The Style Issue: one-half NelSon

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Style’s more than just fashion. It’s more than just clothing, bags and all that other couture clutter. It’s the details, the thoughts and the theories that go into the minutiae of our everyday existence.

Style’s the painting you picked up at the flea market, technologically-advanced fabrics, an poet’s sonnet, young designers, the way you crack a joke, the way you brush your teeth. Over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring the ins and outs of what we feel are some of the most “stylish” people, places and things. But, never fear, we will be talking about fashion. You gotta look good, right?

One-half NelSon knows a thing of two about looking good. The New York artist and party promoter has made a career of it. NelSon’s look didn’t spring from some fashionista caldron. It’s a plotted, polished piece of work that stems as much from a creative spirit as a need to communicate.

We wanted to pass his word along, so we asked Interview‘s Justin Conner to sit down with the one known as NelSon. Of course Conner had no trouble tracking NelSon down – those kids have been vamping it up together for years. And on this particular night, they found themselves at Mr. Black, where NelSon hosts a weekly Thursday party, “Feelings”.

Get a feeling for NelSon’s fashion philosophy, performative personality and stylish spirit, after the jump. We promise one-half NelSon will have your heart in a strong hold!!

(Oh, c’mon! We couldn’t resist. That’s our style. And we’ll be flashing it tonight at “Feelings”. No doubt we want to see yours.)

Justin Conner: Why don’t you give me a little history about when you first became interested in fashion?

one-half NelSon: My interest in fashion started when I was probably eleven. I was watching TV and I came across an Alexander McQueen fashion show. Early McQueen – the cathedral and the horns and all that shit dropped my draw. I freaked out, went directly online and researched it. Then I signed up for home economics, went through the cooking, the sewing, everything! It sort of just snowballed from there. In high school, there were only two sewing classes, and my teacher would create classes for us every year so I could continue.

JC: What school was this?

ohN: I went to an arts middle school and high school. Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, NC. And then I went to Fashion Institute of Technology, left and started working with Lainie.

JC: Who is Lainie? Tell me a little bit about the beginnings of your multimedia art project, Showroom XS.

ohN: It started at FIT – my subject material has always been a bit aggressive, abrasive and…I wouldn’t say “confrontational”, but it’s verging on that – and at FIT I hit nothing but brick walls. I was censored out of every single student show and that just fueled my [desire] to push the limits. Now, it’s about existing within the limits, but pushing it from the inside. I met Laine out at a club. She’s an architect and a dominatrix. Right off the bat, we realized that our aesthetics and our goals were what we thought was the same. Originally, when we started working together, we were going to be a band and make music and so we went out and bought all this music equipment, still made music but we also started making outfits together and that’s were it sort of began.

JC: Outfits for stage performance?
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ohN: For stage performance. We also did some performance art. We started – well, she started and I was briefly involved in a art collective called Viscera – as in Visceral – of The Body and we did some public performance pieces. One of them – we all wore hot pink painter suits and took 3000 pipe cleaners and constructed a pipe cleaner web that encompassed an entire street corner block down in Soho. You know, things like that. We did another one with the same idea, but with straws. We flew out to Berlin a couple times to perform and do fashion shows. We were sold in Berlin, Copenhagen, Rejkevik, did some private commissions here in the city, but we both realized that it just wasn’t right for what I want to do with my work.

JC: What is fashion to you?

ohN: Really, fashion is nothing more – stripped down to its basics – it’s what you wear. The reason I’m fascinated with it is because there are very few things that every single human being has in common, one of those being clothing. What really fascinates me is that fashion can be such a strong communication tool. I think that has always appealed to me, because I am dyslexic. I’m terrible with language and terrible with words. This is such an easy mode for me to express myself and get my point across. I’m also trying to take my work more into the art scene and the gallery scene. I want to get back into performance art – with clothing you can truly own a space and be performing just by the way you look.

JC: You started off with performances…

ohN: Well, I started oil painting when I was 6, started doing sculpture when I was 6, I’ve done everything from jewelry design to photography to print making to painting. I danced for 7 years – that aspect of performing really gives you – I don’t want to say self worth, but it made me feel like I was really able to express myself.

JC: In what way has your fashion evolved from performance-based to what you wear is your performance?

ohN: In the beginning, it was almost gimmicky. I don’t want to say “costumey”, but it was. I guess through trial and error, really getting people’s reactions and exploring my artistic ideas through clothing, I was really able to connect with what was on my body. It was almost like a building or a sculpture in motion.

JC: Could you tell me how you would define your style?

ohN: My style has become very playful, because my lifestyle now is very playful. It’s gotten very clean cut, technically – much more simple. It’s much more about silhouette and shape and less about embellishments. What I do now, when I make clothes – and a lot of the stuff that I wear, too – I try to wear it in a new and interesting way. I try to approach a traditional garment and completely redefine it and restructure it. I’m really trying to take my work to a more extreme place – where you forget that it’s made for the human body. It does become something by itself and then you force it on to the human body. It’s about that interaction between the two.

JC: Do you think that your fashion is influenced by any cultural elements right now? By culture or politics…

ohN: Yeah, in many ways, but above all things, my clothing is influenced by music. That influence and whose influences are always changing, but music has always been huge for me. Second to that are the people around me and the places I am and my life. I dress my most extreme when I’m working in nightclubs. I dress knowing that I’m going to have a viewer. That experience fuels my drive. It gets me going and I get off on that.
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JC: What reaction do you want to get from your viewer? What do you want to show them?

ohN: I always try to show a little piece of myself. Maybe some idea that I had or maybe it’s just me getting dressed and my mood plays into it. There are certain days when I feel very dark and, you know, if I’m down or there’s some sort of exciting thing in my life. As far as a reaction from the viewer – really, in a response, I mean even negative responses – I get into all the spectrum of responses. That just shows that my work is hitting many different facets and many different people.

JC: So your style is very much who you are. People aren’t reacting to how you’re dressed but reacting to you.

ohN: Completely.

JC: What drives you? What about style and fashion makes it so important that it’s become who you are?

ohN: I think it’s my past training in so many different art forms. I think it really did start when I was a dancer and performing and putting on these costumes and performing…

JC: But they’re not costumes anymore…

ohN: Right, but that’s where it began. That’s why my fashion training was costumey, gimmicky. I guess it’s the same as anybody who comes across a job that is just perfect for them. I’m lucky to find this one thing that I want to do for the rest of my life. I don’t want to be part of the fashion industry. When I make clothes, I never reproduce anything twice. I refuse to, because it completely defeats how I view fashion. I don’t want to have to deal with the politics and fashion of fashion. That’s why I’m trying to take it more towards the art world.

JC: What about fashion makes you not want to repeat things?

ohN: The idea of repeating and manufacturing. I mean, you look at haute couture and Paris runway shows and most of it will never be repeated again. It’s really the designers expressing themselves. It truly is an art form at that point, but once it gets down to the showrooms and the buyers and the manufacturing and the markdowns, it [becomes] such a business that whatever energy was put into that garment in the beginning is completely lost. It becomes nothing more than a good. Yes, everything is a good, but it becomes just another product. It really loses its meaning. It loses its creative integrity. It becomes disposable.
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JC: Is there a signature piece?

ohN: I guess my glasses are sort of a signature piece. I collect vintage frames, as you know. I’m a bit of a glasses whore and a bit of a glasses snob. If I have any signature thing about my [recent] style, it would be the silhouette that I’ve been wearing, which is tights and oversized tops. I’m very top-heavy right now – [it’s] like this huge structure with these two little pokey things running around. That and pumps. I’ve taken to wearing pumps, which I love, because I’m trying to fuck with gender and boundaries. A lot of people can’t pinpoint me because I may be wearing tights and fierce stilettos, but I refuse to wear make up. I don’t wear wigs, so I’m not a drag queen. I’m fucking with gender roles and even the preconceived cookie cutters [of] the gay scene. You’re a fag, a twink, a bear, a Chelsea boy or a drag queen. My style exists in that in between where it’s kind of twinky during the days and then at night might look like a drag queen, but you get up close and “Oh shit it’s a boy in a dress”.

I have a lot of problems with straight men in certain places. It threatens their masculinity, because I’ll be wearing tight little jeans a gorgeous beaded sweater with a scarf but I’ve got a fierce five o’clock shadow and skate boy sneakers. It’s that sort of play on gender that I think is a large part of my work as well.

JC: What is the future for one-half NelSon?

ohN: I’m working on a collection for fall of my own work. I plan to show outside of fashion week in an art gallery. I’m working on an art project, as well, to show at the same time and I’m also doing Thursdays at Mr. Black. The party is called “Feelings”. Please do come. You all owe me a dance and I owe you a cocktail. Or at least a shot.

(Mr. Black – 643 Broadway at Bleeker.)