Meet Mr Josué Thomas, The Artist Reimagining Vintage Clothing For Gallery Dept.

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Meet Mr Josué Thomas, The Artist Reimagining Vintage Clothing For Gallery Dept.

Words by Ms Molly Isabella Smith

16 October 2020

Mr Josué Thomas, the artist and designer behind new-to-MR-PORTER brand Gallery Dept., can’t remember a time when he wasn’t creating something. “I’ve pretty much been doing it all of my life,” he says over the phone from Los Angeles, where the brand’s studio, workshop and showroom are based. “Both my parents are artists, so it was sort of an innate hobby, drawing and sketching.”

If you’re thinking Mr Thomas’ chosen occupation was inevitable, given the family business, you’d be only half right. His dad, a painter and graphic designer, never pushed him towards a creative career, but he did ensure his son had ready access to supplies. “I don’t really remember him sitting down and training or showing me,” says Mr Thomas. “I’ve always had materials and access to resources to create and paint and draw, but honestly, I had an affinity and a passion for doing these things.”

His older brother even tried to get him to pursue sports, with some success. “I thought of doing that,” he says, but everything, it seems, came back to art. “I would even sketch a lot of Nike shoes, but at the time, I was just a kid doing this.”

A fondness for vintage clothes, another childhood passion, serves as the starting point for many of Gallery Dept.’s deconstructed or reimagined pieces. Mr Thomas credits his mother and father’s influence for this. “I’ve always loved collecting and seeing the aged pieces of clothing my parents had,” he says. “You know, my dad’s old boots, Converse and motorcycle jackets. Early on, I had an aesthetic for certain pieces and I loved something weathered or aged. It has a character, a personality to it.”

The founding of Gallery Dept., which remakes and reinterprets vintage pieces in a luxury vein, can best be described as a happy accident. Even when Mr Thomas set it up, he wasn’t quite sure what would come of it. “Originally, it was a creative space I had in Downtown Los Angeles,” he says. “I thought of it as a place where I have all my tools and mediums. I would have people come over and we would collaborate. It wasn’t a brand at the time. It was a concept.”

After working as a consultant for fashion labels and dabbling in art direction, Mr Thomas decided to shutter his first location, but the name and the ethos – that of reimagining forgotten items of clothing – stuck.

“Taking something that has a lot of life, something that someone looked at as worthless in a sense, and then making it into something that is precious and beautiful to someone that they want to keep for ever, that was something that I always liked,” he says.

He’s not one to follow trends mindlessly, either. “I’m not really a ‘fashion’ person,” he says. “I’m more personal style, when it comes to clothing.” That philosophy, one that embraces artisanal techniques alongside a down-to-earth, sustainable approach, makes Gallery Dept.’s debut on MR PORTER even more timely.

Here, Mr Thomas, delves into the details behind a handful of designs from the collection.

01. The Good Luck T-shirt

“I love this piece,” says Mr Thomas. “I made it around the time I made the ‘Stop Being Racist’ graphic. It was made on an 8 x 11 hard sheet of paper on cardboard and then I did hand drawings and clipped art from newspapers and magazines. It’s a bunch of crazy old stuff I collected. I had a vision for that piece. I executed it exactly how I wanted it. That piece is very relevant for me in these times. If you look at the detail of it, it can be a bit… morbid? I guess that’s the word. But I think that’s the truth presented and that stuff will always be relevant.”

02. The flared carpenter workwear trousers

“The flared silhouette is something we did with denim, at first. I like contrast a lot. I love texture and raw edge and natural imperfections. I took them and imagined the cut and silhouette in that sort of [canvas] fabric. They’re such an iconic workwear piece, to get it to be a fashion piece… They encapsulate the ideology of taking something that you might see on a construction worker and then someone wearing it as luxury. The contrast is so high-low.”

03. The tie-dye backpack

“Growing up in LA, my mom would make a bunch of tie-dye. You see it all the time out here, year-round. It’s very nostalgic for me. That backpack is made from vintage military duffel bag and we reconstructed that using a lot of the handle and zipper details. Again, it’s taking something and making something new out of it. I associate a lot of military stuff with hippy stuff.”

04. The French logo sweatpants

“I was in France and was inspired by their respect for art and fashion. I was showing in Paris at the time, in a gallery in Le Marais, and a lot of it just clicked. I thought the English version of the brand logo was very strong, but thinking about it being in French, it says the same thing, but it has a totally different feel. Paris definitely feels like I’ve lived there in a past life. There’s another perspective there.”

05. The skeletal cherub T-shirt

“That was a tattoo that I designed with a tattoo artist, Shawn Barber. He works mainly with portraiture. That’s an original tattoo that I have on my shoulder.”

The right Dept.

Most prominently, there’s the mysterious cap attached to a chain that sits over the crown, topped off with a hallmark Cartier cabochon. Unscrew it and you find the winding crown underneath. It’s a reference to the waterproof canteen crowns that featured, in much more rugged form, in early military dive watches. Indeed the Pasha, for all its gleaming beauty, is ocean-ready, being water resistant to 100m. It’s no slouch in the technical department either, with Cartier’s highly proficient in-house self-winding movement, Calibre 1847 MC.

All of which makes the Cartier Pasha a surprisingly versatile watch. There have been numerous variants over the years, from pure diving watches to today’s haute horlogerieskeleton tourbillon model. Another version we explore in the film is the sporty Pasha chronograph in steel, a watch for all eventualities, but laden with Pasha exoticism.

Cartier developed a stout new steel bracelet for this, which can be instantly switched out for a leather strap if you fancy going a bit more classical, via a dinky quick-switch system. The masterstroke is the addition of bulbous stopwatch pushers topped off rather gloriously with domed cabochons. Once again, sports utility is elevated to a state of grand Parisian elegance in a manner that is so typical of Cartier.

Is the Pasha a dress watch in the guise of an old sports watch, or a sports watch dressed up in Cartier opulence? It hardly matters. Either way, it is a watch that suggests a life well lived, in a striking style that is unique, timeless and effortless.