Death/Traitors is the work of Alex Heir and it is fucking sick. I went to his spot on Delphi last week to get inside the mind of the genius behind my favorite New York brand.
T: You grew up in Jersey going to Punk shows and talk about how you see band shirts as this kind of holy grail of authenticity for design- how did band shirts inform your work with D T.
A: My initial interest in wanting to learn screen print and make shirts was born from my love of record and t-shirt art, and I think my idea of what makes a good shirt design is still largely based off that. A good band shirt is not just a random t-shirt with an image on it, it shows your musical taste and interest in a larger subculture, almost like wearing gang colors.
T: Whether it’s Japanese/Kanji characters that say Fuck Pigs, or your iconic Endless War Posters- you seem to hit an angle that’s 50/50 gothic vibes and anti-authoritarian anarchy. Is there any particular message that defines the brand?
A: I guess, as you said, “anti-authoritarian” sums it up pretty well. I’m not trying to spread a political message or anything, but I feel pretty angry about the state of the country and the world right now, and that works it’s way into my designs. I use the Anarchy symbol in the same way I use 666, I’m not a card carrying Anarchist or Satanist, but their symbols are a way to show what I am not.
T: While the 80 dollar t-shirt kids are gonna be happy to cop your gear at Mishka- you don’t go to trade shows or play the street-wear game- who’s your ideal audience for this stuff?
A: An army of leather clad rockers wandering the wasteland in search of food and water.
T: Do you have any fashion inspiration in terms of brands? What music or other design is most inspiring?
A: Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren had a store in London in the 70s called a variety of things..Let It Rock/Sex/Seditionaries. They designed a lot of the clothes the first wave UK punks wore and it was the biggest influence to me when I first thought about designing clothing. Alexander McQueen, who’s work I also really admire, definitely took a lot from them.
Nowadays I get a lot of inspiration from old occult and religious art, Japanese woodcuts, horror movies posters. I saw a show of old CRASS zines and flyers from their personal collection a few months ago…that was really inspiring and contributed a lot to the way the most recent designs have looked.
T: Can you talk about your process a little bit- your screen are everywhere around the house and most of your gear is there well- can you talk about hand printing all of your own work.
A: Once I finish a design and am ready to release it, I will shoot the screen and print a few samples to shoot on a model for the website. I keep a stock of screens of all my current available designs, and for the most part custom print every order as I get it.
T: Since images can move so easily between mediums- from stickers, to shirts, to bags, to textiles to whatever- how do you think about not overwhelming your customers.
A: I design the graphics specifically for each piece…An image might look great on a shirt, but not necessarily work as a patch or sticker. I re use a lot of the same imagery…skulls, kanji, swords, etc…but will do a different composition depending on what I’m going to print on. Less is more very often…I prefer to only release a handful of shirts and a few other items every season The artwork is very personal to me, so I would rather have a smaller amount of consistent, quality work then a ton of mediocre items.
T: you started doing these amazing varsity jackets- can you talk about your more indepth approach on that process.
A: I was lucky enough to link up with a tailor here in NYC that helping me through the process of of getting these jackets made. I initially was getting them from China, but once I stumbled upon this opportunity to have the jackets made here I leaped on it. I get to choose all the materials myself, from the wool and sleeve fabric to the lining and snaps, and the overall quality is much higher. Of course the costs to produce the jackets is much more than if I had them made in China, but I think people will appreciate the quality and the fact that they are made in the USA.
T: Beyond the clothing line, can you talk about the label a little bit and your other screen printing work and how you manage the balance.
A: Besides Death/Traitors, I do commercial screen printing for other people under the name Funbot Press. The nice thing about working for yourself is you get to set your own hours and make your own schedule, but it also means you never really stop working. Unless I’m at a show or hanging out with friends outside my apartment, I’m always working on SOME thing, be it printing, designing for D/T, or making other artwork or music. Every day is different, but it usually is a combination of everything. I love what I do, at least most aspects of it, and I enjoy being constantly busy.
T: Anything else you want to include?
A: I will be showing some new pieces in a group art show entitled Input/Output opening Sat, Jan. 28 at Booklyn, 37 Greenpoint Avenue 4th Floor. booklyn.org And I will be showing more work at the Mishka Store, 350 Broadway, BK, on Friday, April 6.