Closet Visit | Wesley Wheeler
Wesley Wheeler is the Los Angeles-based vintage guru. His obsession for antiquated things self-manifested the entrepreneur he is today. Sustainability and upcycling [the reworking old garments] are core ideals throughout his businesses ventures, in hopes of altering the industry’s norm. Recently, Wesley signed to Tomorrow Is Another Day agency, prompting his runway debut for Hedi Slimane’s first Celine show. Rocking his slim-fit denim, upcycled bandana tee, and bolo tie, we met up with the Hedi approved vintage fanatic to discuss his favorite garments and evolution in the fashion industry:
Tell us about yourself.
I’m Wesley Wheeler, and I like to keep my hands busy.
You made your debut modeling gig with Celine last year. What was that experience like?
I’ll start with a story. When I heard that Hedi was appointed as creative director for Celine, one of my first thoughts was, “wow, he’s back, maybe I’ll finally have a chance at walking a show.” The thought was in the back of my head since hearing of his arrival to Celine, but I never actually did anything to act on it. Guess I’ll blame the universe for working in funny ways, but soon after he got appointed, I got signed with one of the best runway agencies in the world.
View this post on Instagram
One of the first men to walk a Celine runway. History. Thank you to Hedi and the whole Celine team for being so wonderful. Big big big shoutout to @tomorrowisanotherday_agency and @eva_tomorrow_is_another_day and the rest of the TIAD team for booking my first show. I’m happy.
To sum up the experience though, it was wild, exciting, and quite nerve-racking. Something not many people know is that multiple looks get cut from fashion shows last minute, even minutes before a show. Models were getting dropped every day up until the show, which had me on edge as I wanted to walk. Luckily, my look made it through. I was so nervous until the second I was counted down onto the runway from backstage. The moment I stepped out, everything just clicked; straight face, smooth walk.
The days leading up to the show were quite wonderful as well. Hedi is very hands-on with everyone surrounding his whole vision; from the tailors to the models, his whole team. No matter their position, he sees everyone who is a part of his creations equally as important as the next. That showed throughout the entire experience, and you could tell he takes great pride in every step of the process. Being a designer myself, that was amazing to see on such a high level as I have the same outlook.
You have multiple creative ventures at the moment; tell us about them.
I get bored easily. If I’m not working on multiple things at the same time, I get restless, and everything seems off. It doesn’t even have to be “working” on things, I just always have to have my hands in something fresh, something new, down to my hobbies. On the creative and work side of things, I do have a few endeavors at the moment. Recently I’ve shifted focus back on my jewelry and accessories brand, Worn On, and taken it in a new direction. Everyone’s doing clothing right now, so it’s easy to have your design process swayed by overexposure and the popular opinion of now. I’m not saying that I pay too much attention to what others are creating while I work, but every creative has to admit at some point that being exposed to so many different ideas at the tip of your fingers can be exhausting. So I decided to take a small step back from clothing design at the moment and focus on the small detail oriented side of fashion.
We’re in the middle of a menswear awakening. Now, more than ever, men are caring more about the way they look and the things that they choose to wear on their bodies to express themselves with. Accessories are a huge part of this, and I found a gap in the industry. When I think of a contemporary man who is interested in fashion and style wearing jewelry, it’s the same few popular brands and the same few styles. With women’s jewelry and accessories, you can find a slew of small designers thriving with great success because they make a unique product at the perfect price point. I can’t say this is the case for men’s jewelry at all. I’ve been doing lots of research and design over the past year, and I’m sitting on a lot of product that I’m taking time to make right. I don’t care how long it takes; I want what I create to perfectly embody every idea that I hold about men's jewelry and accessories. Great design, a price point that everyone can be comfortable with, and sustainability.
I’ve been using a lot of vintage materials lately and repurposing them into various garments and accessories. Not only does it yield a genuinely unique product every single time, but there’s also something more important behind it. There’s already so much stuff in the world, so much that’s been created, sitting there, practically going to waste. For example, just one of the resources I use to source my vintage materials is a ten thousand square foot warehouse overflowing with textiles dating back to the early 1900s. With just that resource, I could upcycle enough materials to create hundreds of thousands of new and unique items, without creating any additional waste, and we all know how wasteful of an industry fashion is.
I also consistently work as a production manager and consultant for other brands who need help with actually creating their products. I often carry out a lot of the production process on many of my friend's creative ventures. I like to help out, and I’ve got years of experience that have rewarded me with resources that not many people have. If you’ve got an idea, I can turn that into a tangible product.
The venture that I wish I could spend more of my time on is my vintage shop. I find a lot of great vintage garments through my resources that I feel fit perfectly into the contemporary fashion scene while being completely unique. I curate an online vintage store, A Bit Dusty, where you can shop all of the wonderful vintage garments that I don’t keep for myself.
The project that’s been consuming most of my time at the moment is a bit of a secret for now. I’ve given some sneak peeks on my social media a few times. It’s something that I have been working on in the back of my mind for the past five years while learning the ins and outs of the garment industry.
How would you describe your style?
I wouldn’t ever want to describe it. It’s ever-changing, never stable. Sure, there’s always going to be some consistent motifs, but in the era of having access to everything at your fingertips, how could the things you consume ever be stable? Lately, though, I have been mostly wearing vintage garments. The way I wear them, people always ask if some piece I have on is by a recently popular designer. I always love their reaction when I tell them it’s actually something older than their grandfather. Goes to show that it’s not about the piece, it’s about how you wear the piece and what you wear it with. You can make a 75-year-old garment blend in with contemporary designer garments, and I think that’s a cool statement. I only paid $25 for this jacket that’s one of a kind in this day and age, and it’s being confused for a $2500 jacket. Style is the key here, not just fashion.
What are your top 3 favorite garments and why?
I’ll pick from three different categories here. Pants, I mainly wear my Dior AW06 cummerbund denim every single day. They have the perfect fit for me, which seems like it was ripped from some of Levi’s 501’s honestly. There was a period when the Levi’s 501 became a really nice fitting slim straight, I believe it was the redline selvedge 501’s in the 1970s.
For shoes, I have this pair of boots from the 1960s that are the same model of boot that Elvis wore. I dug them up from a little punk thrift shop in Paris. Everyone always asks if they’re Saint Laurent. They have the perfect heel and such a nice leather finish. They’re so versatile; I can dress them up or dress them down. I’ve worn them with a suit, with denim, and with track pants, and they seem to fit with everything I’ve ever put on. I wish I could find more pairs of them, but I’ve yet to come across any others.
Jackets... my favorite category. The last time I was in Tokyo, I came across this really amazing rockabilly vintage shop. I talked with the owner for hours, and he kept excitedly showing me garments that he thought I would like. He had this deadstock jacket from the 1950’s, it was western style and had velvet details flecked with glitter all over. I was truly shocked that something from the ’50s had such impressively modern details. Unfortunately, it was a bit out of my price range. A few months later while digging through some vintage, I find the same jacket, just more worn which I actually prefer. I really think the universe has my back most of the time.
Which city has the best vintage shopping?
Easy. Tokyo, Japan. Rather, all of Japan. I don’t know what it is about the Japanese, but they LOVE Americana vintage. They really have the best vintage pickers. If I’m at any of my vintage warehouses, there’s always a Japanese picker right beside me. Anyone of the tiny vintage stores I’ve visited in Japan has a way more impressive stock than any vintage store I’ve ever seen anywhere else in the world. Every single shop I went into, I wanted to buy something. They somehow find garments that I’ve never seen anywhere else. For example, there are these crazy two-toned hoodies made in the 1930s to the 1950s. Brands like Enfants and Yeezy have referenced them, and of course Kapital. They’re extremely rare, and fetch quite a high price in the vintage market. Japan has all of them, I swear. I’ve never even seen one outside of Japan, online or in person. In Los Angeles where we have maybe ten vintage shops in a neighborhood, Tokyo has a hundred of them, and they’re all way better.
What’s the oldest piece you have?
I have this wool cape from the 1920s or 1930s. It’s a perfect coat alternative. If it’s cold out, I can throw the cape over anything without having to worry about shoving the sleeves of my jacket through the sleeves of an overcoat.
Why do you prefer shopping vintage versus new?
Everything I find is basically one of a kind in this day and age. The odds of finding the same piece twice is exceptionally slim, though I have done it a few times. The garments I like most are the ones that shock me with how modern they look. Like, “wow, this was made in the ’50s?” Sustainability is also rad; I’m not contributing to all of the waste that the fashion industry creates. My pockets are also happier. I have 20 jackets that look designer, for the price of one designer jacket.
You reworked a 50s biker jacket into a slim fit custom for yourself. Walk us through that process.
I found the jacket in a completely unwearable state; the sleeves were falling off, the whole back panel wasn’t even attached, and it had holes everywhere. The leather would basically crumble apart at the lightest touch. I had it sitting around for a while, trying to decide what to do with it. I brought it over to my good friend Elliott’s studio one night after I saw on his Instagram story that he had just reworked a vintage leather for a client. We assessed what needed to be done, and jumped right into it. It took one night and the whole next day, and the only new materials that I used were scraps of lambskin leather that were going to be thrown away.
The whole jacket had to be taken apart, piece by piece, panel by panel. From there, it was sort of like putting together a puzzle with missing pieces. New leather scraps were sewn onto panels where the original leather had completely disintegrated, then cut to fit the same shape, then re-sewn onto the garment. We had to make a lot of guesses as to what the original shape looked like. It was really fun, and I’ve been looking for another destroyed jacket to rework. They’re super hard to find, people usually throw that stuff away. I documented the whole process through a story highlight on my Instagram.
When did you begin collecting and upcycling garments?
I’ve been into vintage for a while now. Even back at my parents home, I had some vintage garments that were purchased when I was a teenager that I had completely forgotten about. I’ve recently gotten very serious about it though, in the past two years. With every garment I source, I try and research as much as possible about it to get the story behind it. It’s so much more fun than just going out and buying a new piece. Usually, I don’t even find something that I’m looking for, and it will just appear one day out in the wild. Sometimes I go weeks of searching every single day without being able to find a piece that I truly love.
From an environmental standpoint, how can upcycling impact the fashion industry?
Fashion is so wasteful. I’ve seen it, I’ve been in the mix for a while now. Hundreds of pounds of fabric scraps get thrown away with every production order for even a quantity of 100 jackets made. Even dyeing a piece of clothing wastes hundreds of gallons of water. Sometimes you can’t avoid it when you have a creative vision that you really want to carry out; I understand that. I’m guilty of it, I’ve had a brand.
Recently, I just want to do my part. I believe that anything helps, on any scale. Anyone who is wise on being environmentally conscious will tell you the same thing. Using upcycled materials to create products helps everyone. I’m limiting the waste that I personally create, while also limiting the waste of the consumer. They could have bought a synthetic shirt that polluted the environment when the fabric was made and wasted hundreds of gallons of water during the dye process. Instead, they purchased a product made with materials that had already been on this earth for years.
I believe I can also influence others to create a similar business model in fashion. I’ve had other designers ask me where to source vintage materials that they can upcycle for their garments, I’ve helped out a lot of people with that. I’ve had people tell me that they shop more vintage because of me, they weren’t aware that such great vintage garments existed because they didn’t know where to look. I’ve had people tell me that they buy my products simply because they know they’re handmade with sustainable materials. Anything you do helps, trust me.
Tell us about your love for bandanas.
I just think they’re beautiful. There are so many different patterns and colors. The way they age and fade is wonderful. The bandana is such a simple accessory that has served multiple functions for hundreds of years. It has a rich history in fashion. They’re a lot of fun to work with as well; the material is perfect for all sorts of products. I’ve made shirts, jackets, jewelry, bags, pillows, decorative objects, and so many other things just using vintage bandanas. They’re so multipurpose it’s insane. Just looking at a simple square of fabric with a nice pattern on it has influenced so many ideas for me, and continues to every single day. I save every scrap from the bandanas that I cut up to make my products with, and design new products all of the time just utilizing tiny scraps.
What do you have planned for 2019?
I want to keep creating, keep inspiring. I rarely plan for the future quite honestly; I’m a very impulsive and spontaneous person. Sometimes you do need goals, however. The secret project that I’m working on is going to take a lot of my time, and I’m super excited about that. I’d also like to walk some more fashion shows; it’s really a fun experience. I’ve been involved in almost every corner of the fashion industry, and the ones I haven’t involved myself with yet, I intend to reach.
Photography by: Ryan Decker