Text and Interview: Alec Coiro
Photo: Olimpia Dior
When we first encountered Mehl’s runway show where the part of the runway was being played by the aisle of a bus, we were delighted at first sight.
I believe that Mehl’s fashion confronts head-on a problem that seems obvious but so often gets ignored: things that have been done before are boring. You can spice up a runway show in all types of different ways, but if the runway is still a runway and not part of a public transportation conveyance, you haven’t really gone all the way.
Talking to Mehl, however, you get the sense that she hasn’t set out to be a “disrupter” (thank god) nor does she want to innovate for innovation’s sake alone; this is just who she is and how she sees the world. When you notice that one of her pieces is made in part of telephone wire, you’re not scandalized; rather, you think, naturally that’s where the telephone wire should go.
She pulls off her experimentations in industrial materials without evoking too many industrial/goth overtones, in part because of the brilliant color pallette that she favors.
Although, despite the vivaciousness of her colors, it’s not clear that Mehl would necessarily object to be associated with industrial or goth styles. For her inspiration Mehl seems to inhabit the world of contemporary subculture as it would have been imagined by kids 20 years ago: the cyber-punks and the glowing ravers of the ‘90s. To me this makes a ton of sense. If you told a club kid in 1992 that in the future we would all be attached to microchips and communicate via videolink and have sex based on a database interface, that kid would would be A) psyched and B) assume that we would all be wearing Amanda Mehl all the time (as we should). If that kid found out that we people of the future actually mostly dress in activewear from Uniqlo, he or she would be massively let down. And that’s just one of the many reasons we’re impressed by Amanda Mehl’s designs and were super psyched when we got a chance to talk to her.
How did you come up with idea for the show on a bus? We really really loved it.
Thanks! I hate standard things so I thought about different alternative ideas to present the collection. It had to be something rebellious and playful that goes with the spirit of my brand and I wanted it to be interactive. Since I’m a visual artist as well, I treated the show like a performance happening. A contemporary art background changes the way you think about things, but there are also a lot of logistics. I had no budget and I know location is important and that fashion week is such a busy time for fashion editors so chances of getting the press to come somewhere far would have been slim and it hit me that we can make the location anywhere with a vehicle. My and the stylist of the show Mickey Freeman were brainstorming and came up with the school bus. We parked it outside of the Oscar de la Renta x Monsey show which was the highlight of NYFW. It was really risky because I couldn’t afford permits, the parking was illegal and there was no guarantee I would find a spot for the bus to stand, but I decided to try my luck and had amazing support from a fantastic team, friends and family. I was sure I would be fined because Clarkson Square is swarming with police during NYFW but the fine was still cheaper than a permit. I ended up getting away with it totally. Then I was offered a free space to do the show which would have been much less of a headache but it didn’t interest me so I stuck with the school bus.
You’re known for your inventive and unexpected materials. Can you give us some details on some of the materials you incorporated for the fall 2017 collection we just saw?
Well I spent a good part of January researching various types of rubber flooring and going to rubber manufacturers in Brooklyn, Queens and Chinatown. I also used sensors. The kind that they use in retail stores to prevent shoplifting. One slip dress has straps made of a telephone wire. Other pieces have various types of rope and safety buckles. I made my own quilted PVC vinyl which looks really badass but it’s actually very nice soft cotton on the inside. And also original digital prints that I designed. I watermark some of my prints to be ironic but not sure people are getting it. Another unexpected material that I love and always use is a very stuffy old fashioned silk/wool blend. It’s the type of fabric that society ladies wore “refined” suits out of in the 80s or that the British royal ladies would wear.I like it because it’s so outdated and no contemporary designers are using it, and it elevates my work. I like to combine it with something low such as spandex that’s blindingly blingy or basketball mesh. But even though my materials are really out there I always make sure that the clothes are wearable and that I don’t turn anyone into a fashion victim.
Speaking of materials, what are the production challenges for a collection like yours?
I’d rather not whine and bore you guys to much with my logistical problems but the more experimental/ mixed media I get the harder the production is, the higher the factories charge, etc. But I can’t take away this element from my design. It’s all about combos that balance each other and various textures.
There’s a lot that stands out in your collections, including the boldness of the colors. What inspires your palette?
I love so many colors including black. People always ask me which is my favorite and I can’t choose, but I also get sick of my colors really fast. So my first collection was tons of black and hot colors- red, yellow, gold. So the next collection I used only cold colors and not a stitch of black. My main color was baby blue and then grey. I wanted something very icy and detached. And of course I got sick of that again and the new collection is hot as hell. Now I’m regaining tolerance for baby blue again but I’ve OD’ed on magenta and need a break. Maybe the next one should be hot and cold together.
There’s quite a bit written connecting your collections with the subcultures of the internet. Is that a fair connection, and what are some subcultures that you draw from? Yes all of my collections are inspired the internet but my SS17 collection was especially. I referenced the 80s-90s subcultures such as cyberpunk, cybergoth, rave, various shades of lolitas, and club kids, and the more recent ones such as seapunk, vaporwave. health goth and normcore. The new AW17 collection is more psychedelic and disco as well as the aforementioned 80s-90s subcultures. It doesn’t have any influence from the recent millennial subcultures though. The movie Blade Runner is a big inspiration.
Can you tell us a little about your background, how your career got started, and what led you to fashion originally?
I’m an Argentinian who grew up in NY and spent 10 years of my adult life in Tel Aviv. I studied contemporary art and love to make wild installations. I’m a bit shy but I make up for it with my work. My art is really out there. My fashion is too but I try to keep that somewhat commercial in a good way (aka wearable) My mother is a designer so I grew up in this. Design is my 6th sense. I was working with my mother on her collection but my ideas were too strong and my brand identity was starting to formulate. Soon after it was just totally developed and once it was born I couldn’t put it back or give it away. So I got this crazy idea in my head that I must invest everything I have and start a fashion label and here I am today. A slave to something I created but couldn’t imagine life without it and even though sometimes it’s so hard overall it gives me so much happiness.
Your studio visit with Olimpia that we’re featuring looked like a ton of fun. What was the vibe like during the shoot?
It was magical! Girl power vibes. Everyone was so into it and we had so much fun in the sun! The poses we were going for were really empowering. We were superheroines. I have to say the clothes are pretty empowering too! Olimpia wanted me to model as well and I don’t normally know how to pose but once I had those clothes on it was just instinctive. I suddenly knew how to move. We were really vibing and working with Olimpia was amazing.
I wanted something very icy and detached. And, of course, I got sick of that and the new collection is hot as hell.