Q&A | Official Rebrand Previews Age of Desire Collection at Otherwild

by Liam Casey

Some of my fondest memories in college were rummaging through the mountains of second-hand clothes at the Volunteers of America store near campus. It was rare to walk out of that big-box store without some sort of gem. One minute your goal was to score a linen shirt for impending summer, and the next minute you were walking out with an oversized sharkskin blazer à la David Byrne that you really didn’t need, but looked impeccable on your body nonetheless.

While second-hand stores like Volunteers may serve some simply out of convenience, economy and monotony, MI Leggett sees these spaces as invaluable resources, integral arsenals through which to scour, compiling and collecting said used clothes to serve as blank canvases on which to rebrand in the form of painted phrases, symbols, and various iconography. Like a phoenix born from the ashes, MI’s practice challenges us to see breath new life into clothing that would otherwise be undesirable. You know what they say about one person’s trash...

For the last few years, MI Leggett’s Official Rebrand has skyrocketed from college passion project in Ohio to a fully-realized line, exhibiting at Art Basel Miami and New York Fashion Week in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Impermanence is the name of the game, evident in the acrylic paint that eventually wears off from increased used, say, in a club, to the lack of a central, palpable node of production and design, trading brick and mortar in exchange for the fleeting-yet-frugal pop-up in cities like Berlin, New York, and now, L.A.

Earlier in April, Official Rebrand teamed up with Otherwild, a bicoastal retail store and design studio, kicking off Earth Month to present their new Age of Desire collection and rebrand any clothing to any trusting individual that was ready to take the plunge into MI’s world. Flaunt got to speak with MI on the eve of their event in the deep crimson cave of Los Feliz’s Good Luck Bar to talk the past, present and future.

Photo by Simone Thompson

Photo by Simone Thompson

What is rebranding so important for you? What does it mean for you?

It means so many different things, and what it means is always changing. Stagnancy is unnecessary. You can always edit something to fit yourself better. [Rebranding] is a lot about sustainability, self expression, and fluidity. I've always hoarded stuff because I wanted to change into something else so it’s just a natural arrival of what my artistic process was moving towards.

Is there a particular reason why the paint you deploy is so thick? Do you ever try to rebrand things with more delicate compositions? Looking at your outfit now, I’m noticing more delicate lines.

I think thick lines are really impactful. But, for these kinds of pieces, I painted in sharpie so the ink would fuck up and bleed out. Then that creates a whole other effect. Stains will become part of the piece and the ink will take on a life of its own. With my lines I like to do a line in pen, then in marker, then another in paint. Having the different iterations all be visible to show the process.

You rebranding often features fruits, faces, and abstract renderings. Is there something right now that you’re particularly into rebranding on clothes?

For my new collection, Age of Desire, [I confront] how we are physically tied to things that we want to consume, [such as] wellness culture. Wellness culture is now a market that is dependent on us buying more stuff and telling us if we buy more things, we’ll be purified. That is just so counter-intuitive. To be purified you need to pair down and yet you can buy a million serums and tinctures. So, plants are something I use as a metaphor for that wellness. I personally like having plants around because they make me feel like my air is cleaner and that I'm more connected to nature while being in the city.

A lot of people on the East Coast like to remark on Southern California’s foliage, how it overgrows into the environment, into the concrete. I am curious if you’ve been inspired by that while you're out here.

Yes! Just being here and seeing different plants on the street and how those interact with the architecture, I’m just eye-feasting on it. I’m thinking how, on my street in New York, trash is the only foliage, and dying plants—which I’m trying to revive but its not going well. I love plants, and I incorporated some of those into the shoot I did today.

Tell me about that shoot, where was it?

The main model was Cat—her music monaker is Madge. I found them on Instagram along with the photographer, Simone.. I feel like Instagram can be really alienating but when you actually meet people in real life it can render a great connection. We wouldn’t have known each other well without Instagram, so in a way it’s stressful, but also a great way to meet like-minded people with like-minded aesthetics. Simone and I had been discussing shooting for a while now. Cat and I discussed it. Last night we all decided to do it.

Photo by Simone Thompson

Photo by Simone Thompson

Official Rebrand has collaborated with Madge before. How is it working with artists? Is this something you’d like to continue doing? If so, do you have any artists in mind you’d love to partner with?

Definitely. I don’t see my work limited by a medium. I started out as a painter, then video, then photography. A lot of my best work has come from collaboration with musician friends. Working with Madge has been really great because they spring energy and that's what I'm seeking from collaborators. A lot of my friends are DJs in Berlin and I dress them for things. I've done collaborative shoots with some of them who are also artists who paint on clothes.

Do you prefer the fleeting nature of pop-ups and collaborations as opposed to building a more centralized node for Official Rebrand?

I think as a startup brand, it’s impossible unless you have a lot of funding. As a human, I’m very scattered between New York and Berlin. I’m spread thin because of that. I’d love to have consistent space. But it’s just not a luxury I have at the moment. The Fluid Project has been nice, and OtherWild as well. Eventually I would love to have a studio, warehouse, atelier situation. It’s important to have a community around a brand. That’s one of the wonderful things about having a small brand; I have close connections with so many of my clients, as well as honest and open dialogue with a lot of people about it. With a huge brand, those kinds of comments would not necessarily get to me.

You're steering the ship here. Having lots of others feels like something might get lost in the process.

The MFA in Boston just had this massive exhibition about gender fluid fashion and apparently a lot of artists didn’t get [the memo] because they had handlers and/or managers who didn’t forward it because they thought, ‘Oh you don’t want to do anything in Boston. It’s too far.’ But it was a massive exhibition. Walter Van Beirendonck, Commes des Garçons. There were so many amazing designers…

The act of rebranding is rebellious, you are reclaiming a piece often made by a larger entity. It would also be rebellious if, after you rebrand, the wearer rebranded the rebrand. Has this happened? Do you encourage this?

A lot of my closer clients have expressed similar feelings—that working with me and creating personal pieces for them has helped them learn how to express themselves in new ways and feel more close to themselves. It’s a little cheesy, but we’re all individuals and having individual clothing feels great. It’s a luxury everyone should have if they want it.

Photo by Simone Thompson

Photo by Simone Thompson

Do you have a favorite type of clothing you like to paint on, and do you have a least favorite type of material you like to work on?

Animal products are really funny because they are some of the most unsustainable. It's kind of impossible to paint on fur. Painting on leather, on the other hand, is amazing. Painting on silk is great. You can really tell the quality of a mens work shirt by painting on it. I use acrylic and then mix it with a fabric painting medium.

Can it be washed?

Yes, I wear the shit out of my clothes. My girlfriend, Sessa, wears the shit out of her clothes. And we’re staining them. It’s better, longevity-wise, to wash any clothing as little as possible. But I wash mine a lot. If you go to a club in Berlin for 12 hours you're going to wash everything very intensely. But I also design things to be trashed as part of the design.

Otherwild and spaces like the Fluid Project foster these sort of events. Is there someone you knew specifically at Otherwild here in L.A?

It’s kind of the perfect transition, because I knew people from LA who had been reaching out to me via Instagram for a long time to come out here, so it was just perfect that Otherwild invited me to come out for a show right around when I was releasing a new collection in New York. Also now I get to be out here. Its warm. With Otherwild, a friend recommended the store to me. I walked in one day and was like, This store is cool, do you like my jacket? It should be in this store. It helps if you have a great lookbook, no one likes emails, people like in person stuff. The past couple months planning my collection launch, half my job is in emails.

On Saturday, you’ll be personalizing garments with drawings from your flash. Using a flash is traditionally related to tattoo practices. Do you sort of see yourself in a parallel universe as tattoo artists and would you ever consider doing tattooing yourself?

I really love tattoos and I definitely want to have a lot of them someday. For me, as an artist, I definitely want to make things more ephemeral that can represent a moment as opposed to forever. Maybe when I'm older, I’ll have a different opinion. A lot of people have asked me to do tattoos. We shall see. I have close friends who do them, and I have friends who’ve said they'd love to tattoo my work on people. There is a really cool community around tattoos and I've always loved the culture surrounding it. Flash just seems like the right word for my...repertoire.