MI Leggett + Avery Trufelman
I went to summer camp with designer Mi Leggett. Back then, we were both kind of hippie-ish theater kids. I think we were in a production together that involved large paper mâché puppets? But it was a long time ago. It’s funny that we’ve both got on to have careers that engage with fashion in different ways. I make a podcast about it, Mi designs it. I decided to reach out to Mi recently while I was in the throes of creating on my show, Articles of Interest, to hear about what they’ve been up to, how their design process works, and why they make clothing at all.—Avery
On Wed, Sep 5, 2018 at 1:45 PM Squarespace <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Name: Avery Trufelman
Message: Hey Mi,
This is crazy but we went to summer camp together at Interlochen! Wild eh?
I have been following your beautiful ascent from a distance and now, as a fan, I wanted to get in touch.
Now for my job, I make audio stories for the podcast 99% Invisible (www.99pi.org) and now I’m working on a spinoff series about clothing design (which will be out later this month).
This great local publication, Wolfman Quarterly (http://wolfmanhomerepair.com/books/), has asked me to reach out to a person of my choice and begin an email correspondence that they would then publish. I would love to be in conversation with YOU and talk about… I don’t know, clothing production, presentation, growing up, etc? It could be just be a few emails. I know you’re quite busy these days.
But mostly, it would be fun to hear how you’re doing (are you still in touch with George DuPont or anyone else from back in the day)?
No worries if you can’t swing it, but thought it was worth a shot.
(Sent via Official Rebrand)
On Sat, Sep 8, 2018 at 8:38 PM MI Leggett wrote:
Sorry for the delay getting back to you! I look back on my time at Interlochen so fondly and still distinctly remember a wild performance you gave lecturing about Orwell’s 1984 and dancing at the same time. Also, I’m still in touch with Keely Curliss! We ran into each other on an urban farm in 2010 when we were both working for the same sustainable agriculture non-profit, and continued to work there together for several years.
I’d love to catch up and have an email conversation. Ask me anything! Honored to be a “person of choice.” Wolfman looks like a very cool publication and I love the idea of putting something so particularly digital into print.
On Sun, Sep 9, 2018 at 4:46 PM Avery Trufelman wrote:
It’s so lovely to hear back from you.
I’m so happy that you’re game for this strange little exercise.
How bizarre to use email as the medium itself, rather than just the prelude to the actual phonecall/interview/meetup.
It’s interesting: after our time at summer camp, we seem to have gone on semi-similar paths. You went to Oberlin, I went to Wesleyan (potato potahto, some would say), and then both went on to have a meaningful experience in Germany.
What brought you to Berlin? How long did you live there?
I studied abroad in Bavaria, but then fell in love with someone and lived in Berlin with them for a few months. Then I got a scholarship to go back for a few more months the following year. I vividly remember the only time I went to Berghain. I just impulsively decided to go at 3 a.m. and I wore my pajamas. I think I was so scared of being judged by the bouncer that I deliberately tried not to put any intention into my outfit, so that I wouldn’t take it personally if I didn’t get in.
Now, of course, I regret not dressing up for the occasion. I was so embarrassed to be dancing in my nightshirt, when everyone else looked so strange and beautiful. I kept meaning to go back again, but I think the fear of judgment loomed too large for me. That is a very un-cool thing to admit.
Do you recall your fist time going to Berghain? How often do you go out dancing?
Clubbing is such an interesting space, in terms of dress.
I have this little theory I have been thinking about: it seems to me that, historically, fashion was the realm of the disenfranchised (women, poc, youth, queers)—those who had no outlet, no megaphone but their own bodies. Now that we all have websites and social pages and other ways of being heard, the actual body is not the necessary canvas it once was. I feel like street style has become less important than Instagram style. Now we hardly need to have public bodies to have public style presences.
Except in places like music festivals and clubs. Where public life is re-engaged and looking is encouraged. These special conscious realms.
I might also be romanticizing this because I live in a city where every club closes at 2am. And the trains stop at midnight.
How often do you go back to Berlin? How do you split your time these days?
On Sat, Sep 15, 2018 at 7:16 PM MI Leggett wrote:
Happy Saturday. Sorry for taking my time with these questions. I love all these topics, I could go on forever.
I can’t imagine anything better than being in love in Berlin. I’m so glad we both have been. Initially I was supposed to study there for a semester but I was so in love with the city and my friends there that I kept pushing my return date back and stayed for a year. Visiting last winter with my bestfriend/lover, Sessa, she told me she felt like she was home for the first time in her life, putting words to exactly how I felt when I first arrived.
She’s back there now studying and I’ll be there for some time later this fall. Long term, I’m planning to split my time between Berlin and New York pretty much evenly. Due to the unexpectedly rapid takeoff of Official Rebrand, sending me to Art Basel and New York Fashion Week(s) I’ve lived in literally ten different places in the past year, despite my plans for a low-key-post-grad year in Oberlin. After so much transience, I feel a strong desire to stay in one place (Brooklyn) but a stronger, conflicting pull to Berlin.
The first time I went to Berghain [bh] I didn’t really know anyone. Once I was steeped in the community and culture however, I had much more fun—possibly the most fun. Bh and Berlin’s queer party scene in general are exceptional places to embrace the full scope of emotions and expressions. You can really learn a lot about yourself through the intensity of the club scene. On the other hand, you can also take yourself away from yourself too. For me that lifestyle showed me a lot about myself, though of course at times I felt totally lost.
One of the most important parts of being in Berlin’s queer art/party community, was freeing up my self expression. I realized that the environments I had almost always found myself in had been really stifling. I grew up in a super preppy family, I went to prep school, and never really fit in at liberal arts college. I always struggled to conform to the expectations of those environments. My senior year at Andover (after studying away in Spain) I came back and was like, “Fuck this preppy bullshit,” and I dressed how I wanted to dress and I didn’t bother trying to fit in. But then I went to Oberlin where the social norms were totally different and it also took leaving again to realize how they weren’t really for me. In Berlin I could be as weird and crazy as I wanted and be around other queer artists who truly excited and inspired me.
Queer parties are more than parties after all, they are political statements. Queers, who have been marginalized and erased can come together and express our full selves—that’s not possible everywhere. These kinds of gatherings have been persecuted for ages and still are in many places. I never stop appreciating how lucky I am to have been randomly born into a time and society that accepts queerness and to have found spaces that celebrate it. Honestly it took me a little while to find those spaces. I remember going to straight clubs in New York as a teen and was just like, “Why don’t I like this? I’m supposed to like this.”
Back to bh though: The club’s lore has become practically pop cultural because fear of rejection is something most humans share. Almost everyone gets rejected at some point. I’ve seen famous people get rejected. I know very few locals/regulars who haven’t been rejected at least once. I guess it’s good practice for everyone because life is full of rejections! I don’t think its “un-cool” to admit fearing rejection. I do think its “un-cool” to be paralyzed by fear of rejection.
It’s so funny that you wore your pajamas because actually pajamas and bathrobes have been pretty “cool” at the club circuit! If you are going to stay at a club from 8 to 48 hours, you might as well be comfortable…
Though I don’t do it as much in New York, going out dancing is a really big part of my life and art practice. The intense stimulation of moving your body to loud music with so many other people—it’s amazing. The simultaneous connectivity and isolation of the club provides a kind of sacred clarity and fertile grounds for growing ideas—which I have to immediately write down or they get lost in the moment. Clubs are also a great way to meet new people. Although it may sound superficial, I meet a lot of people based on their clothing. If I like how someone displays themself on the outside, the chances are good I’ll like how they are on the inside.
You could even say the same thing about Instagram style, it’s just not limited by geography. I have friends from all over the world just from DMs. It’s amazing that social media can break down these kinds of boundaries like geography. It’s especially important for young queers who may not be accepted at all in the communities they live in but can find people like them online. I wish I had known the term “non-binary” in high school or that it was even possible to be a “they.” Now kids all over the world have access to images and words of trans and non-binary activists/artists/models. Although, of course, access to queer culture should be more than just digital, it’s a good gateway. For me, digital life is not substitute, but a supplement for our everyday experiences, influences, and inspiration.
On Thu, Sep 20, 2018 at 11:46 PM Avery Trufelman wrote:
Now it is my turn to apologize for the delay. I’ve been in the throws of working on this podcast series about clothing and I feel like I have a mountain of things I want to ask you.
I so appreciate your effusive embrace of Instagram. There’s so much to be said for appreciating technology as a bridge, rather than deriding it as some sort of false reality.
And that said.
I’m really curious about when and how you decided to turn to the business of fashion. When did you decide to really get a professional website and take professional photos and start to really invest in yourself as a brand?
Was it ever something you had doubts about? Was anyone in particular pushing you along or supporting you?
I feel like inspiration and creativity are the seeds, of course, but that kind of professional care and confidence are the water. And I don’t know about you, but I find it so hard to remember to water my plants.
What is the next step for you in this regard? Do you feel a lot of pressure to come out with new lines? Do you have anyone assisting you? How do you turn a rapid takeoff into something sustainable? This is a question that might not have an answer.
I’m also curious to know how it has been experiencing THE Fashion World at Basel and NYFW?
Having never been within that sphere myself, I’m curious to know if you felt like you found your people within The Establishment. From the outside, I can’t tell if fashion is the most radical place or the most conventional place, in terms of structure and hierarchy.
Oh, and I don’t think I’ve outright told you yet how much I absolutely adore your repurposed jeans on your online store. Where do you find the materials to work with? What do you look for when you’re searching for pants to revive?
Alright, alright, I’ll stop peppering you with questions. Clearly I just want to get you a coffee one day in person.
On Tue, Sep 25, 2018 at 11:22 AM MI Leggett wrote:
I love your questions Avery! Though, of course an in-real-life coffee date would be lovely. Do you have any plans to visit New York soon? I just booked my flight to Berlin to spend much of the fall there and I could not be more excited, though I’m hoping to visit the West Coast sometime this winter.
I do really love Instagram but of course it has pitfalls. I try to focus on the bright side but social media can also be really alienating. It shows a constant stream of people and brands doing MORE—carefully curating and crafting their image. It’s easy to compare my whole self to these constructed images and this can hurt because I am not a perfectly constructed brand, I am a person with flaws who experiences rejection sometimes. I try to keep these feelings at bay and remind myself that Instagram helps me more than it hurts me.
For me, the scariest part of social media is that it opens us up to jealously, which festers so easily. From my perspective, at least with respect to other young/queer designers I’m sometimes compared to, we are all working for a shared goal, helping people express their more authentic selves, so I prefer to tell myself that our success is mutual and not see ourselves as competitors, rather collaborators in making this world a more visually exciting place where people are more free to express their true selves. I know that is super idealistic but it is way more productive to think positively than enviously.
No matter the mindset I bring to it, if I spend too much time rubbing my phone I start to feel weird and bored. But I do try my best to keep in mind that posting my own stuff has been essential for getting my work out there and getting feedback on what I’ve been making.
Not long after I started posting pictures of clothes I was defacing, friends and strangers started hitting me up to make stuff for them. ATM gallery in Austin asked me to ship them pieces for a pop up shop and I started to realize I could make a thing of it. Though my personal ig handle was already @official_rebrand I actually planned to call the label “offbrand” because I love knock-offs and I was thinking a lot about authenticity/fakeness in fashion and identity. I realized quickly that Official Rebrand was actually a much more fitting name. In 2017, I registered it as a business and got a website, etc. On the verge of graduation, the idea of being able to do what I actually wanted to do as my means to support myself provided serious motivation.
Of course I had doubts. Like many about-to-be-college-grads and recent college grads, I often felt overwhelmed by a sense of impending disaster, but so far, my life/career since graduating has surprisingly exceeded my wildest expectations. Now I just try to keep so busy that I don’t have time to contemplate the possibility of failure. This is probably why I am so bad at meditation.
Besides keeping busy, the other major part of taming my fear of failure is my amazing partner in life and crime, Sessa. We met in the Tank Co-op at Oberlin about a week after I got back from Berlin. Distraught about leaving Germany and my friends there, I repeatedly showed up for meals with sunglasses on so no one could tell I had just been sobbing my face out. One thing that cheered me up was this tall sparkly beautiful person with weird clothes that I liked a lot. Within a few weeks we declared our love for each other and a few months later we smuggled her illicit ball python to come live with us in my student apartment.
At the time, she was just starting to get into photography so we started shooting together on this white brick wall right outside my apartment. It felt organic and symbiotic (and hot). We compliment each other so well as collaborators and our partnership has been integral to growing our individual art practices. Sessa’s unwavering love and support has really made it possible for Official Rebrand to be what it is and for both of us to be who we are today. For me, she is both seeds and water.
Now about getting things done and watering plants:
I try really hard to remember to water my plants because apparently they purify the air and my paint has formaldehyde in it. I also keep a huge to-do list and am pretty diligent about promptly crossing off the things related to my business while the personal health and wellness ones tend to linger. I have been meaning to go to the doctor to refill some prescriptions for over a year now…
Regarding next steps, now that I’ve written it here, I promise to finally get around to scheduling (and showing up to) that doctors appointment. Regarding Official Rebrand, yes I feel a lot of pressure to keep producing work at the rate I have been or even faster. I think it might be healthy for me to take the next year to go a little slower and really figure out what direction I want to go in and who I want to collaborate with. I mentioned before the “unexpectedly rapid takeoff” of my label—and the truth was, I was planning to take it pretty easy for the first year after graduating—but opportunities came up to show at NYFW and Art Basel and various pop ups so I never really got the rest I was planning on.
It’s unlikely that I’ll actually take a real break anytime soon, but I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself and to create at my own pace. Thinking long term, but getting things done one day at a time will probably be the only way I can make this life sustainable.
One of my major goals for 2019 is to have a gallery exhibition, as, in addition to clothes, I make a lot of sculptures and large scale paintings on sheets and blankets. I’ve noticed that as a young person, it’s a lot easier to sell T-shirts than paintings on king size duvets, but that isn’t going to stop me from making both.
I have friends who are incredibly supportive and encouraging, but no assistant at the moment. That’s another goal of 2019. If you know anyone who you think would be a good fit, let me know!
Honestly, I might not be the best person to speak on THE Fashion World anywhere. Because my project is mostly about rejecting the social and industrial norms put in place by the fashion industry, I feel somewhat like an outsider. I’m making a brand that rejects traditional notions of gender and consumption and proposes alternatives that oppose what the fashion industry wants us to think.
I do enjoy being a voyeur in the fashion world though. I LOVE seeing people dressed the fuck up, pulling wild looks—fashion events can be fun for that. I try to always bask in my appreciation for looks I’m into and express affirmation as much as possible—it really gives me life! I don’t think people really go to fashion parties to have fun but I do my best to make them fun. Once at a Berlin Fashion Week party Sessa and I rolled up with several baguettes our friend Rosa was about to throw away at her bakery, The Bread Station. Sessa went around using the french bread as a sword to knight people, including Peaches. We definitely got some looks.
But of course there are amazing looks to be seen outside of “the fashion world.” These are the ones that often inspire me more. I find looks that are not steeped in whatever is currently trending are often more original and raw. Often the most original looks come from those who aren’t paying attention to what everyone else is wearing or what trend forecasters are focusing on. So, I try to keep my eyes open wherever I am and really try to maintain my passion for fashion, even if I’m not super smitten with the industry side of it.
According to friends who work for more established brands, the pressure is cutthroat. When I grow my business more and take on a full-time team, I want to challenge those norms as well and have it really be like a family. Food is super important to me (after years of working in sustainable agriculture) so I’d want to make communal cooking and meals a big part of my company’s culture. If you are going to be working with people all the time, it might as well be fun.
I’m so glad you love the water jeans project! Most of the jeans come from friends or family. Sometimes I buy them at thrift stores. I have learned it is a lot more fun buying jeans for other people based on color/style as opposed to searching for a pair that fits me.
If you send me a pair, I’d love to rebrand them for you! <3
On Wed, Oct 17, 2018 at 2:54 AM Avery Trufelman wrote:
My deep and sincere apologies for the delay. I was finally, at long last, releasing this podcast series about clothing and organizing our celebratory afterparty fashion show. Oh I SO wish you could have been there to show your work on the runway (that we built with our bare hands. What a crazy thing).
Anyway, that’s no excuse—we’re all very busy in this world. I’m sorry for the radio silence.
But in the aftermath of this podcast, everyone is asking me if I will do a second season and it’s anxiety-inducing. It’s so lovely to read your words, and to remember that even if rest is nowhere in sight, it’s good to try to take things a day at a time.
Well, here’s to painting on king-sized duvets and gallery shows and living it up in Berlin! Thank you so much for your generous responses to my rando questions. I have to send this correspondence off to the magazine soon—but before I do, may I ask for any pictures you may have of your process? Happy to just pull from your Insta if you dont have any readily available—but I would love to see some images that you wouldn’t normally post on social.
I’m giving a talk at SVA in February (I have no idea yet about what) and I’ll be in the city for two weeks. I would love to say hi in person.
May I seriously take you up on your rebrand offer? I would looooove that. I have been thinking a lot about water and denim for the episode I did about blue jeans and I would love to wear that statement proudly. Thank you so much for offering that—that’s so kind!
Let me know your address and I can mail you goodies from Oakland (and a copy of the magazine!) as a thank you.
It’s been so utterly delightful to catch up, Mi.
On Wed, Oct 17, 2018 at 2:54 AM Avery Trufelman <email@example.com> wrote:
So glad to hear you are coming to New York in February!! Please come over for dinner and bring some jeans for me to rebrand.
I have loved your rando questions and can’t wait to read the whole magazine!!
Also, a very cool thing about Articles of Interest—my friend sent it to me to check out after the second episode aired and I was very happy to see it was in fact the podcast you have been working on! I love it. I am such a ho for history and love hearing about the history of all these aspects of fashion—and the stuff about children’s clothing. So weird!!
Here are a bunch of pictures!
Can’t wait to get together soon.