“It’s not for you — it’s for everyone.” That is the tagline upon which Telfar operates. Founded by Telfar Clemens in 2005 – when he was 15 years old as “a DIY means of dressing himself and his friends” – the brand is, in Clemens’ own words, a “horizontal, democratic, universal” label responsible for putting forth unisex garments that are all about the details … and about something larger than merely clothing.
The name of the 12-year old brand – which stocks globally on Yoox and FarFetch, as well as at Opening Ceremony, Selfridges, Colette, and Assembly, just to name a few – and its founder have been all over the fashion presses as of late for a number of reasons.
One of those reasons: Its seasonal runway shows, which have been almost uniformly described as some of the most “highly anticipated” of New York Fashion Week. There was also the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund, for which Clemens’ brand has been in the running and ultimately took home the top prize this month.
As for the White Castle garments that may have inundated your social media feeds in recent months, Clemens is responsible for those, as well; the American fast food chain commissioned the Queens, New York native to give its attire an update. The new uniforms are unisex, of course, as is the Telfar capsule collection consisting of garments and accessories featuring the White Castle logo, which was released in conjunction with the parties’ collaboration. (100 percent of the proceeds from the White Castle capsule “go to bail for minors being held on Riker’s Island,” according to the brand’s site).
That White Castle opportunity – which sees 12,000 employees wearing Clemens’ design on a daily basis – is “cuter than a celebrity wearing something to some event,” he told Fader. Those are 12,000 models in Clemens’ eyes. And it is here that we can derive a meaningful element that is woven into the Telfar brand, one that is maybe even more compelling than the aforementioned press-worthy occurrences.
In addition to the brand’s garments, Clemens’ approach, itself – which entails building a brand with an element of community, of non-pretension, of inclusivity – is worthy of attention. It runs afoul of the long-established fact that fashion, particularly of the runway kind, has never really been positioned as anything but exclusive and aspirational. Garment prices are exorbitant. Runway models and those that appear in most brands’ ad campaigns have – for many years – been representative of one standard of beauty: Extremely thin and very white.
This is simply not representative of most of the population, and this dated, constrained take on fashion – which may have thrived when media was limited and the world’s fashion hubs defined exclusively by four core capitals (New York, London, Milan, and Paris) – is part of why traditional outlets (both in terms of brands and publications), and fashion, in general, has experienced difficulty to remain timely and enticing in 2017.
A struggle for relevance is not the case when it comes to Telfar. The brand is in-demand and not only because its price points – $200 for a Convertible Denim Jacket or an $80 t-shirt – which are wildly affordable for a runway-showing brand. No, there is more to it than that. As Clemens told Vice two years ago, for his brand – whether it be its casting or its unisex foundation – everything is “purposeful in the way that fashion is for everybody.” Clemens says he “hates that there are dynamics that goes against that.”
In a time when fashion is inherently global and dictated not by the pre-internet pages of a magazine but by the expansiveness of digital and social media, and when the industry’s most traditional gatekeepers are increasingly losing their dictatorial power, brands like Telfar are not only in-demand, they are powerful. And Clemens is using that power to put forth one of the many integral, decentralized narratives that is helping to bring this industry up to speed.
For Clemens, there is inherent value in approaching fashion in a way that differs from everyone else, in actively working to remove some of the old-fashioned hierarchical elements. “We have a vision for fashion that I don’t think anyone else is touching he told Fader in September. “A lot of people take inspiration from ‘the streets’ — and there is this whole language of appropriation — taking something ‘low’ and elevating it. We don’t believe in ‘high’ and ‘low.’ The way I see fashion is totally horizontal.”
Now that is a modern offering; it is also a downright compelling one, as well.