ART/CRAFT: In Los Angeles, Craftsmanship Gets A Bohemian, Artistic Makeover

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ART/CRAFT: In Los Angeles, Craftsmanship Gets A Bohemian, Artistic Makeover

Words by Mr Max Berlinger | Photography by Mr Matt Martin | Styling by Ms Otter Jezamin Hatchett

23 September 2021

Mr Greg Dacyshyn has a glorious white Santa Claus beard that flows freely down his chest and, by his estimation, is barefoot 90 per cent of the time. “When I’m wearing visvim Christos, I consider myself dressed-up,” he says. It is morning in Santa Monica, the oceanside region of Los Angeles, where he resides. “We live a dream life out here.”

Dacyshyn operates Camp High, a clothing brand that specialises in cozy tie-dyed sweats and psychedelic screen-printed T-shirts. It’s the perfect uniform for said dream life. Launched in 2018, Camp High has a simple goal: “I’d like to think that everything we do makes your day a little better,” Dacyshyn says. “These are very happy pieces.”

What Dacyshyn has tapped into, however, is a new type of craftsmanship, something especially attuned to our current times. It’s that creative spirit that MR PORTER captures with our ART/CRAFT capsule, a collection of DIY-influenced items from fashion’s most creative minds.

Our brief to them was simple: indulge in your most expressive whims and create items that blend the lines between fashion and art. Viewed through LA’s sun-dappled prism, it’s a vision of artisanship worlds away from Savile Row tailors or the petite mains toiling away in some hoity-toity couture atelier. Yet it’s just as reliant on a pure and beautiful notion: people making things, with their hands, for other people to wear.

To wit: while Camp High’s designs themselves are undeniably blissed-out and welcoming, their best aspect may well be that they rely on a network of local makers to help cut, sew, dye, and print their wares. The Zen-master hypebeast Mr John Mayer caught on early, and during the pandemic, as the world retreated into their sweats and tie-dye, Camp High’s optimistic loungewear was downright prescient (and sold out quickly).

Compared to the thrumming, glistening machine that is New York’s fashion industry, or Europe’s generations-old workshops, the fashion scene in Los Angeles is a scrappier affair. It reflects the relaxed ethos of the sprawling metropolis, from its hazy coastal hamlets populated by Birkenstock- and baja-wearing beach bums to the mysterious homes perched along the hillside canyons.

Not only that but the way the city has welcomed artists on the fringe, who have made careers that are unexpected and deeply authentic, not to mention wildly inventive. (Think Messrs Ed Ruscha and Sterling Ruby, or Ms Catherine Opie, to name just a few.)

It’s in this milieu that a new breed of designer is making a home for themselves, and redefining what we consider craftsmanship. In fact, they’re pushing it into the realm of the art world, where expressing emotion and message is just as important as aesthetics.

There’s another Greg, Mr Greg Chait, of The Elder Statesman who, since 2007, has been making plush cashmere apparel and accessories in his own factories around LA, often dyed or knit by hand. Mr Josué Thomas, of Gallery Dept., rips up and rebuilds classic workwear staples – carpenter pants or jeans or trucker jackets – imbuing them with an urban jolt of energy that has led celebrities and musicians to flock to his label.

Then there’s the mother-and-daughter duo of Mses Ladan and Tania Shayan, behind the fine jewellery brand SHAY who turn precious raw materials into sleek and understated accessories that reflect the effortless local aesthetic. Meanwhile, Mr Reese Cooper, the young streetwear phenom, often uses existing or upcycled textiles to craft his outdoorsy apparel.

And in his downtown LA studio, Mr Greg Lauren (so many Gregs) creates hybridised pieces that can look like a mash-up of two garments, like a peacoat mixed with a denim jacket.

“For me, Los Angeles, and California, is absolutely where I found my voice,” says Lauren. “When I arrived in Los Angeles, I immediately sensed this independent spirit, one where as a creative you felt like you could make anything happen if you had the ideas and the drive. In many ways it’s about breaking the old rules and imagining new ways to do things.”

To that point, Lauren has quite literally taken the most traditional garments of the menswear canon and broken them down to their very essence, only to build them back up with a renewed sense of relevance. In their deconstructed look, one can read a commentary of how a new generation of designers is quite literally remaking past paradigms in their image. One can also see the shadows of history in their unfinished seams and upcycled textiles.

The human touch is, of course, the foundation of the fashion industry as a whole. After all, there was a time when you knew the person who made your clothes – in fact, you probably ordered it from them. But that sort of connection today perhaps best exists in these smaller brands, which depend on a community of people that they work with directly and are oftentimes friends as well as colleagues.

“A lot of human hands touch these pieces, in order to make them,” says Dacyshyn, who often works out of his backyard, using his Volkswagen van as a makeshift office when needs be. “Some people think you just turn on the sweatshirt machine and it just spits ’em out. But we really hand-make them here, down to sewing the tags on them. And I consider our vendors friends, we spend a lot of time with them. It’s cool to be the owner of a company and then you develop these intimate relationships with your vendors.”

This ethos is reflected in the product as well. Not just in the metaphysical messaging and whimsical aesthetics or the emphasis on comfort and ease, but in their proud display of a DIY look. “Every piece has its own personality, almost,” says Dacyshyn. ”It’s like when you get a stain on something, it adds to the patina of the garment. It’s a wabi-sabi approach – perfection in imperfection.”

“Los Angeles is a creative town at heart and is one of the few places in the world that feels like literally anything is possible,” says Chait. “These characteristics provide optimistic undertones that allow for unique projects to reach their full potential. On the flip side of that, this city can also be super tough, but when one gets into harmony with it all it can be a truly beautiful thing.”

Speaking of beautiful things, The Elder Statesman’s output may appear fanciful at first glance, but that belies the deeply thoughtful, soulful methodology. The hand-dyeing techniques, the paint-splattered details, the intarsia weaving, or the patchwork construction are all a way to honour a type of artistry that has been mostly replaced by efficient yet bloodless machinery.

“Craftsmanship means the same thing to us that it meant from the start of The Elder Statesman,” Chait says. “Everything. With the way the world is twisting and turning, true artisanal craftsmanship is precious and should be protected at all costs.”

As a, well, elder statesmen of the LA menswear scene, Chait has been able to build up an operation – slowly, thoughtfully – that creates jobs, and protects a certain way of making clothes. He runs his own factories and has had to scale up a few times to accommodate the growing business.

“We work mainly with dyeing, knitting, crocheting, patchworking and embroidering under our own roof. We undertake this endeavour in order to sustain and educate more people on these practices so these crafts are not lost, all while diversifying and being pragmatic,” Chait says. “Having a balance or merger of technology plus old-school craft with soul, we believe is a good business practice.”

He notes that these ways of making aren’t new – in fact they’re very, very old. We’ve just lost sight of them in recent years. “Tie-dye and patchwork are some of the oldest handicraft traditions and have been a part of many cultural traditions, contexts and histories – the way we practise craftsmanship is in our own way here in LA,” he says.

All of which helps imbue life and a certain spirit into his goods. “Artisanship, to us, is being thoughtful in the process and having those little idiosyncrasies and soul in our product. Whether it’s knitting by hand or working with a family-owned industrial mill that’s been around for generations – we focus on that bit of humanity and purpose. We embody this laid-back California lifestyle with very serious and skilled craftsmanship.”

Meanwhile, the recent focus on sustainability shouldn’t end at the product or business practice. “We believe sustainability is about taking good care of the folks that actually make the goods,” he said. “As the company grows and thrives we all should grow and thrive. I believe that to be a key component in sustainability in our field.”

So for now, the small-batch menswear movement in LA may look little, but it’s reverberations are big, and making waves – and not just the kinds that surfers in Malibu favour.

“I’ve always said that there isn’t necessarily a specific aesthetic or style coming out of LA, but rather a collective spirit,” Lauren says. “When I think of my friends and peers designing out here, it feels like an extended group of artists all with individual voices, styles, even approaches, but with common spirit, and the attitude of: ‘If you can imagine it, you can make it’.