Timeless Fashion For Our Times: Meet James Flemons Of Phlemuns
From Lil Nas X to Kelsey Lu to Rico Nasty, Phlemuns is Dressing the Future
- Interview: Sanam Sindhi
- Photography: Daria Kobayashi Ritch
While the world drums on in standard circadian rhythm, James Flemons is unpossessed by time’s constraints. It is time that succumbs to him as he wields and distorts it to his own advantage. An avid archivist, and also the founder of Phlemuns, his eponymous apparel label, James is more interested in creating a community with longevity, rather than just clothing. “I treat the clothes as these timeless stamps that will last,” he says. “It's like I'm leaving breadcrumbs of myself that will exist forever.”
In an industrial building in downtown L.A., the Phlemuns studio is overflowing—racks of meticulously constructed garments, a box of muffins, a casting board of both renowned and unfamiliar faces, a Billy Bear plastic honey bottle full of squishy purple gel pearls that smell like Fabuloso. At the epicenter of the chaos is James. Thanks to his prescient instincts (his early campaigns feature faces that have gone on to become some of the industry’s most recognizable) he became the first of the wave of young designers pioneering L.A.’s current fashion renaissance. But James also has a transcendental understanding of nostalgia, and how to weave it into his work. The result is five collections since the brand’s inception in 2013, plus the diffusion line Phlemuns NonBasics. The inclusion of his PocketBags and du-rags in the wardrobes of Lil Nas X, Rico Nasty, Paloma Elsesser, and Kelsey Lu suggests that the appeal of his work endures beyond mere aesthetics. One can only marvel at James’ business sense and ability to consistently stay ahead of his peers when it comes to accessible and inclusive ready-to-wear clothing.
Archiving and collecting is something that’s been really cathartic for me and I’ve noticed it’s something you also do.
I've always been a collector. As a kid I was always collecting pins or cars or erasers or things. And then as I got older that transitioned into drawing—collecting and archiving all my sketches and doodles.
What was your very first sketch? Do you remember?
My parents said I drew the invitation for my third birthday. In terms of design, I have probably over 200 sketches from elementary and middle school alone.
And what about images?
Getting into fashion in college is when I started my fashion photography archive, but it really first began while collecting pop culture imagery of my favorite bands and musicians in elementary and middle school. I still have burned CDs of all the images that I used to save.
Like post-floppy disk, but pre-external hard drive. You actually used to have to burn everything you have on a CD to save it.
Right, exactly. So I think my first love even before designing is imagery. You can ask anyone I lived with when I was in college—all I would do is sit on my computer and go through forums and save magazines.
How did you find that?
I'm kind of like a whiz on the internet. It's real. I even have—it's not really secretive—but this Vibe magazine archive that I found on the internet that has every Vibe magazine. Vibe was one of my favorite magazines, especially the cross of fashion and music, which is very much my world. I found this forum where there would be threads for magazines or models or photographers. Every different person in a fashion issue would have their own thread. I would just save the scans and create file names. For instance Vogue Italia February, 2001, I would be like: vit_feb01. And then all the files have that at the beginning followed by the editorial title: 01, 02, 03. And that's my filing system. I would even get deeper and add notes like this image has an Alexander McQueen dress in it. I would get really intense. If I wasn't in school, I was at home organizing my archive of fashion images. And then a few years later I started sewing and that became my daily routine as opposed to archiving.
So you were an archivist before you were a designer?
In what ways does your love for this process of cataloguing things inform your work?
When I make a collection I don't really sit down and reference images, it's all an accumulation of things that I've seen over time. Tumblr was a big thing that really helped me channel that because it was a place where I could consume all these images and see them all together. I use a certain template that lays everything out so it's collage style, regurgitated in my own point of view. I'll later go back through and be like, "Oh yeah, this came from that. This came from that. This was inspired by that." But also how can I make this my own? I think that ties into always feeling like an outcast and trying to make these worlds that I want to be a part of accessible to me…I'll recreate it so I can be a part of it.
Your clothes are so accessible, to people both in and outside of fashion. I think that's really fab because in the time that we live in there's a lot of pressure to be exceeding and outdoing everyone else.
Yeah, I try to take references of things that everyone has experienced or seen, so everyone can in some way relate to it. Just altering points of view of things that are already based in nature, society. I think that's something that has really grounded my work. I'm not really reaching for the stars, I'm keeping it very attainable and accessible.
I think the idea of accessibility and comfort is much more admirable than, "I want to be Tom Ford," or whoever. You know? You were my first fashion purchase, before I bought Gucci or Supreme or Comme, I bought a Phlemuns jacket and I spent a week wearing that jacket and making everyone take pictures of me.
I love that so much.
Because I'm really interested in how fashion can translate as a way to service your community. I think that's what you do and it's not this overt, in your face thing. It's very subtle. The people who know, know, and the people who fuck with you, fuck with you because what you do is really meaningful for us.
There are two types of people. There are the loud, in your face, pushing their agenda, kind of thing, and then there are the silent, but deadly types. I think they're both important because they both reach a different kind of person. They both speak to a different audience, negatively and positively. I just have chosen to be more, "I'm going to casually and silently put this in front of you as much as possible until it becomes a normal thing." Like my thing with diversity, I don't really shove it down your throat like, "This is my diverse cast", it's just-
...it’s just there.
And I think it [goes] back to that thing of feeling like an outcast and always wanting to have open arms. Wanting to create that community of welcomeness and appreciation for differences. I've always been kind of a weirdo and creating my own community or giving to the community was my way of being a part and feeling accepted. I've always wanted to use my platform to further other people or help showcase them. I'm actually just catering to the people who are really down for me because I know that the community that really supports me are not people that can buy a thousand dollar jacket like, that's just the reality of the situation. So how can I keep the appeal of a luxury brand and still have things accessible and obtainable to the people who really support me and want to contribute and consume and participate?
And then how do we invest back in those communities to get them to a place where they can buy a thousand dollar jacket?
What does the future look like for Phlemuns?
Growth. I went from a place of feeling so down and lost, and like, "Why am I even still doing this?" I mean I'm trying to survive off of art. It’s very rare for that to happen. So many people say fashion isn’t art but I consider myself an artist and I understand that point-of-view. Just growing and adjusting to new advancements in technology. And keeping a level head with my actions and the things that I do.
What are you wearing in the future?
It's rare that I ever get to wear my own clothes so I would be decked out in Phlemuns. I would love if I could just wear all Phlemuns and have any vintage archived designer I want accessible.
If you could design, or if you could wear a fabric that doesn't exist yet, what would it look like? What would it feel like?
I love designing transformative clothes like things that can change shape through their construction and functionality.
So a shape-shifting fabric?
Right. That changes a shape or proportion.
If we're in the year 2045, what is in your archive from 2019?
I think your relationship to time is really interesting, but we've talked about the past so much I guess I'm interested to know what you are like in the future.
I don't know, because I've never really been a grasper of time. I think that's also why my clothes feel very nostalgic, but also not attached to a time. This specific garment hasn't really existed before, but it does give you a feeling of "Oh yeah..."
It feels familiar…you could wear a Phlemuns jacket in 2045, and you will still be fashionable and current.
That's always been something really important to me. I appreciate timeless clothes and I've always wanted to create timeless pieces, something that someone might be like "Okay, I'm not feeling this right now, but I know if I come back in two or three years, I'll probably wear this every single day". It's the sentiment and memories and appreciating a garment and—
...and collecting things—
- Interview: Sanam Sindhi
- Photography: Daria Kobayashi Ritch
- Styling: James Flemons
- Hair: Tanya Melendez