirational to me. So, that combined with some Southern/Western stuff just because that’s where I’m from and is something I’ve been thinking about lately, is what’s inspiring my new collection.