Gerlan Jeans

"It's about bringing design back to the people."

Interview by Avena Gallagher 
Portrait by Maggie Lee

Since 2009, the collections of Gerlan Jeans have brought a much needed return of teen irreverence and self-expression into the arena of street fashion. Independently owned and operated by designer Gerlan Marcel—previously known for her print designs for Jeremy Scott—Gerlan Jeans uses printed graphics to combine the best looks of American alt culture—goth, hippy, punk, raver—into garments that defy all expectations. Whether it’s Mall Witch, Minnie Mouse, or Gerl Power, the message with Gerlan Jeans is always the same: positivity, inclusivity, and fun.

Now, these are your drawings from what age? 
I think probably eight or nine. It's summer wear. The shorts are brightly colored palm trees with a yellow sunset behind them. She's wearing a bathing suit, which has pineapples on it. "They have become in popular demand from the Gerlain buyers."
So exact in your pricing at such a young age.
“She was rewarded in 1986 for being the best and prettiest girl in America"—as you can tell from her amazing look. She has no arms or legs—"... she's been with us for about a year. She's very popular and has been in great demand to be put in this magazine. She is wearing a cool summer skirt with a pastel-colored shirt. The shirt is $16.27.”
You still haven't been told how to spell fashion yet.
I was the worst speller. 
It's still fasoine
“This is Yvonne Mendemon who was fired because she started to flert, E-R-T. She started to flert with our cameraman but is back with us now"
Was this in your mind how fashion looked?
I must have been looking at some sort of catalog. I don't really remember reading fashion magazines or anything. I do remember getting a subscription to Rolling Stone and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. 

Gerlan Drawings, 1986

Look at your little prints. They’re very Gerlan.
It's very Guerlain by Gerlan. My dad took us to Paris when I was 15, and there are all these pictures of me in front of the Guerlain store. With maroon 90s hair. I had a leather jacket with a Black Flag sticker on the back that I just thought was the coolest.
Badass.
I was actually really concerned with not being chic enough in Paris. I remember it was like I would wake up really early. I would spend two hours in the morning getting ready to go out on the streets.Obviously, in my brain, somehow, this leather jacket with the Black Flag sticker helped the situation. 
What was your favorite Mall growing up?
The Galleria. Every town in America had an "upscale" mall called the Galleria. They had a glass ceiling and huge tropical plants with mini waterfalls everywhere. It was the chicest! Plus they had a flagship Esprit store!
That Esprit store had a smell that was the exact same all over the world, at all of their locations. 
Everything in the store transported you into this idea.  The brands were so hyper realized.
Then there was UNITS, which was a completely different animal.
Units had an amazing concept.
It was like a modular system for dressing.
The woman who started it, Sandra Garratt, was American. It was basically a mass-market sensibility of what Yohji Yamamoto was doing. 
Like a tube that was a skirt but could also be a dress. 
A lot of what American Apparel was originally, is based on this UNITS structure. The whole store was modular designed to match the clothes. It was a revelation in a mall in Ohio!
In the same role, then, we have the old Banana Republic. 
And their sub-label "Outback Red." The store was full "concept safari." They really went there with the interiors. The stores were designed with all of this kind of salvaged wood, foliage, vintage safari helmets. The ads in the magazines were that too.

Gerlan Jeans Corporate Headquarters - Jeans, Nevada

At our Banana Republic, there was a broken down jeep in the middle of the store.
They had one at the Galleria. It was so “Out of Africa.” You had a full concept for a store and a full concept for the clothing... they were 4000% dedicated to their vision!
In those days did you know you wanted to get into fashion? 
No, not at all – I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but I knew I didn’t want to be told what to do… when I graduated high school I decided to go to Hampshire College because it was this totally alternative place where there were no grades, no exams, and farm animals roaming the grounds. But I deferred my enrollment for a year, so I could have some time to just do whatever the fuck I wanted to do. I just wanted to experience as many things as possible, without limitation.
How were you able to do that? 
I had this book of intentional communities—politically correct word for communes—all over the United States. Me and my best friend planned this trip for basically two years, when we were still in high school. I was obsessed with On the RoadThe Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and Wilderness, a book of poems by Jim Morrison. We built our own food dehydrator and spent like eight months living on all these various communes. We eventually settled on the West Coast for a period of three months or so in Deadwood, Oregon. I lived in this old school bus.
And what kind of community was it?
It was a community, based on Quaker principles of living, that had started in the 70s. Me and my friend were the youngest members by like 20 years. After living there and being on that trip, I realized I wanted to be on the move; I didn't want to be in one place. That was when I decided to go on permanent tour with the Grateful Dead.

God Bless These Jeans, F/W 2011

Why the Grateful Dead?
It was about the music and choosing your own adventure. I feel very lucky to have had this outlet. When you’re young you just want to go off and experience things on your own, it's pretty scary. How are you going to support yourself? How are you going to feed yourself? What do you do? But here was this self-existing environment in Grateful Dead land. It was like this traveling economy—a little world and village. There was buying, selling, bartering, and trading—a full support system in place with total acceptance and no boundaries. The Grateful Dead allowed me total freedom at a very young age.
What happened when school started?
I was still on Grateful Dead tour, driving to shows on the West Coast in my friend’s grandmother’s Cadillac and occasionally driving back to Hampshire College for class on Mondays. I wanted to travel more than I wanted to be in any type of school environment... I had always wanted to live in Greece because I had seen these photos of my dad when he lived there in the 60s, all sun-kissed, weaving on a loom in that Grecian light. So, I found some weird, little art school with like three people in it and I moved to Paros, a little island in the middle of the Cyclades.
What kind of art were you making at the time? 
I was painting. It was very Grateful Dead inspired. Everything was very goddess-y, swirly. I was imitating a lot of styles, but I didn't have one of my own. I met this teacher who suggested I stop limiting myself to one medium. 
Were you thinking about fashion at the time? 
I made clothes on the Grateful Dead tour.  I was totally self-taught. I mostly made "boob-curtains" It was literally a strip of fabric around your boobs with a gathered "curtain" covering your stomach and an embroidered Star of David or a mushroom on the front. That's how I started really sewing and putting stuff together. 

Gerlan Lion, S/S 2010

But you weren't anti-fashion? 
Obviously, Grateful Dead kids were kind of anti-fashion, but there was a look, a full-on uniform, which I was super into. Patchwork boob curtains, pipe pouches, embroidered dreadlocks, peyote stitches, Jnco Jeans and the heyday of Alien Workshop, and Poot... 
What did you do after Greece?
I went to Oregon College of Arts and Crafts in Portland, and began doing a "surface design" course. It was weaving and dying with natural fibers and beads and things. It was not fashion related—most of my fellow classmates were moms going "back to school," making potato stamp print casserole covers. 
But you were making printed fabric.
Yeah and I was making stuff out of it. But I barely knew how to even sew or do any of that stuff. I realized that OCAC wasn’t the right place for me either. I basically quit and just started working as a buyer at Buffalo Exchange and other odd jobs while I was taking night classes in pattern making and sewn construction.
How did you end up at Central Saint Martins?
I had this friend, Jen, who I had met while traveling around with this sound system called S.P.A.Z. (Space Pirate Audio Zone)—post Grateful Dead—and she had gone to London for some sort of summer class in fashion. She made all these outrageous clothes, like turquoise fake fur coats with big eyeballs as pockets.  She would sell them at this store in Portland that carried all this weird  Cyberdog -inspired rave gear made by West Coast designers. I basically wanted to be her. She had crazy dreads that she dyed all different colors of blue and purple and I did the same. She had these Swear platform sandals with daisies on them, which I bought in the same color. People would sometimes mistake us for each other and I always loved it. 

By Any Jeans Necessary, S/S 2010

From Sex Magazine #4 Summer 2013
Labelled Fashion