This post marks the beginning of an ongoing series of posts…
I, along with a few MFAers and FFAers met daou0782 on a chilly night in Los Angeles last May, but did not get to interview him until a few weeks later. He speaks softly with a slight accent I cannot quite place. He is not as tall as his fit pics convey, but he has a presence that commands your attention.
daou0782 is currently one of dressed.so’s most popular, and, arguably, most sartorially compelling members. While not a lot of people will get a chance to meet him in person, we at dressed.so present you the following interview as a chance to peek at the man behind the cool clothes.
It’s a long read but well worth it. Many thanks to daou07282 for granting this very insightful interview.
dso: Please tell us a few things about yourself such as: where are you from, what do you do, and do you have any hobbies apart from fashion?
daou0782: I was born in the Middle East, but my family moved to America when I was very young. I lived in a house up in the mountains with a fantastic view of the ocean. I was used to playing in the woods and chasing my grandma’s chickens, so the change to a large city was somewhat big. Fortunately we lived close to one of the largest urban parks in the world which also happens to host a few of the city’s most important museums. Going out to play would usually involve a museum visit too which I think was quite formational for me. I think the immediacy of art and architecture was what made me want to be an architect and an urban designer.
Currently, I am still in school (I’ve been at school for most of my life). I moved to the U.S. in the early 2000s to complete my first master’s degree in computer aided design. Then I moved from the west coast to the east coast to do another two degrees; one in planning and another one in urban design. I’m currently in the same city, but at a different school, completing a doctorate in design and the philosophy and history of ecology.
I do not consider myself a professional in any single thing. So all the things I like doing, I do them as an amateur. I like the word “amateur” because it basically means “lover,” and, in a way, I think that becoming a professional at something involves becoming dispassionate to an extent. In that regard, I love design, particularly architecture, and I think the love I have for garments is very close to the love architects–in the conventional sense of the word–profess for buildings. I like to appreciate construction details and techniques, textures, material qualities, but also narratives and evoked atmospheres in all sorts of objects including clothes.
d.so: When did you start getting into fashion? Do you have any pre-fashion days photos that you would be willing to share with us? If not, describe what your “pre-fashion” self normally wore on a day to day basis.
daou0782: This is an interesting question because it depends on what definition of fashion one uses. I think there is a broad one where there is fashion implied in everything (sort of like politics), and there is a narrow one which refers to the specifics of the world of fashion or the fashion industry.
As a child, I was well dressed. My mom and my aunt were responsible for that. When I grew up, I couldn’t afford buying clothes, but it was fine because everyone wore a uniform to school. When my classmates stopped wearing uniforms in highschool, I kept wearing mine. But when I started college, I had no excuse to wear it anymore. That’s when not having money to buy clothes started mattering to me. My quick solution was to fashion a uniform of sorts for myself.
When I moved to the US, I brought with me a black jumpsuit, and a black three piece suit. I had a couple of white dress shirts, a pair of dress shoes, and a pair of boots, and every day I would alternate between these. It became my thing at school.
One day during a review, a professor saw me dressed in the suit and commented on how everyone should dress up for the reviews. On the final review, everyone was wearing suits and ties, and anticipating this, I wore my jumpsuit. I guess, the logic behind choosing what I chose to wear reflected my non conformism.
One of the reasons why all my clothes were always black is because architects have a thing with black. There is a funny little book titled Why Do Architects Wear Black. There are many reasons why we do. Some wear black because it is arguably safe or easy. Others wear black because it signals a certain lifestyle not everyone can afford (for example, some people have jobs whose workplace dress code would not allow for an all black outfit). And a few others wear black for deeper, more subjective reasons that have to do with its possible meanings: asceticism, purity, self-restraint, severity, power, withdrawal, mystery.
So, to go back to your question, broadly speaking, there hardly is a pre-fashion self for me or anybody for that matter. But, playing along, my pre-fashion self was very pragmatic in terms of how I dressed. Luckily for me that pragmatism overlapped with my profession’s general stylistic preferences in terms of clothing.
d.so: From your d.so page, I remember seeing you post #menswear fits and gradually moving onto avant-garde within months. What got you into #menswear and what caused your transition to avant-garde?
daou0782: When I got into fashion–in the narrow sense of the word–, I was getting my cues from the male fashion advice forum on the reddit website (my reddit account is six years old, but I’ve been a user for almost eight years) and from a few blogs on tumblr.com which were mostly oriented toward classic menswear style (and how to develop it frugally!). I joined /r/malefashionadvice in December, 2010. There were no more than a few thousand readers. My first post asked about whether I should buy a black coat by a lesser known avant-garde designer. The response was overwhelmingly negative. The common advice was to stay away from black, so I did.
For the next two years and a half, I learned a lot about proportions, tailoring, color, texture, pattern mixing, etc. I dedicated a lot of time to it, so I learned a lot about classic menswear in a relatively short span. But perhaps there was so much to learn that I got distracted from a more important question which was defining what is it that I wanted to project.
One morning, I found myself wearing khakis, a blue ocdb, a navy blazer, brown cap toe shoes, and a regimental stripe tie. Everything fit impeccably, and yet it completely misrepresented how I saw myself and how I wanted others to see me. Turning my wardrobe 180 degrees was a very scary and difficult decision because I had already invested a lot of time and money in it, but it was something I had to do.
d.so: I use avant-garde as a catch-all name for unusual styles, but what do you personally call your style?
daou0782: Actually, I do like calling it “goth ninja.” I understand it’s a term that was first used mockingly or pejoratively, but I like it for three reasons.
The first, is that it has been super successful at sticking around and has deeply permeated the online fashion culture. It’s super effective as a short hand.
The second reason is that if one actually looks at the history of those two terms, goth and ninja, one can come to the conclusion that they do describe a lot of the attributes of the clothes that fall under their umbrella. The goths were the people from the northern tribes, the outsiders who eventually sacked the Roman empire. It’s ironic because, later, the term goth was used to mock certain art forms–such as gothic architecture–where goth was used as a synonym of barbaric. As for ninjas, they were covert mercenaries. They were characterized by their stealthy techniques. One can easily see how ninja alludes to concealment or withdrawal.
So there you have it, goth ninja describes an aesthetic that is concealed, withdrawn, stealthy, foreign, and extraneous. I guess the reference to gothic architecture, particularly because of the prevalence religious buildings have in the style, would help invoking ideas of asceticism or self restraint as well.
The third reason I like the term goth ninja is because it’s goofy, and as such it is a reminder to not take ourselves too seriously. At the end of the day, it’s just clothes.
However, I think the stigma comes from the wide misconception that the term alludes only to a certain set of visual tropes or cliches: the color black, extreme draping, and concealment attained mostly through the use of hooded garments, for example. This is a shallow interpretation of the term. I think that once the term is liberated from the visual tropes, it becomes a very powerful way of effectively describing a set of attributes shared not by any specific group of designers but by certain garments. The emphasis on this last bit is crucial.
Here I would add, regarding to your mentioning of the avant-garde, that there actually is a great divide between “goth ninja” designers. Some of them are indeed avant-garde designers in that they establish an explicit, self referential dialogue within the fashion world and the fashion industry, and aspire to push the conversation forward. However, other names place a much bigger emphasis on artisanal practice and craftsmanship. Some of these names could even be considered rear-garde in terms of their resistance to fall into the churn of the global market or even adopt modern, more efficient production techniques. Even Mr. Karlo Steel made a similar distinction between the names he carried at Atelier.
d.so: Is there a disconnect between the style of clothes that you wear and your everyday life?
daou0782: Not at all.
d.so: What first impression do you hope to impart, dressing the way you do?
daou0782: That I do not belong wherever I am.
d.so: Given your distinct style, how often do you get recognized on the street? What’s the reason behind the blurred face on WAYWT fit pics?
daou0782: I’ve never been recognized on the street. I blur my face because a stare can be very distracting, and, for me, when posting online, it’s all about the clothes. My body and my person are secondary.
d.so: You shared a couple of your closet photos in /r/femalefashionadvice “Show Your Closet” thread. How long did it take you to have a closet full of nice stuff? Any grails in your current shopping list? How about regrettable purchases?
daou0782: Those pictures are now old. But I took them after two years of being working on my wardrobe.
My wardrobe still lacks some serious, sharp, severe suiting. Of course, the natural candidate here is Carol Christian Poell. I know some people are able to read a lot into his clothes. I just think his suits look sick, like something a hit man would wear, almost bullet proof. It’s a grail because I want a particular model in a particular fabric, and because of the way Mr. Poell operates, it will be practically impossible to find.
Another grail and biggest regret was an absolutely astonishing shearling coat from Forme d’Expression I saw last fall at IF in New York. I do not normally like to think clothes are art (though some pieces definitely are), but this coat was definitely high up there. I think it is the single most dramatic piece I have ever handled in person, and I will always regret not having purchased it.
Now in terms of regrettable purchases, I regret almost everything I buy online without having handled it in person first.
d.so: Who are your favorite designers and why? What is your favorite personal fit pic thus far? How about favorite dressed.so poster/member?
daou0782: I think my taste veers more toward the clothes of the artisans as I know very little about fashion designers. The garments produced by MA+ seem to me like made by supernatural forces. The general lack of visible seams (or machine stitching), the minimal paneling, the clean raw edges all make seem the garments came into being as such and not, for example, as raw materials that had to be harvested, spun, weaved, cut, and assembled. And if the clothes made by MA+ seem as if they were made by God, then the clothes made by CCP seem as if they were made by the devil. The titanium prosthetics, dead end stitching, rubber dipping, visible shanks, all make CCP clothes seem tortured, even cursed, to me.
I do not have a favorite personal fit of mine. Most of what I have posted have been experiments, and I am the first to admit it’s mostly all bad.
As for having a favorite poster on dressed.so, I think the site needs to develop the platform that could allow it to become a community in its own right. I don’t use dressed.so to communicate to my favorite people, but I would be very happy if I could.
d.so: Tell us a little bit about your tumblr page (iamwhatipublish.tumblr.com). Your tagline says “endless forms of beauty”. What do you find beautiful, and how does it manifest (if it does, at all) in the way you clothe yourself?
Following Elaine Scarry’s ideas, I think a memetic theory of beauty could define beauty as that which is most successful at being replicated in culture. This take on beauty is particularly pertinent in the case of a platform like tumblr whose logic rests on the reblog.
So, to me, a beautiful image is one that prompts me to repeat it or save it. Answering why would require either a bit of psychoanalysis or analysis on a case by case basis.
Of course I try to surround myself with beautiful objects, clothes included.
d.so: Any non-fashion or otherwise surprising sources of inspiration?
daou0782: Architecture, of course. Though, again, if we understand fashion broadly, there is a large overlap between architecture and fashion. Someone said once that in every building there is the seed for a city meaning that the designer’s idiosyncrasies can be teased out no matter the size or format of her design. Similarly, one can tease out an entire world from a garment. This sort of “environmental” quality of design is what I finds most inspiring, and is one of the things that allows the cross-over of ideas from one design discipline to another.
d.so: You are a well known poster in /r/malefashionadvice. Apart from Reddit, do you have any other fashion communities that you participate in? Which one do you participate in most and why?
daou0782: I have a group of close friends with whom I often chat online. Besides reddit, I think I would be a late comer to all the other parties though I do lurk elsewhere every now and then.
d.so: Care to share any lessons you’ve learned/picked up while experimenting with your style?
daou0782: Make mistakes as fast as you can. Be patient; taste (and therefore a wardrobe) is developed not bought.
d.so: Where do you see yourself moving in the future, fashion-wise?
daou0782: My friends make fun of me because I am a believer of “endgame” meaning that there is a final state or quasi final state for one’s wardrobe. I don’t want to be stuck in the endless churn of fashion for the rest of my life. This is another reason why I am more attracted to the artisans than the designers.
In terms of where I am and where I think I want to be, recently a friend told me I dress too softly. I think he is right to an extent, but this is the result from a pragmatic consideration: soft tailoring is more forgiving which is important when dealing with garments that are either not consistent in terms of sizing or experimental in terms of their fit and cut. I think that moving forward perhaps I will look for sharper lines and silhouettes.