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Tread Softly Because You Tread On My Dreams

Interview

Office — You studied literature as an undergrad in Switzerland—does that play a role in the storytelling element of your lookbook images? They all convey a strong narrative that seems to be rooted in suburbia and displacement. 

 

Matthew Adams Dolan — Moving around so much, you’re in a position where you can step back and look at people and how people behave in society. You see it from an outside perspective. Even when I moved to New York, I was really looking at people a lot because everything is so new. As a visual person, that’s the first thing you notice.

 

O — Putting yourself into foreign circumstances when you’re so young is often fight or flight—you just have to adapt. Do you look to those experiences when you’re designing? 

 

MAD — I’m super interested in design and looking at people, culture and society. When you’re in school, you’re always challenged to think about that sort of thing. A lot of things I was interested in involved constantly watching people and how they wear clothes, how clothes fit them. 

 

O — Did you ever feel like an outsider living abroad? 

 

MAD — It was tough at the beginning, especially in Japan. It was frustrating because I couldn’t speak Japanese. When you’re in that position as an outsider, it makes you look at everything in a different way. My grandfather lived in Japan after the war and he really loved the culture. You don’t want to grow up in a bubble and not know about the rest of the world, so it was a way I could go and see it. 

 

O — Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?

 

MAD — I originally wanted to be a lawyer. But I won a scholarship in Australia, where they chose two people from each state to go to the National Gallery. We got to do all these behind-the-scenes tours and speak to curators. During that time, they had the Vivienne Westwood retrospective exhibition up. I was blown away, because she’s so based on culture and history and the reinterpretation of it. After that, I decided I wanted to do something in art or museums. 

 

O — Why denim as a focus? 

 

MAD — It’s a really important part of the business, especially since that’s really what started everything. When I left school, I never really wanted to start my own label. I feel like people knew of me and my brand because of denim. It’s what I was originally interested in. My final collection at school was about mundane clothes, denim jackets, jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts—that everyday material. I unraveled it and did all of this weaving in my graduate collection, it’s something I’ve continued in my past collections and in different ways I haven’t used it before. It’s important that we use American denim, which is from Cone Denim in North Carolina. It’s about that history and authenticity of denim. A pair of jeans is a pair of jeans, it has hardly changed since the first pair was made. As a New York designer, it’s interesting to play into that tradition and that history. 

 

O — What is your particular interest in American history and Americana? 

 

MAD — I did my thesis paper on American fashion. It’s so interesting, even going back to the Puritans, and how it was a movement away from Europe and how it’s reflective of the American uniform of T-shirts and jeans, which is anti-embellishment. I was thinking about American designers like Calvin Klein and all the minimalism that was coming from the US. It’s an interesting history that I think is overlooked a bit. I’m super interested in that.

Moving around so much, you’re in a position where you can step back and look at people and how people behave in society. You see it from an outside perspective.

O — You’ve had all of these multicultural experiences, and yet your collection is almost a rejection of that. You’re returning to American roots and focusing on heritage, but it’s a bit more subversive. All of the clothes have a story. 

 

MAD — The history of fashion in the US is so interesting. Some brands are traditionally American, but a lot of companies are mirroring Europe. I think it’s important to celebrate that American history. 

 

O — It’s a weird time in America right now, especially with everything that’s been going on in terms of police brutality and protests.

 

MAD — I just read something that said trying to sell a brand that is “American” in this time is so tough. You need to sell it in a way that is not “stars and stripes.” It’s not like selling Abercrombie and Fitch or Tommy Hilfiger. For next season, especially because of everything that’s happening right now, we’re really looking into that idea of what America is and what does it mean, but not on a superficial level. 

 

O — Art history and fashion history coincide with any kind of history. Clothing goes hand in hand with what is happening at any time. For example, there’s such a conversation right now happening with gender. Is denim the unifier?

 

MAD — It’s always been something very non-specific in terms of gender. For the longest time, Levi’s only made one zip fly, which was the men’s fly. I always do that as well. The way that you do up a jacket, Levi’s always does it the men’s way, which is with the buttons on the top. It’s just about rethinking the things we usually accept as “that’s just how it is.”

 

O — It’s those small details that make you think twice about gender norms. Do you design for a specific gender? 

 

MAD — I mean, a pair of pants or a pair of jeans isn’t a dress. Everything is so big. My sample size is big, they’re not like a small “model girl” size, guys can fit into the samples. It’s not specific. It’s post-gender. It’s so responsive to society now as well.

A pair of jeans is a pair of jeans, it has hardly changed since the first pair was made. As a New York designer, it’s interesting to play into that tradition and that history.

O — What’s the hardest thing about what you’re doing now, in this political climate and this day and age? I feel like time and place always play such a role in everything that we do. 

 

MAD — At the end of the day, it’s a business. It’s really interesting how buyers will say “You need to make it softer, you need to make it smaller so people can eat dinner.” It’s that kind of thing. It’s that balance of what buyers want and what you see in your fashion. 

 

O — The fashion landscape in New York is changing and the press tends to group together the “independent” or “alternative” designers. Do you feel like you’re part of a collective or young fashion scene? 

 

MAD — It has a lot to do with the landscape of younger designers. It was very much this commercial base and there wasn’t that youth movement. In London, they’re so supportive of young designers and they are fostered in that community. Now in New York it’s changing a lot, and I’ve been super lucky in terms of that timing and interest in young designers. There are a few people from my school that are doing really great things, like Area or Melitta Baumeister, but everyone is so busy that we don’t see each other.

 

O — This is a time now where people are emphasizing creativity over fast fashion. Has this trend been nourishing for you as a designer?

 

MAD — Ideas are really important, and it’s important to challenge ideas. Especially in a city like New York, which has always had such a commercial background. It’s great to have ideas, but it is a business and you need to sell things. 

 

O — Has that ever caused conflict with your artistic vision? Have you had to make things that are more commercial?

 

MAD — I haven’t had to change anything that much, just shortened the sleeves a bit. It’s something that you always think about, because you want the company to grow, but thinking about it in a way that I want to do it. 

 

O — Have you had any mentors that have helped you along the way? 

 

MAD — [Fashion Director of i-D] Alastair McKimm has been a big supporter since the beginning. It’s always good to have a chat with him. The community in New York is so great. Stylists, magazines, that kind of thing. It’s a really good community of people. I’ve been so lucky to build relationships with stylists. I think it came from the beginning when I was delivering all the samples myself and got to meet them. I’m learning so much every day.

O — Was starting your label something that came naturally after graduating?

 

MAD — I had gone to so many interviews at companies here, and everyone was like, “We love your stuff, but I don’t know if this is going to be the right position because you might be bored.” I finished school when I was a bit older at 28—I had just been in school for ten years and all my friends had jobs. I just wanted a job. I wanted to get paid doing something. It was not what I had anticipated. It’s a lot of work, but it’s really fulfilling. 

 

O — How are you planning to grow your brand? 

 

MAD — By offering commercially viable ideas. That’s the thing I had so much trouble with, because what I loved most about school was that I was obsessed with textiles. I would spend all this time doing weavings that took three months to make one piece. Every day I would rip jeans apart and put them back together. That is what I loved and I can’t do that now, because I need to have a roof over my head. I’ve been so lucky to meet some really supportive people that have helped give me good advice. 

 

O — Your collection ended up on Rihanna—did she reach out to you personally?

 

MAD — It was through Alastair McKimm. I’ve met her a few times, she’s great. I love her. 

 

O — Any Bad Gal RiRi secrets to share? 

 

MAD — She’s a pretty open book. 

 

O — Well yes, she’s a Pisces. They’re very creative and honest. 

 

MAD — And emotional. I’m a Pisces too. 

 

O — What’s the last thing you cried about? 

 

MAD — I definitely cried in a movie. Probably something terrible. 

 

O — Is the hype factor hard to avoid? 

 

MAD — I don’t feel like that is something I have to avoid. I’m still sitting on the floor of my studio, cutting my samples and sewing them. I feel very distant from that. It’s interesting to see a company like Vêtements in Paris, because Paris is not the most receptive community for emerging designers. They’re changing a lot as well. It’s nice to see something fresh and new coming out of Paris. They have to loosen up a bit. The fashion industry is a very old industry. 

 

O — I imagine it must be difficult to have faith that you’re doing something people haven’t seen before, especially now with social media. 

 

MAD — I very hesitantly use Instagram. It’s super important though, because sometimes stylists reach out through Instagram. There are some good things about it. You get to credit every person. I like that part of Instagram, where it connects the team together. 

 

O — Yes exactly, when it becomes a community, and the fabric of that comes together, it becomes a really good experience. Is there any part of social media that you avoid?

 

MAD — I will never be posting a selfie. — END

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