Streetwear is so hype right now. Thanks to sites like High Snobiety, Honeyee — and jeez, even this one — wild graphics and even wilder collabs have become as venerated as the celebrities that like to be spotted in them.
But what's brand to do when bold prints and bright colors, once considered so daring and original, start weaving their way into the mainstream? If you're Daniel Pierre and Kareem Blair, creators of respected streetwear line Lemar and Dauley, that question has one answer: Stay the hell ahead of everyone else.
Joshspear.com: So tell us about yourselves, your line, and the aspects of your personalities that are reflected in Lemar and Dauley…
Daniel Pierre: I manage brand direction for Lemar and Dauley, while my partner, Kareem Blair, guides the creative direction. We're both New York City natives raised in the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively. When we approach design within Lemar and Dauley, we tend to incorporate our collective upbringing and life experiences into the brand, thus creating an authentic story line which often reveals the relationship we tend to share with our audience. If I was to summarize our personalities, I am more the “underground weirdo” while Kareem tends to have his finger on the pulse of mass appeal culture. It actually meshes together quite nicely.
JS: You guys have always made it a point to communicate that what you do is more about cultural preservation than anything else. What are you trying to preserve?
DP: Basically, it’s about preserving the elements within the human experience that condition people to become what they are.
Kareem Blair: Such “elements” could be the playgrounds where they performed some of their best athletic performances, the lunchroom cafeteria they first heard a song they loved, or even a movie they enjoyed with friends they may no longer speak with.
DP: Generally, people have more in common than they think, and this stems from a time when they were most innocent. L and D focuses on the time before you “grow up” and become jaded about the world. We examine moments which were once new and exciting; when music and art provided a sense of wonder. Some people call it “pop culture,” we just call it home.
JS: Do you feel like you’ve been successful so far?
DP: Honestly, yes. People stop me in the street and want to have 30-minute conversations about our designs and what certain references have meant to them. Streetwear is a phenomenon; its potential in a corporate network is crazy! We have been approached by anyone from Capcom Entertainment to Adidas. They acquire our assistance because we understand how to articulate the culture better than anyone else.
JS: Talk about the role that self-motivation has played in the creation and growing success of your label…
DP: The reality is that there are no easy answers. You wake up in the morning and hunt down what you need. There’s no room for doubt because every second you spend hesitating and complaining eventually adds up against you.
KB: You have to be self-motivated to find resolutions because, often times, individuals will deter you from this process if they don’t understand your vision.
DP: There was a time when people told us not to pursue this career. We were screen-printing shirts out of a one-bedroom apartment with two other dudes and a chick. It was a difficult situation but we kept telling ourselves it had to work because no one we knew ever tried something this ambitious. We literally taught ourselves everything from our apartment. We would stay up all night reading textbooks on subjects such as branding, garment design and business planning. Our success was only forged due to our desire to be something greater than we knew ourselves to be already.
KB: No one is going to motivate you to do that but you!
JS: Streetwear is in a really hype-y period right now, and it seems like, as such, there has to be some temptation to squeeze all you can out of it; to really milk the hype all the way to the bank. How do you guys stay pure to your vision with so many opportunities to stray?
DP: For me it all boils down to more traditional branding methods. We do need to bring in revenue but not at the expense of our brand's integrity.
Information travels so fast that people get tempted to reinvent their business every week. I treat L&D like its Ivory soap. You can repackage it, expand on its functionality but never change its overall relevancy in regards to its core market. In all actuality, if we buy too far into the hype it gives competitors the opportunity to anticipate our business decisions. The idea is to create a platform that stays relevant long enough to outlast the idea of “streetwear” itself. In the last five years, I’ve seen the lifestyle evolve in ways other brands couldn’t foresee, thus those same brands no longer have influence.
JS: In an interview you recently did with The Evil Collector, you compared the similarities of the work you guys do to that of producers. What stuck out to me in that conversation was the “vibe” you referenced; the feeling you get when you know something is going to happen. Can you talk about how this process plays into the creation of each new season?
KB: This “vibe” is the muse. This is the “feeling” you are catering to from start to finish within the design process. When designing, nothing can start without some sort of preliminary sketches on paper or in your head. A skeleton of the idea has to exist, but it’s the process that brings it to fruition. Often times, until this “vibe” presents itself, the process fails to get started.
It can't necessarily be explained, but it's similar to a euphoria you get when you see an amusement park in the distance or your parents explaining the concept of Christmas for the first time while you unwrap unexpected gifts. It's this “excitement” which has yet to be fulfilled, but you are only moments away from the end result, but not like in the sexual way either. It's much more cerebral.
JS: What are some design and philosophic consistencies that have always been–and will always be– apparent in the brand of Lemar and Dauley?
DP: I would have to say when it comes to design we always try to be aspirational. Our clothes don’t portray false ideology. We both know design fundamentals pretty well so it’s easier for us to translate our visions without being overtly trendy. If we don’t believe in a particular aspect of streetwear, we don’t endorse it. We know what we can get away with aesthetically and it keeps us consistent. I’m a big fan of the writer Ayn Rand who inspired the philosophy of “Objectivism.” I don’t want to go too far into it but if you believe in artistry without compromise, look her up.
JS: This season sounds like it’s going to be a big one for you guys. Tell us a little bit about the creative process for Fall 2008.
KB: Creating Fall ’08 was an experience to say the least. We were both experiencing some business and personal loss, so I can definitely say that there was an overwhelming desire to crutch everyone through these difficulties as well as solidify our team. This provided inspiration for a heavily inspired Olympic collection. Not so much in the sense of the games and events, but the accomplishment of defying pre-existing obstacles and unforeseen circumstances. My partner, Daniel, watched a lot of programming depicting athletes overcoming their ills, as well as athletes who fell victim to them like boxer Mike Tyson and baseball player Darryl Strawberry. These stories provided the framework for the collection.
JS: Are there any standout items that might signify a change or evolution for where your line is headed?
KB: Sure, The addition of winter bubble jackets is highly anticipated as well as the graphic knit cardigans expected around the holiday season. We have also created some ski parkas, so we are definitely having fun with outerwear and layering. The stand out item is always the L&D signature vintage crew. This is where we take the idea of creating garments that will be collected and adored for their modern art-esque graphic panels.
JS: In two years, where do you hope to see yourselves, the line, and streetwear in general?
KB: In two years, I hope to see my partner Daniel and I as respected influencers in contemporary culture, possibly guest speakers on college campus seminars. I would love to discuss the formation of Lemar and Dauley in a post-9/11 business environment, as well as the effects, negative and positive, of business and consumer demand being internet dependent in 2010.
As for the line, I would like to see our first flagship location, continued expansion into foreign territories and a collective of intelligent and highly creative graphic designers, programmers, film editors, package designers and product engineers under the Lemar and Dauley infrastructure. Well. I don’t know if we can have that many resources in just 2 years, but I would like to begin the process now.
As for streetwear, I wish for it to continue on with its natural progression, even if it is an accelerated one, and further its influence in the established art and music communities. I would like to see its energy positioned to accept responsibility similar to companies such as Nike, and acknowledge topics of greater concern, such as education, entrepreneurship, health and the environment.