I Ain’t Scared Of No Ho Chi Minh T-Shirts

by Taylore Scarabelli

Québécois Contemporary Street Brand WRKDEPT Weaves Daft Designs With Multicultural Influence for Brazen Effect
In 2013, Andy Long Hoang and Tinashe Musara started WRKDEPT with a collection of five tees. Their sarcastic ode to “working class” culture made overt mockery of high fashion houses, part of a short-lived trend that year. Since then, the pair have released three ready-to-wear collections and a denim Capsule Collection, showcasing their lines at Toronto Men's Fashion Week and the Montreal Fashion and Design Festival. As longtime members of the Montreal fashion community, Hoang and Musara have worked together—the former as a fashion photographer and videographer, the latter as a stylist—for clients including Elle Vietnam, L’Oreal, and Bullett Media. But beyond their veritable talent—and egos to match—there’s implicit understanding that labels need more than a few thousand followers and a streetwear collection to achieve mass market appeal.

For the duo’s S/SS16 collection, Hoang returned to Vietnam, where his father raised him to believe that Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) was the “number one enemy,” and where a vast history in textile production in the north promised a wealth of inspiration for WRKDEPT’S latest collection. While travelling through the highlands by motorbike, Hoang collected a range of handwoven brocades and synthetic silks, receiving a few friendly offers of “holy water” and opium along the way.

"Everything [in the collection] was about Vietnam.” Musara says. “The fake silk, it’s so popular there. It’s the real streetwear, synthetic but not in a bad way, in an accessible way." The line creates nonchalant streetwear with bohemian elegance. PVC panels and tribal knits, oversized tunics and unfinished hems, yes, it's playful, but it's more than just youthful musings: “Andy thought it would be funny to put Uncle Ho on a shirt.” Musara is referring to the designer’s playful communist snub, the WRKING CLASS tee [pictured below].

While WRKDEPT appears to have grown out of its initial “Tokyo Ninja, Shibuya style aesthetic” to incorporate a collection of modern cuts and designs, the duo has maintained an a-gendered approach to the brand. “We just do a series of outfits,” Musara says of his styling techniques. “It’s just all the clothes on the rack and then trying to show how you can wear it as a boy or a girl. We are showing people that it’s just pieces of clothing. When you play with silhouette alone you can do so much more then when you are playing with fit and busts. That’s what streetwear is, it’s a certain ease to dress.”

With London-based Selfridges’ recent launch of the Agender store and high-end labels blurring gender boundaries on the runway, unisex designs continue to be praised as both revolutionary and modern. For WRKDEPT, however, dressing doesn’t have to be about redefining gender categories. “I think if it's a unisex brand it just means that it is a sweater and a T-shirt.” Musara responds. “I don’t think it’s even unisex, you know what I mean. It’s a fucking T-shirt, it’s streetwear. It’s gender neutral but that’s not the point. The point is that you almost can’t assign genders to a T-shirt. I’d like it to feel like a brand where it’s irrelevant.”

While the buzz continues around gender-fluid brands, WRKDEPT insists that there is nothing revolutionary about unisex clothing. “I think we’ve always been so gender neutral, personally as people," say Hoang. “It’s always been like, we hold each other’s hair, we shop in the women’s section, so now it’s just like okay guys, welcome to the party.”

For WRKDEPT, generating interest in their label is the least of their concerns. The duo have already established a strong brand aesthetic, and have gained attention from companies overseas. Their satirical T-shirt collection is now sold on French e-commerce site, rad.co, and their accessories line, a collaboration with Montreal furniture and objects designer Loic Bard, is now on sale in Manhattan’s BDDW. But for young designers, finding the right buyers to launch production on their own can be difficult. “We’re sitting across from the board of Holt Renfrew, Fashion TV, and IMG models [at the Mercedes-Benz Startup]," Musara says. “They have $30,000 in their hand, they are looking at the clothes, they’re looking at you, and they are really super excited about you, but at the end of the day they are like, maybe not, come back next year.”

But a year's work means monumental effort for upstart fashion labels. "We have condensed what would be a house of 50 people between two people," Musara says of WRKDEPT. "The designer, the photographer, the person who does all of the patterns, that's all Andy. The person who styles, does the runways, all that, that’s me."

For WRKDEPT, it’s a matter of perseverance. “We’re going to come back in the fall with a better approach: better coats, better pants, better fabrics, you know, to the point where when you go to a salesroom you can discuss, show it off, and the buyer will be like okay I’m ready. We only have control over what we look like,” they say.“There isn’t really anything else to control.”