NotEqual In Conversation

If you’re like me (and according to my mom, you’re not), then your interest in fashion is only superseded by a crushing obsession with reality TV. Sometimes these areas overlap and it’s awesome (Tyra Banks), and other times it’s the worst (again, Tyra Banks). Project Runway falls somewhere in the middle of these two, which somewhat explains the hushed “swoon,” I whispered to myself when Fabio Costa, the-black-sheep conceptual designer from Season 10 who received runner up, and his roommate/design partner/bff Rebecca Diele welcomed me into their Bedford-Stuyvesant headquarters.

It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon. Nearby, there’s a bar called Therapy and a bakery with Srichacha sauce in the windows, so you know it’s the trendy part of Bed Stuy. We sit in a large living room surrounded by industrial-seeming-but-handcrafted furniture: a cinderblock and wood shelf combo, a box crate coffee table. The two met three years ago in a bar (not Therapy, but probably equally as cool and vague) and bonded immediately. One matching tattoo, two apartments and a lot of shared clothes later, the two are at the helm of launching their newly establish brand, ≠ (NotEqual), while also producing a weekly podcast show, designing a fair trade lingerie line, and gearing up for Costa’s upcoming artist residency at Yale University.

Joshua Glass: So I don’t want to focus on Project Runway, but what made you do it? When I think of the show I think of Michel Kors, Heidi Klum – more of the consumerism side of fashion – and that’s not really you.

Fabio Costa: It’s funny, I’ve had people pushing me to do the show for years before I actually got to do it. It started as a conversation that I was having with a person that I was with at the time. He asked me very honestly what I would want if I could have one thing done this year, and I thought about it and realized it was a full fashion show. That was on a Friday and the deadline was that Tuesday so we had to do everything that weekend. As a whole, it was a good exercise for creativity and drive. It was actually only though watching myself on show that I realized that I was more on the ‘conceptual’ side of things.  Like for me, it’s normal to think the way I do, and to think about fashion my way, but seeing and comparing my work to the other designers and to what the judges had to say – that’s when I started to realize, “Oh okay, I guess I’m a bit different.”

Rebacca Diele: It was also an experience about trying to find balance. Fabio is more of an underground designer and I guess by pushing his designs into more of the commercial world, as Project Runway is, it’s like going within yourself and trying to see how you can balance that – taking the work out of your head and into the streets.

Joshua: And how did it feel at the end to come so far when you were so different?

Fabio: Well, I went in like everyone else and thought I was going to be the first one eliminated, so to me it was all about the next day, and taking one thing at a time. When I was there at the end and I was the last one standing with Dmitry, I was like, “Alright, I guess it all makes sense.” The path was written so I was just walking along.

Joshua: Okay, that’s enough of the show. Tell me more about your relationship and NotEqual.

Fabio: So Becca and I got married. (laughing). No, well, it’s worse than that.

Rebecca: It’s kind of friends without benefits.

Fabio: I would say it’s friends with a lot of benefits. We’ve actually been working and living together for almost three years. But before it was more about costumes, and performance artists, not so much fashion. Then after coming out of the show, Becca quit her job, and I didn’t look for one, just to keep the momentum going. We took the idea of taking the chance to make a fashion brand into everything that we wanted. It just seemed like it was the right time. Obviously we’re still very small – so far we’ve put together a pre-fall collection that shows more of our intention with the brand, than our actual range.

Rebecca: It’s more of an introduction. A concept collection. Now we’re about to start on a fall/winter 2013 collection to show at fashion week in California in March. We’re also working on a production called the Ecological Vibrancy Project. It’s equal parts collaboration for dialogue in questioning different things like gender, sustainability, and consumerism.

Fabio: It’s going to be fashion and performance, like variety show but with the intention of breaking ecological questions. Giving people an intention to discussion. We’re aiming for July.

Joshua: And the radio show?

Fabio: It’s called Radio Couture. We’re going to be discussing a lot of the same things that the brand is questioning which are gender and consumerism, and interesting sociological fashion phenomena from around the world. Like items from tribes in the middle of nowhere in Mexico.

Rebecca: It’s really any kind of cultural quirky fashion ideas, but all taken out of context, say, if we were to introduce it here. We want to see how people would respond to these new things.

Joshua: How do you have the time to pull off all of these things? And with the Yale residency starting soon?

Rebecca: You have to. It’s what you think about day to day, what you discuss with friends. It’s all consuming. Because once you start creating different variables it just doesn’t stop.

Fabio: Yeah, a lot of these things have happened recently. The theme of the new collection links with the theme of Yale and links with the theme of the Ecological Vibrancy Project, and, it’s in parts taking ideas from the initial collection and just going from there.

Joshua: You mentioned the theme of the new fall/winter collection. Could you explain it?

Fabio: It started with the idea of stripes. When you drape stripes, since they’re directional, you create this interesting idea, and they force your eye to go over the image – that was the initial thought. In medieval times, stripes were associated with the devil, because of the contrasting colors. There were monks and clergy members that used to have the stripes in their costume, and then the Pope banned them. Later the circus re-appropriated stripes and made them beautiful and entertainment. We also looked to Coney Island in the 1920′s and the clown performance clothing. It was very genderless and shapeless.

Rebecca: It’s also about normalizing people’s behaviors. In the freak shows they created this community of sanctuary where they could be who they wanted to be. So we wanted to create the same platform for people to dress how they want to dress. If it’s men in dresses or women in shapeless garments: creating that parallel between the freak. It’s more about the freak within than the literal.

Joshua: The whole notion of androgyny/unisex clothes is pretty trendy right now. I notice you use the phrase ‘gender-less’, but it feels like it’s being used in a different context.

Fabio: We’re really de-appropriating the body of its gender. If you think about the construction of the garment, the curve of the crotch of the man and the curve of the crotch of the woman are extremely different. But, if you find an intermediate curve, then it’s going to fit both bodies, and it’s not going to indicate any type of gender. We make everything genderless and sizeless so that they respond differently to every body type.

Rebecca: I consider myself a woman, and I don’t need to hide that, but I still wear Fabio’s designs that might come across as more menswear. I’m wearing his pants right now.

Fabio: And my top.

Rebecca: And he wears my clothes as well. But we’re holding true to our identity as a woman and a man.

Joshua: Where’s NotEqual heading?

Fabio: I think our intention most of all is to be a platform for collaboration between us and other artists, so I think that’s how we want to come across. Not a fashion entity, but more of a collective conglomerate for creative experimentation. It’s really hard to think about creating a mass produced collection right now. To even conceptualize that is difficult you know because we finish things by hand. And, what I like about our pieces is that the process doesn’t just end with us. It became real with the last collection because you can alter and pull and discover new ways to wear things that we haven’t even seen. We’re including the customer in the final stretch of the creation. We’re thinking of doing new pieces that are going to be done in a certain way that they can be can dyed at home. It’s about integrating and making the spectrum broader.

All photos by Adam Gundersheimer

NotEqual is currently working on their A/W 13 collection, ‘The Lost Circus,’ which will be shown at Fashion Week El Paseo in March, and their S/S 13 Collection, ‘Alice Through The Mirror.’ They are hoping to fund the former, and get a jump on the latter with an upcoming kickstarter campaign.

One Comment

  1. Jessica Ferron
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Wonderful article. I love learning about what’s happening on the fringes of the fashion industry for a change. I’ve always found Fabio to be inspiring, so I’m glad to hear about this partnership and their plans for the future!

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