City Pulse

By Adam Klasfeld

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On February 1, 2007, designer Swaim Hutson debuted his new clothing line Obedient Sons at Fashion Week by disobeying a popular fashion convention. Instead of walking down a catwalk, the models walked onto a stage designed inspired by the Black Mountain College of North Carolina, home of some of the most unconventional minds in 20th century American poetry, art, and literature. Another unusual sighting at this fashion show is Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt, who is a major supporter of the clothing line.

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According to make up artist Jason Hoffman, “The inspiration for the clothing is that it’s very outdoorsy, almost mountain-like.” He layers on a clean foundation with a little color over the cheeks to give the impression that the models have been out in the cold, but tries to make sure that they’re not going too “over the top.” “They want to look like men,” he points out. “They don’t want to look too perfect or look like dolls.” Backstage, I overhear one of the models joking about his outdoorsy style, telling one of the organizers that he wants to grow a goatee. The organizer teases him, “Yeah, maybe in about five years!”

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Hair designer Troy Davis points out the models are meant to look young. They’re prep school kids, and he’s giving them styles that are clean, smooth, neat, and controlled. A stylist for Rusk, Troy flew into New York from his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska at midnight. By the time he got to his hotel, he was only able to catch four hours of sleep before arriving at the building for an 8am call of an earlier show. He’s used to crazy Fashion Week time schedules, and amazingly enough, only drank two cups of coffee to keep going. “I don’t need a lot,” he says. “I love what I do.”

As I leave the backstage area, stagehands are setting up the space antique gym lockers, vintage suitcases, an old globe, and leather bound books. The centerpieces are a birdcage with a mechanical woodpecker and a chalkboard with the company slogan, “HEY WE ARE THE SONS. YES WE ARE THE ONES.” One stagehand asks, “Do we need an exclamation point on that?” They play it understated, and leave it without the emphasis.

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New Wave music blasts through the speakers, and the models walk onto the stage at once. There are no quick turns or changes. They just stand and sit at various corners of the stage, holding poses. At first, it seems like a relaxed way to hold the event — easier on the models, casual for the audience, and more effective for the photographers to snap all of the shots they need. Everyone’s so easygoing that I even ask one of the models in a scholarly pose what he’s reading. He takes a look at the spine, and says, “Spies and Saboteurs by Irwin and Johnson. Do you want to read it?” “No, thanks,” I answer. I am working, after all.

As it turns out, the name Obedient Sons comes from a book of sociology about youth culture in America. Swaim saw the title, liked the name, and it stuck. He also liked the irony of giving the name to an unconventional line. As for his new style of presentation, he says that it has the additional benefit of allowing viewers to see details in the craftsmanship, which can be very intricate. “I made these clothes,” says Swaim, “and there are all these small details that need to be seen.”

Originally published February 2007
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