Breaking into the business of fashion is no easy task. An industry composed of so many brand aesthetics, it becomes hard to separate one from another. Capturing attention in the midst of a very hectic New York Fashion Week which simultaneously showcases menswear and womenswear is a feat in itself, but that is exactly what the brand SECOND/LAYER was able to do. What sets the new label apart is the designers’ focus on creating “a tailor made, non-gender bias form”—the most interesting point here being a blurring of the lines between womenswear and menswear. There is a conscious choice to create simple silhouettes expressing an attitude regardless of gender. It only seems fitting that in these changing times, such a notion is being embodied by a new fashion brand.
In their first public showing at the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, the atmosphere was refined and relaxed with a hint of edge in the air. We walked into a format that was simple yet commanding, with the SECOND/LAYER label and background shadow lighting creating another visual dimension that evoked both darkness and intimacy. Smoke entered the space as the first model stepped out. Casually smoking a cigarette and dressed in an all black jumpsuit, he was draped with a blanket as if he was hiding something. Each look that followed was also composed of seemingly basic and straightforward pieces. But that’s where the catch lies. Sometimes, it is the simplest of clothes that require greater examination as they mask the wearer. As simplicity begins to reveal something beneath, we sense the SECOND/LAYER man or woman has a bit of unfurling mystery; each is an individual who has lived life filled with fascinating stories. We begin to see why construction, tailoring and smart fabric choices are at the backbone of the self-described minimalism heralded by this collection. Also key to this notion was the styling; the modern proportions of the clothes and color palette were offset by deep red lipstick and severe hair. Male models sporting long hair that complemented their female counterparts. While the looks displayed were very classic, the inclusion of combat boots worn by every model brought the element of urban edge. It was a youthful play on the modern clothes not bound by time, perhaps a nod to the childhood upbringings that guided designers Anthony Franco, Joshua Willis, and Jacob Willis. After speaking to Joshua, we were able to better understand the creative journey that brought the trio and SECOND/LAYER to NYFW.
Congratulations on showing at NYFW for the first time. What was the experience like for you, and how does it feel now that it’s over?
We’ve never put on our own show before but we’ve done a couple things for other people’s shows. It was stressful, I’ll tell you that—working up until the hours before the show, the whole collection, getting all the looks styled. It was definitely a task. Now that the show’s over, we’re relieved a little bit… from the show. We are still selling the collection now, so I guess this is when the real feedback comes. We have some great buyers looking at the collection and we’re sure they’ll give us their raw and unrelenting opinions. Hopefully it’s good, and hopefully it results in an order.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the process of designing the collection?
Well, I have two partners—Anthony and Jacob, and we pretty much began the season and came together and said ‘Hey, this is what we want to do.’ From a directional standpoint, we have always had a focus on non-gender bias. A lot of our personal style is realized in a more monotone palette like blacks, whites and greys. Typically, our collections always end up being very black and white. This season, we wanted to focus on volume and proportions— fuller proportions that definitely carry that non-gender bias form within them. You’ll see from the trousers and jackets that there are some oversized pieces, which we feel can still communicate the vision that we had from beginning, before we even started the company, which was something a little bit more non-gender. Going into design, we started with this full idea and some drawings. Anthony and I just go back and forth. We put everything up on the wall. We take it down. Put it back up and take it down. Some of our inspirations were rooted in the mid ‘80s from designers and artists that were doing things. People like Yohji and Armani in 1985. We had this photo up on the wall throughout the season that said “Stay alive in ‘85”—it was kind of our mantra. It was a blend of that inspiration, coupled with something I think is really important to our collection—that is, our native roots, where we are from, Southern California, and definitely not in the best of neighborhoods. A lot of our inspiration comes from people who we saw as cool when we were younger. A lot of those guys had nothing to do with fashion, but [this inspiration] ended up in our collection. It ended up being very predominant. The guys with the slicked back hair and the hairnets… It was really just that attitude that hopefully we portrayed in our presentation. That street attitude but with a fine tailoring.
SECOND/LAYER is a creative team of three people. Did any of you intend on working in the fashion industry? Tell me about the point when you decided to start the brand.
We have another partner in the collection, there are 4 of us— 3 of us from the creative side. We have a creative agency as well, where we focus more so on fashion and commercial advertising. It started when Anthony, one our partners, was moving to Paris and taking his job there, pretty much permanently. Before he left, we thought about starting a collection. He was [in Paris] for 6 months and we finally convinced him to come back and start the collection. We started out of our basement in Venice, California, where we were working our creative agency for two years until we grew out of that. We had all been in the industry to some extent. We’ve done creative direction and art direction for many a brand, over the past handful of years. For us, it’s this whole journey that kind of led us to where we are. We really wanted to make a mark and this is the right timing. There’s a lot of street going on even though we’re not rooted in street. We feel like our attitude and vibe carries us into that, but we definitely want to bring something that really might not be seen right now. The free form and the direction in which we’re going is not what many people do right now, especially in LA and the United States in general.
As a team, what is the dynamic like between the three designers? How does it work creatively?
To be honest, I’ve never worked in a team that has been as like-minded as the crew that I’m with right now, which makes it so much easier. Everything that is put up or presented as an idea or concept is never torn down, but built upon. That is what has contributed to where we’re at, and will continue to help us grow more. We are all very open –open amongst partners that are always trying to better an idea as opposed to not trying to hear it. We are all very similar so it makes it very easy from a creative standpoint. Yet, we definitely still have our own styles in some odd sort of way. Even though we all look the same, we definitely have our own style.
We are very curious to know… how did you come up with or decide upon the name SECOND/LAYER?
We hadn’t formally discussed how we were going to name it. We didn’t want to have a namesake brand or label that focused on us as individuals. We feel like it’s more of an attitude and of a style. It’s more of a movement and to be honest, we had a ton of good names up on the wall. We had justified [SECOND/LAYER] and at the end of the day, we thought it was a really cool name and we were gonna stick with it. We wanted to make sure whatever name we chose, it represented something, as opposed to someone. That’s kind of the story behind the name. No real philosophical idea, just staying away from focusing on us as individuals and instead, creating an idea and movement that actually means something.
SECOND/LAYER started out in Venice, California. Are you still based there now?
Yes. We are still here.
What do you like most about working there?
You know what? Like I said, we all grew up in neighborhoods that are not as nice as some of the neighborhoods in LA proper. It is a really cool blending point of still having street and dirty—not dirty—but some overall feel that people have this creative feeling and creative force within, making the vibe of Venice really cool. Plus, we’ve surfed forever, or at least I have surfed forever so it’s kind of a good place where I can get to my favorite surf spots and not have to think about fashion for a while. [Laughs.]
If you could cast any model for your next show, who would it be? Is there a model you think that best embodies the spirit?
In finding and casting the models that we cast, we luckily had a great person on our team— John Tan, who is an incredible casting director. We told him exactly what we wanted and we had these people picked out. Daniel Bamdad is really, really amazing, really great. I think he does a great job of representing who we are. Lawson [Taylor] too. Gryphon [O’Shea] was super sick, we loved his look. They’re all really cool kids. We’ve worked with some of them at one point or another before the show so it was really cool to pull together all the guys that we did with all the attitudes that they had. We loved the way everybody looked up there. From the women’s standpoint too—we wanted to make sure we showed the looks on both men and women. I really liked Caroline [Deisler]’s look and we had cast my friend as well – El Grace. So I think they all looked great.
Credits: Written by Tori Leung. Interview by Jessica Hsu. Photos by Jessica Hsu, outdoor photo by Tori Leung, reporting from New York, NY.