When Kurt Souder and Jennifer Burks got a prompt from the folks at Philadelphia Fashion Week to whip up a capsule collection, it sparked something in their creative trajectory. They’d both been toying with ideas and designs, but hadn’t been given the opportunity to show fashion-y people what they’re all about—that is, until last month, when they ushered out a handful of looks that ended up being some of the most memorable of the whole show. And on a three-week time budget.
Their brand, Weft, is picking up steam, and so are they. Specializing in tailored pants and capitalizing on their unique perspectives on menswear, especially sportswear, the two are poised for a busy spring. Last night, they showed me their collection and had a model (read: roommate) wear a few looks for perspective. For a capsule collection, a handful of garments created to express a shared aesthetic, this one’s pretty robust. There’s room for improvement, but their staples and standards are what keep the line strong: well-tailored and constructed pants, beautifully-cut five-pocket jeans, hand-painted “patterns” and a cohesion that celebrates an attitude they like to call “dressing in the dark.”
That descriptor doesn’t have to mean that your house was on fire, and you grabbed the nearest five garments to be covered in the event of a fire drill in winter. For Souder and Burks, it’s about cultivating a wardrobe that works together, no matter the combination. They showed me three graphic print tees (perhaps the last they’ll make) that illustrate objects exploding, visuals bolstered by Souder’s self-taught leather cutting and hand-painted detailing. They see the tees as a layering tool, something to wear with a strong pant and a blazer or under a waffle henley.
But it’s the tailoring of the pants that caught my eye the most. Their pinched seams, that run down the front of the pant like an outward pleat (but also like a simple fold-line), create a visual intrigue that adds to the garments’ strength. A perfectly effortless but gorgeous pair of dark denim looked like it’d belong in an A.P.C. rack at Barney’s. The simplicity of a black wool turtleneck with an asymmetrical hidden neck zip, not unlike something you’d find at LuLu Lemon but kicked up in sophistication, looked comfortably and perfectly paired with their jean.
I told them that with a line of 20 variations of those jeans and that sweater, I’d be waiting in line to get my size.
Philadelphia isn’t notorious for cradling and cultivating fashion talent, but these two friends—who go back to pre-teen days at Moore’s extracurricular art classes on weekends—are in it to win it in the menswear game. Whereas Commonwealth Proper and Suit Supply may corner a specifically higher-end and suiting market, Souder and Burks hope the everyday wear and flawless construction of their sportswear is something they’ll see on all kinds of men walking down Walnut one day.
I got to do something really cool Friday night. I got a Photo Pass and it was my first time with a decently capable borrowed camera “in the pit.” Of course, nearly all ten media pawns crowding into the same 12-15 square-feet had huge, killer cameras, but I was just pumped to boogie within spitting distance of Ms. Annie. Standing about eight feet from The Fierce One, I got front seat access to the first three songs of her thoroughly badass set: “Rattlesnake,” “Digital Witness,” and “Cruel.” Wearing a slightly macabre short dress with fabric manipulations that might’ve mimicked blood, she tore through song after song from all four of her records nailing every solo along the way. The packed-in capacity crowd was affably excited, yielding a pleasant morsel of local pride: the good people of Philadelphia know a good thing when they see it. From some of the things I’ve read about this new record and tour, there’ve been whispers of her aesthetically aiming at leadership of a new world order. A cult-leading superpower here to snatch up our minds and turn us into enlightened funk humanoids. This pale pink platform triangle really pulls it all together (from the album cover to the stage). When she stood on the highest level and blasted through the last third of her set, I was ready to sign up and waiting for her to say “I’m here to recruit you.”
Philly emcee Tom Charles releases video, “Finer Things,” and Kanella chef Konstantinos Pitsillides is in it
I worked at Kanella for a long time. Chef Konstantinos Pitsillides and his lovely wife, Caroline, are two of the best people I’ve ever worked for. It’s a small little family over there: a half-dozen or so servers, a few hosts, a few food runners, and even a small kitchen staff. So it was a blast to watch an old co-worker’s new music video yesterday and discover that it featured not only visuals set in Kanella’s interior but a cameo from head server Bobby and Chef Pitsillides homself. Turns out, he’s a natural.
Emcee Tom Charles has been on the grind for a while now. Since 2007. He made some YouTube videos on a previous account, but this one marks a fresh start. “I have like four or five videos, but I put this one on a new account because I’m kind of fresh starting and rebranding myself, and I got a lot in the works,” he says. “I’m posting a Kickstarter for the next video that we wanna shoot soon, too.” [We'll be sure to update this post with those deets when they become available.]
In the video, he does some solid Philly visits including to a barber shop (Burke & Payne Barber Co.), a tailor (Commonwealth Proper,) and, perhaps the crown jewel of the video, a poker scene at Kanella. Pitsillides fit the role that Charles was looking for: “I knew I wanted that handsome but intimidating look for the gentlemen that I was playing poker with,” Charles says. “I told Chef the concept, and he was all about it.”
It looks like maybe “Finer Things” could help give a little kick to Charles’s local notoriety. It’s a fun watch, and there’s a sexy lady in it (her name’s Lala—”She’s a Philly cat,” Charles says). The single’s been doing well on iTunes, and what makes it a little more special for him is that he pretty much molded the whole thing himself from beat to video. “I made the beat and everything. That’s my first production that I’ve released for sale by myself,” he says. “I came up with the idea and just had to figure out how to put it together, figuring out scheduling and budgets.”
He recruited his boy, Pat Murray (of Glass Canon), to help him with the execution and the cleanup: “Both of us really [made it]. I came up with the treatment, and he helped me put it all together and he edited it and all that shit.”
I used to go to Stash often. Like every week. It was so fun: Up in the suite (no cover), you and a dozen friends, $5 citywides with Jameson, and practically no one there until midnight, when everyone packed it in to get down with electroclash jams, riot grrrl anthems and ratchet radio pop. It was an oasis for folks like me, who fear the weekend crowd at Philly’s gay “clubs” because they became overly populated with college kids, muscleheads and meth daddies. Well, Mike Shaffer, who DJ’d Stash and kept his pulse on grit glam in our little queer universe, has picked up where Stash left off (lifeless at Rosewood), taken it to Fishtown and expanded the scope. Mondo Trasho is coming! Hide ya wife, hide ya kids, and shake all your tailfeathers tomorrow night.
So, what’s the idea behind the party, and how’d this process get started? How long have you been waiting for this?
Corey Griffith met John Redden through making his coffee at Rocket Cat Cafe and also by frequenting The Barbary. They discussed the lack of queer nights or queer bars in Fishtown. Corey just recently met Jake (Skull†Kid) [Nuxoll], and Jake and I have been friends for a long time and have DJ’d together for a year and some change. Corey asked us to come together to come up with a party. We met with John back in November to create the party. We want to embody an edgier side of queer culture without taking it too seriously. We got some help to work on a logo, flyer design, drink tickets, pins, visuals, and we’re going to have Pretty Girl perform at our first party this Wednesday. It’s been a process, but it’s been really fun.
Why Mondo Trasho, and what do you think it, and the accompanying iconography, communicates to party-goers?
Mondo Trasho was John Waters’ first feature film. Corey told me that it loosely means “remarkable trash.” While we don’t intend the party to be complete trash, per se, we definitely have an edge and don’t mind a little sloppiness. We’re intending to create a space where a crowd of artsy, diverse queers and their friends can party to an open format of music and talk about how exciting it was the next day. The iconography is meant to be eye-catching and sexy, as sexiness is definitely a theme of this party. We shouldn’t be afraid to be a little sexy while on the dance floor, right?
Can you say a little about that hour-long mix folks can be listening to in anticipation of this party? Is this meant to be an indication of what will get spun there?
The mix is really just a small sample of what an hour at the party could feel like. We wanted it to flow so people could get a feel of it at the gym, at work, on the bus, while dancing in their underwear or whatever. We’re going to also be playing a lot of rock ‘n roll and punk rock anthems, but those genres don’t quite translate into a mix with dancier house and electro beats.
Will this have a different feel from Stash by not being weekly and not being in the Gayborhood?
It didn’t help that Stash was on a Tuesday, but for two years, Stash made Tuesdays the shit. We still get people telling us that they miss that party. Mondo Trasho will have a different feel, but we have the opportunity to have a larger space with a potentially larger draw. Stash was amazing, and it’s where I got into DJing, but Mondo Trasho will bring more to the plate. We queers don’t just party in the Gayborhood! Also, this party will be bi-weekly, so the space between the parties will give us time to prepare new music and performances.
What kind of special events will you try to make happen, and are you lining up live performances, as well? Pretty Girl’s gonna be at the premiere? Her stock is on the rise!
Pretty Girl is a friend of ours and is definitely one to watch out for. We’re excited to have her perform for our opening night and in the future. We’re going to be having performers, guest hosts and a rotating line-up of guest DJs from all over. We’re just beginning.
Who do you think are the avant garde dance music artists that the gays should be squealing for when the beat hits ‘em at 1 a.m., instead of the run-of-the-mill pop divas that get gays to take their shirts off at Woody’s?
While we intend to throw in some interesting takes on pop music and throwback jams for sure, you should be excited to hear Cakes Da Killa, Roxy Cottontail, Mykki Blanco, Mt. Sims, Nicky Da B, Lords Of Acid, Miss Kittin, The Knife, Kid Sister, X-Ray Spex, Le Youth, Disclosure, Deee-Lite. We have a lot of surprises.
The debut party is free. We also have Pretty Hate Machine upstairs, which is a really awesome darker music dance party. Mondo Trasho will be the second and fourth Wednesday of every month, starting this Wednesday. While this is “our” party, as in the LGBTQ community’s, we want everyone to come and have a crazy time.
“Am I too close to you?” asked one dancer to another as they rehearsed in the bowels of the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in University City. One statuesque corps member is stretching off the edge of the “stage,” a workspace that can’t be more than eight feet in height, and some dancers are trying not to hit their hands and heads on the drop ceilings above them.
They’re cleaning, a term I picked up from Roni Koresh when I peaked in on their run-up to Through the Skin.
But Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal artistic director Louis Robitaille allowed me to take him away from the rehearsal where his ballet or rehearsal master, Cyrille de la Barre, was ironing out kinks and advising on the technique of certain lifts, turns and weight balances.
Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal is now a 40-year-old company; in fact, this program, which debuts in Philadelphia tonight, is a celebration of the history, nature and spirit of its whole. And Robitaille is extremely proud of what his artists—his dancers—are capable of: power and versatility.
BJM is not unlike our BalletX—very much steeped in a deeper commitment to not just modern but contemporary dance. There’s a difference, though (more on that shortly). As the Pennsylvania Ballet is to our BalletX is Montreal’s Les Grand Ballets Canadiens to BJM. However, as Robitaille shared, some critics in Canada have been saying the gap between the two major companies has been shrinking.
“It’s funny because it’s an institution, and they have much more money,” he explained. “We are more of a fusion dance company, a little bit of everything. The artists are very versatile and very athletic.”
It’s true. Most ballet companies expound on the athleticism and power of their dancers, but even in watching 30 minutes of rehearsal, there are tons of holds, lifts, pulls, spins and duet work. Dancing that looks beyond precise, so much so that subtle shifts or a less-than-perfect grip can spin the whole performance out of sync.
“Accidents happen. This is part of the risk of a live show. The show is very risky,” said Robitaille. “For instance, ‘Closer,’ [choreographed by Benjamin Millepied] at 18 minutes long, you need so much power and stamina. I like challenge. Every single show is a challenge; every single show is important.”
This weekend, they execute three pieces: “Fuel,” “Closer,” and “Harry.” This combination is unlike many of this tour’s repertoire. They just performed two nights in Beverly Hills, and in February they’re off to Tel Aviv, Germany, France and elsewhere.
Even though much is to be extracted from the duets that populate this weekend’s program, Robitaille was thrilled to discuss the limitations and opportunity that a one-on-one performance can unearth.
“There is more to a duet than only relationships and love affairs,” he explained. “Zero In On,” a piece from their repertoire not performed this weekend, “is totally abstract,” he went on. “It goes beyond the two-person; it’s an athletic challenge. It’s about movement and tension. Why make things simple when you can make them complex?”
What can audiences expect?
“It’s like a rollercoaster,” he said. “Different moods, emotions, feelings … I hope the audience will get on to the rollercoaster train.”
The 12-member company will not be wearing tutus or crushed velvet leotards. Robitaille seems firm on that. He doesn’t believe in covering up his company, but wants to show off their bodies so that all the mechanics are on display. He even uttered the word “LuLulemon” to cite an inspiration for one act’s costumes; it is essential to adjust aesthetics in a contemporary company to what’s happening on the streets—of Philly or Paris.
“I’m very sensitive to costumes. Usually, I don’t like ballet costumes,” he elaborated, “so if sometimes a choreographer wants an aesthetic to their piece, I encourage them to look to the street. All the costumes were adapted for the stage as street clothes.”
Modern ballet is studied and staid. It’s Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham; it’s scientific. Ballet is hundreds of years old, he points out, but continues to get reconsidered in our modern contexts.
“We are still doing the same base ballet,” he adds. “But it follows time for me and the space-time we’re in. The foundation of everything is ballet, but it’s a fusion with everything else.”
The show debuts tonight night and runs through the 18th, with a matinee on Saturday. Tickets are here and range from $20 to $55.
The other weekend, I strolled around South Street and was friggen’ pumped to find a few developments that caught me off guard: ADIDAS is no longer an “originals” store but an outlet? There’s a pimp new Villa? What is this TOTEM!? We’ve been frequenting Ps & Qs for a minute now (their jackets are currently half-off), but Totem popped up this past July. We peppered the store’s brains, Phillip Yi, and he gave us some answers to a few of the hundreds of questions that come to mind when perusing his gorgeous storefront’s wares.
When and how’d you get this store up and running? Had you been scoping sites for a while?
Totem Brand opened in July 2013, and I’ve been working on South Street for my entire retail career. I noticed Philadelphia did not have a heritage menswear store with a focus on U.S.-made goods and outdoor lifestyle. The community has really embraced our concept and mission.
Tell us why you’re into this stuff. The general theme is American-made products, is that correct? Or, even if it’s an international brand, there’s a domestic manufacturing angle?
I think now, more than ever, quality is extremely important to customers. The U.S.-made brands we choose to feature at Totem Brand are all revered when it comes to quality and craftsmanship. I feel great offering items to my customers that are not going to fall apart after a couple wears. The more research I did into the brands that I wanted to carry, the more I identified with their mission: “Buy it once, buy it right.”
Secondly, I feel proud to support our American manufacturers. I think that it is important to keep jobs in America and help stimulate the U.S. economy.
What are some of your personal favorite brands, and why do you love them so?
Some of my favorite brands are Filson and Norman Porter. Filson was founded in Seattle, WA in 1897, and their goods are made in USA. From their 100-percent virgin wool coats and oil finished jackets to their rugged luggage, the entire collection is extremely durable and practical. Every piece only gets better with age. Everything they make has lifetime warranty. They truly stand behind their product. I love their motto too: “Might as well have the best.”
Norman Porter is an awesome denim brand. Each pair of jeans is made by hand. He has expanded his offerings to leather goods, and I am proud to carry his brand. It is truly a one-man operation located in Philadelphia. From the hickory stripe pocket bags to the hand-hammered copper rivets, the attention to detail is undeniable. We are located in Philadelphia, and it was only natural to carry a locally-made product.
There’s not a ton of menswear options in Philly, and, as I told you, I’m a super-fan of Ps & Qs down the street. You two are really nailing that niche. What do you do that’s unique to Totem?
I really try to focus on heritage and outdoor lifestyle brands. But I’m particularly trying to feature items that will remain classics over time, with an attitude towards high quality, durable, and practical fashion.
Sure seems like there’s a little South Street retail renaissance going on. I like that ADIDAS turned themselves into an outlet and that Villa (608 South St.) is great at what it does. Are you excited to be a part of it?
For a while, South Street was the go-to destination for unique shopping boutiques. Then there was a sort of deterioration when manufacturers went overseas for production. This left a lot of U.S. manufacturers out of business. This culture of “cheaper goods are better” really hurt America. I’m really excited to be a part of the retail renaissance on South Street and turning it back into a shopping destination with quality and character.
Have you been South Streeting for your whole life? What are some of your favorite South St. gems?
Yes, but so many of my favorite stores have left over the years. Still, I’m always up to grab a Bloody Mary at Beau Monde and a gyro at South Street Souvlaki.
Alright, break down the deals you’ve got going on now—and when they’ll expire. And tell us what to expect for spring.
Currently, our fall/winter goods are up to 40-percent off until supplies last. We are really excited for spring. A few brands we are proud to introduce are Barbour, Woolrich and Steven Alan.
Photo provided by the Ps & Qs dudes’ Facebook page.
One of my favorite stores in the city is Ps & Qs. Pretty sure you’ve figured that out by the handfuls of posts I keep putting up. One of the reasons I love the store so much is because of a couple of the dudes that run the place: the owner, Ky Cao, and one of his trusty associates, Saeed Ferguson (pictured above in the bottom left). They’re just chill dudes with good style, and they seem to enjoy talking shit with me about menswear shopping in the city and brands and shit. And Cao seems to be keen on putting together some really cool in-store events. I missed an event a couple weeks back that featured the Naked & Famous denim guru, Brandon Svarc. But when I got prodded to come see what these guys The Madbury Club were all about, I said to myself, This can only be interesting. Not knowing much about the dudes, other than what Cao’d told me (essentially, they run a blog, but they’re also creatives who do all kinds of stuff), I knew I was in for some kind of a lecture and a Q&A. Those kinds of things are always good to get my blood pumping and my brain twitching.
So, let me break a few things down before I get into my thoughts.
The Madbury Club’s been evolving for years. What started, primarily, with Phillip T. Annand and his budding Award Tour T-shirt game, with the assistance (he’ll say mostly packing boxes of shirts) of his boy Ellington Hammond, has grown considerably and taken on a few different variations of a mission. TMC is far from a T-shirt company in 2013. Annand and Hammond have been recruiting. They’ve pulled in a handful of creative and spiritual dudes (this is, 100%, a sausage party; some of em’ from Philly) to help them mold and sculpt their creative vision. But what they’re more than willing to admit is that this vision isn’t totally in focus— or at least, they’re willing to admit that they’re not even sure exactly what they do. They’re somewhere in between a creative team that’d be not unlike a small ad agency (but only on the creative side), a collective of artists/photographers/videographers/creative producers and fashion fans. Seriously, it wouldn’t feel right to call these dudes stylists or fashion editorialists, but they just love sweet goods. Especially sneakers. Over on The Madbury Club site, you’ll find some extraordinary lookbooks in which they themselves act as curators and models. Certainly they’ve got brands they turn to on the regular, but what they seem to do most genuinely is dress themselves in current, urban, modern and clean looks.
One of the reasons these guys got started in this line of internetting is pretty simple: They were bored with what was being offered to them. Complex, SPIN, Highsnobiety, Hypebeast, Street Etiquette—these were ‘zines/blogs that they eagerly and excitedly consumed, but they inevitably felt bored by them, or at least, they didn’t feel like they were being as adventurous or as creative as they could be. So, they started a site. One of the things they were certain about was that they wanted the visuals to be extra. They wanted spreads to be full-screen affairs with outstanding content. “Content” is actually what TMC seems most obsessed with, and that was one of the weirdest aspects of the night. What this content is is, again, something they’re deciding on as they go.
Take “Chazebralope” (below), for instance, one of their most recent efforts. It’s essentially a trailer for a movie that will never be made, but it’s an ambitious one. The vision came from a choice of six sneakers from PUMA that they could make something visual for. They picked the ugliest one, the one with more than five different animal prints on one shoe, and crafted a narrative around the idea of a mythical beast. A dangerous one–a mixture of a cheetah, an antelope, and a zebra (obviously). They shot for almost a week in the deserts of Utah and boiled down hundreds of hours of footage into a high-end, visually-dazzling trailer. Shoes are hardly the focus. But TMC guys are starting to catch on to the fact that they’ve got what some companies are looking for to the T. They’re young, they’re stylish, they’re urbane, they’re sophisticated, and they have taste, but most importantly, in their own way, they have the technical and artistic know-how to make an outstanding visual product. When they got their first giant wheat-pastes plastered all over New York City, they knew they’d made it. Sort of.
Here’s the troubling thing, for me, about these guys: They’re all clearly very talented; they’ve got GREAT eyes for visual aesthetics; they know clothes and shoes, and they’re trying to explore the unknown realms of the nebulous worlds of creative new media. It’s like dark matter. The sky is the limit. Craft yourself a strong following with a killer Instagram feed or recruit a rabid Twitter following, and sometimes, the world is your oyster. You could turn into a famous blogger (at least, until, the flash in the pan cools down) and start appearing on TV as the voice of a generation. But to do it all while continuously expressing the idea “We’re not sure what we’re doing” is disheartening because it feels a little like the blind leading the blind.
The team has found creative epiphanies and renewed their zeal by traveling, a pretty big component of their blog (which, at the moment, isn’t nearly as robust or updated as it used to be, and they’re OK with that). And one of the heaviest topics entertained in the Q&A session was the idea of following your creative heart, and if that means saying “Fuck it, let’s go to California and see what happens,” you buy your tickets, and you all cram into one hotel room or tent and do it on the cheap if you have to. School is not for everyone, and a degree doesn’t get you anywhere. You get yourself to wherever you absolutely have to—and adventure is essential to a truly lived life.
I just have to share one more thing. In the Q&A, there was a dude who purported himself to be an art school graduate who teaches art, and he applauded the collective for rebuffing or at least questioning the value of an art degree, but finding much more value in just constantly creating and constantly experimenting. At one point, Annand talked shit about Duchamp’s “The Fountain,” which I didn’t really approve of. He was making a point, though– when stuffy art heads make something absurd, call it art, and it’s lauded as genius, it can be a little disconcerting. But art teacher dude managed to make the analogy that the work TMC is doing, work that we got to see lots of in their presentation, is in fact exactly like Duchamp’s “Fountain,” but in 2013. To him, I say, “No sir. I heartily disagree.”