text by Paul Pastore
All photos courtesy BCALLA
Even if you’re even the most casual follower of pop culture, you have probably seen BCALLA’s clothes. Brad Callahan, the labels namesake, has designed custom pieces and tour outfits for GAGA and Azealia Banks. He also designed the costumes for Miley Cyrus’ iconic performance that closed the 2015 VMA’s. But BCALLA’s genesis was in the New York’s Queer underground, costuming Brooklyn superstars like Juliana Huxtable, Luke Neocamp, Cakes Da Killa, and Pearl. Bcalla’s success has been driven by Callahan’s couture creations, which transform their wearers into otherworldly beings with spikes, fur, and airbrushed monster faces. He continues to dress queer icons like gay porn star Colby Keller in tandem with pop divas, positioning him at the vanguard of fashion. Phosphenes sat down with Callahan in his studio to discuss his relationship with Americana, the future of fashion, and his own inspiration.
PP: Since the issue is about Americana, do you see yourself in particular as an American artist?
BC: I think so. I’m really inspired by London and Japan and Belgium; those are areas abroad that have given me a lot of areas of my education. I went and studied abroad underneath a designer for a little while and that’s where I got a lot of my inspiration and a lot of my fashion education. But when I was over there one of the things I felt like I missed the most- there’s really no queer underground abroad. It’s a very American concept I think, so a lot of what my work references is a very American thing.
PP: What aspects of the American zeitgeist do you see your work referencing?
BC: Definitely I always go back to punk and rock n’ roll which are American concepts, being imported from London again but they kind of got their foothold in America. CBGB’s and the 1970’s- that kind of vibe. And then drag, drag is everywhere but with Drag Race it’s become huge in America in a way that it hasn’t in other countries.
PP: Your brand has gotten a larger platform by virtue of it being worn by pop stars, do you see your work as a part of that pop cultural space or do you see it more placed in that subcultural underground you were referencing?
BC: I think it’s both. Pop culture references subculture, it always has. I grew up without cable until I was twelve or so but every summer we’d go out to our beach house and we’d have cable there. I’d be glued to MTV, VH1- I loved music videos. Music videos are my favorite thing ever. So it makes sense that my work is in that sphere because I’m kind of always looking at music videos and looking at pop culture. All those videos are art directed or styled by people who are in the underground community in New York or in London. It’s all kind of run by the underground.
PP: It’s interesting how people in the underground are making Avant-garde imagery that’s entering the pop cultural sphere.
BC: I think it’s different with the times too. I grew up right when the Internet was happening. So it was a lot different to share information then. It took a lot longer for a subculture to kind of grow and die twenty years ago then it does now. Now these things happen in the span of a year, six months – whereas before it could take an entire decade for something to really cross over to all the places it needs to cross over. It’s also kind of [that] the platform is so much bigger. Even though something is considered a subculture its also open to a wider audience because its more easily accessible.
PP: Do you think there’s even a boundary between the underground and pop anymore?
BC: Yes, but I think that that’s based on taste and based on morals.
PP: It’s so interesting how queer culture has crossed in a lot of ways too; the boundary is less tangible now.
BC: I mean it is [tangible]. I think it’s that New York is really forgiving too. It’s really accepting in that aspect, where Middle America might not be so. It’s kind of weird to live and work in Bushwick and do the things I do because it puts you in a really small bubble. Which is great and a lot of fun, but you’re not seeing the scope of America in a real way.
PP: What was so magnetic about music videos to you?
BC: It was the golden age of music videos. It was the age of Hype Williams, and there was so much money in the music industry so it was everything I wanted. Everything was glamorous; it was all fashion. It was all about style. It was right at the turn of the century so everything was kind of faux future and very pop. It was the height of David LaChapelle and Patricia Field. It was very queer. It was very urban. It was like being able to see a comic book or a cartoon come to life.
PP: A lot of that has come back in our current culture; it feels like we’re in that transitional time again.
BC: I think its because all the kids who grew up in that era are now grownups themselves. So that’s what we are referencing back on. Its kind of interesting to see what is going to happen next, because everything has been so referential in terms of fashion and trends. We went back in time and started coming forward in terms of now. What’s trendy right now is the early 2000’s which was only 16 years ago; really only six years ago. And we’re already referencing that. It’s repeating itself in a weird way so I’m kind of curious to see what’s next. I think a lot of people are looking at renaissance and rococo and going even further back. Renaissance fair trends – that kind of stuff. I see that happening. Which is cool too but it’s still referential.
PP: What do you see as the future, post-referential fashion being like?
BC: I’m convinced the future in fashion is going to be 3D printing. It’s already here but I think it’s going to really disrupt the economy in a serious way. So we’ll see if that happens. But I think that once 3-D printers become like [paper] printers were, where everyone has one, and you will be able to download your dress and print it out. You’re not going to need a store. Technology will probably advance in a way that you can choose your own color, and upload your own photo. But that’s what I have a sneaking suspicion will be where things are going.
PP: In a way I feel like you’re anticipating that, you don’t have a ready to wear line. Most of your clothes are custom made.
BC: That’s the bulk of my business.
PP: Which is amazing.
BC: Yeah, it’s cool. It’s really hard, but I like it.
PP: Is it more difficult creatively?
BC: I think it’s easier creatively because there’s not as much pressure to have a hit. The idea is that you make a shirt that everyone wants and then you sell two thousand of those shirts and make a ton of money. But that’s a little bit harder to strike a home run then if you’re doing custom work and that pressure is alleviated.
PP: And you’ve hit a lot of home runs.
BC: Thank you!
PP: Do you see it that way?
BC: It’s always different when you’re in it. When I wrapped up literally this last show, my friend was like “It’s done, it’s amazing. How do you feel?” and I was like “next seasons just around the corner”. There’s no time, you’re on to the next already. Which is part of the reason love doing custom work is because I don’t like to look at the same thing over and over again. So custom work is more like ‘ok what’s the next challenge, what’s the next concept, what’s the next thing’.
PP: You find that more stimulating than stressful?
BC: I mean I think it’s both. But I kind of like the stress. I like the problem solving. That’s my favorite part of it, dreaming it up. That’s the best part.
PP: Do you ever have experiences where you actually see a garment in a vision or a dream?
BC: Totally, I was just at the Trent Muller concert last night, they were playing. It was an amazing concert, the strobe lights were going, and I was having a good time. But the entire time I was just thinking about how I wanted to flat pattern this sleeve on a top that I thought of while I was listening to that, it never goes away which is kind of the annoying part.
PP: What are your aspirations for BCALLA?
BC: I look a lot to designers like David Dalrymple, and the Blondes, and Zaldy. I look to designers that take on a lot of custom projects, a lot of costume projects- for Cirque du Soleil and major pop stars, tours, and music videos. I really like that. I think that’s where I fit really comfortably, in my industry. People want to see bigger pieces out of me than the ready-to-wear.
PP: It’s seems like you have the creative capability to do a lot.
BC: There are a lot of things I would like to do. This season I mad a comic book and that was the basis of the whole collection. I really the idea of doing a graphic novel. I’d love to do animation. I’d love to do toys. There’s a whole world that I’d really like to dive into outside of the clothes that I think is possible.
PP: In your goals you didn’t mention world domination or money.
BC: I mean, that’s probably the problem. I would like to make money but more than anything I want to have a working studio. It’s more about that for me than a private jet or any of that. Ideas of extreme wealth make me uncomfortable. I mean that’s a whole different conversation. But the goal is never to make twenty million dollars. That would be really nice, but the goal is more to influence culture, and build a community, and leave a good mark on the world.
PP: What impact do you want to see BCALLA and your creative output have on American culture?
BC: I think celebration. That’s the core of BCALLA, celebration. I know that’s a really broad term but I hope that people can celebrate themselves, other people, and their differences. I hope that that’s what I influence, things getting happier for everyone.