It’s all about ‘frenetic’ fun for fashion designers Feral Childe

For some, clothing is art. For Feral Childe – the design team of Alice Wu and Moriah Carlson – that philosophy is taken literally.

Sometimes, too literally.

For pieces in their Homunculii Fall/Winter 2006 collection, the duo wrote down edition markings – 1/6 or 1 out of 6 prints – on the backs of the tags. Although it is a standard labeling mechanism for limited-edition artwork, some prospective wearers initially mistook the markings for sizes.

But now, appreciative customers are adapting to Feral Childe’s avant garde approach. “People got excited when we had an edition of six,” Wu said. “One girl ran into another girl who had [the same piece] and she said, ‘I have no. 3!’ [The other said,] ‘I have no. 2!’”

Feral Childe unveiled their Spring/Summer 2007 collection, Trans-Siberia Express, in their New York Fashion Week debut on Sept. 6. The collection, Wu said, “is very much an inventory of the last five years of our being creative together.”

The roots of that inventory stretch back to their undergraduate days when the aspiring artists were students at Wellesley College. After graduation, Wu and Carlson worked as assistants to an artist who not only taught them both printmaking, but also had them working on a project that involved…washing 1 million egg shells.

The mundane chore sparked a verbal collaboration that planted the seed for Feral Childe, whose name was inspired by “this idea of everything being rough or uncivilized, [which] was true of how we approached creating the clothing, how we worked with the materials,” said Carlson, who also studied painting at the New York Studio School. “We’re pretty irreverent about how it comes together, and we don’t mind doing really unconventional things.”

Feral Childe’s foray into fashion stemmed from their artwork, which is almost always tied into performances. One such project was Pick and Roll 2000, where street basketball players – who wore hoodies, trench coats, skirts and other clothing – performed on a Manhattan court and had to change clothes every time they scored points.

Another project, the Dingo Derby, was performed in California and Miami. Participants wore surf suits and other odd swimwear in a circular race around a group of dancers. The runners, who also carried staffs with hard candy dingo effigies, changed directions at the sound of a whistle. No winner was declared.

“It had that kind of frenetic energy where nothing is really together but it is all about the same thing,” Carlson said.

Clearly, convention is thrown out the window. Instead of flowers and stripes, stuffed crows, furry nunchakus and aprons take center stage. Instead of ruffles, neoprene takes the form of hand-cut, machine-washable pieces such as the Motheater Shawl and Lab Coat from the Homunculii collection. And instead of stoic supermodels, colorful characters such as cast resin knife throwers – the world-record holder for throwing knives in one minute took aim at a “Wheel of Death” in one of their shows – and models dressed as cigarette girls stroll art galleries.

“It’s all pretty much about having a good time,” said Wu, who later refined her craft studying sculpture at Yale University. “People can be so removed from how clothes are made because clothes can be really cheap. Part of what we’re doing is going back to that and also making fashion in a much more social way. It’s meant to be worn. Have a good time wearing it, and just be goofy and silly.”

The Brooklyn-based duo’s creations are sold at galleries and boutiques in New York City, San Diego and Tokyo. But with no more than 10 articles made for each style, is mass production a consideration down the road? It’s a question that Wu and Carlson have considered.

“I don’t know if it would be that beneficial to the styles,” Carlson said. “There’s so much hand work on it. The things we make are still personal. I think that’s what people like about it. Sure, you could get another one in another color, but there is a certain uniqueness to each thing.”

“We still make one-of-a-kind things, but it’s not practical and sustainable to only make one-of-a-kind things,” Wu said. “I think a point of pride is that we’re a totally independent business, nobody else owns us, and we are able to fund our projects and collections from the money that we make from the collections. Part of the strategy of how to make the clothes individualized but still something that we can share with other people is something that we’ve really come a long way in the past year.”

In the meantime, Feral Childe continues to straddle the worlds of fashion and art – and learn that they’re not always the same.

“Amusingly, our landlord taught us how to grade and create patterns because he’s an old-time garment [worker],” Carlson said. “And he was like, ‘Gurrrls, you don’t know what you’re doing!’”

Video: Interview with Feral Childe
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

Lookbook Photos: Feral Childe Homunculii Fall/Winter 2006 collection
all photos courtesy of Black & White Fashion