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Through the glass doors of an commercial building in Downtown L.A. sits a doorman in the back for a floor level tractor-trailer sawed in half; his desk is a functioning art installation. This street is an oasis in industrial land; a tucked away café winds down cobblestone directly across the street, and young artist types with their dogs line the street late afternoon. I climb the stairs (elevator under construction) and march the concrete hallway to the Factory by Erik Hart.
The door opens to reveal a bright white space. It is one room that contains a kitchen, two couches covered in bed sheets, a blank painted coffee table, and a down bed nearest to the door; each object is stark white. In front of the sheet of windows facing me is a chic deep-lipped girl at the form, snipping and pinning as Erik Hart walks me in. In the back corner are racks of in-progress pieces, in a gray scale, heavy at the ends of that color spectrum.
Erik Hart is a fashion designer at present, but is a multi-faceted artist. He immerses himself in all aspects of art, from music to installations to photography. “It’s never about doing just one thing or one discipline. It’s continuous.” Which explains why he prefers to live so close to his work, in very same room.
What is your daily routine?
I get up. I meditate for 20 minutes. I practice Transcendental Meditation, it’s a big part of keeping me level headed. It’s nice to let my subconscious vomit for 20 minutes, and not have that in there throughout the day. I walk to the coffee shop down the street, get a coffee or a tea. Then I do a bit of emails, then right into design. Until I feel I’m done for the day. Then I’ll go out or get dinner with friends, come back and work some more.
What is this we’re listening to right now?
Right now we’re listening to EKR [radio]. I make mixes every week of what we’re listening to in the studio and I put it on our Facebook page. It changes drastically. Sometimes it’s minimal techno, sometimes it’s black metal. Sometimes we listen to old Madonna, or really fucked up apocalyptic anthem Death Grip. It really varies. Some classical stuff. Even some George Michael and Wham!
How does your studio soundtrack affect your designing?
My background is music. I grew up playing and touring in bands since the age of 16. I used to think of ideas in sound. Then over the years I started to think of it in imagery, sound being secondary. It’s almost that I’m not listening to it. It’s like this continuous hum, even if it’s abrasive and loud. It creates an environment, like the art on the wall.
There’s a sense of a clean white wash over your studio. Why did you choose to decorate with just a sparse palette?
I try to keep the space like a gallery space. It's hard to keep clean, I'm not the most organized person. But I’m a purist in a sense, the more things I bring into the space, it spoils it. Everything in here is a byproduct of creating something, not just creating to create. It’s the things we create in the space that give it meaning.
In terms of a blank canvas, do you find that you evolve off of previous collections? Or do you wipe the slate clean and start anew?
There’s no specific way that I approach it. I do have a signature; it’s always an exercise in the tension of dichotomy. I like to take a garment to the purest essence of what they want to be. I have no interest in the excess or the ornamental. I don’t do trends. We did this shoot for i-D in East London, juxtaposing my work against that of the artist Absalon. I saw parallels between his lines and my lines, and those lines informed the next collection and for the next few seasons as well. Sometimes it’s me getting on the form, sometimes it’s me sketching, or Nicolette [asst. designer] sketching, and sometimes it’s a detail that we expand upon. It’s never, “What’s the theme?” It’s about a continuation of a principle.
What’s on the form now?
For Spring 2013, we started taking old dresses apart, and putting them together, realizing they look like parachutes. Re-contextualizing old dresses to create a new idea of sophistication. I don’t have a sense of nostalgia; it’s always about moving forward and progressing. It’s not about making an old dress new again; it’s about it serving a purpose.
Have you ever gone skydiving?
Yeah, once. It feels like you’re falling out of the sky. Like you’re plummeting to the earth.
What are 3 things you need within arms reach when you’re designing?
Pencil. Whatever fabric I’m working with. Nicolette, she’s my right hand.
Do you have a particular method to your designing?
There’s no real method. I don’t wake up and sketch for 2 hours and drape for 2 hours. We’ll take a lot of garments and turn it upside down, photograph it. A lot of what we do is self-referential.
Are there any fashion books you swear by?
I have more art books than fashion books. Though I have been looking at Japanese designer’s older work, like Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto. I look at the way things were constructed. The way this lapel is falling on a body can inform a new jacket.
Tell me about the samples on the garment rack.
These are all ideas. None of these are real clothes yet. We work with pattern makers and make tech packs to give to manufacturers. We sew them really quick. I call them physical sketches.
What is your experience with the L.A. garment center? Do you produce locally?
For a while I was making everything domestically, then I moved it overseas. Then I moved it back for more control. I’m the minority of people doing the things that I do like this [in L.A.]. There are 2 things L.A. is really good at: jeans and t-shirts. I don’t happen to make either of them. But there are some great artisans here. For example for our handbag line, we’re working with this Mexican family of Buddhists, and they’ve been doing it for 4 generations. The grandfather makes the patterns and the son sews it. There are a lot of people that come from Europe or NY to escape that lifestyle. So there are these gems in the rough, you just have to search them out.
How do you approach sustainability in your company?
I’m all about simplifying and getting rid of waste. It comes with the idea of bringing things in on boats from thousands of miles [instead of planes]. I’ve been doing it for so long, that I’m getting to an altruistic approach to what I’m doing. I don’t brand myself as eco, but as a human you don’t need to be wasteful. I’m all about efficiency.
When you made the shift to living in your studio, did it change your schedule?
Before I had a much larger team, I was producing a much larger collection. I split with the partnership and sold some of my brands. Now I’m working on Factory. I prefer this. This is the way I started; it’s streamlined, it’s personal, it’s intimate. I’m assuming you feel the same way; it’s calm in here. There’s something about this space. It’s conditioned. There’s natural daylight. There’s space. It’s just a really nice place to work.
Are there any drawbacks to living and working in the same space?
There are pros and cons to it. I tend to work longer like this; it could be good or bad. So far it’s great. When we start doing more things and hiring more people, I’ll probably get another space. I like living and working very closely together. If I wake up in the middle of the night and run to the form, I can. If I want to figure out a function I’m here constantly. I don’t stop what I’m doing, ever.
That ties right back into your efficiency.
It’s just common sense, the closer you are to where you make your clothes, the more efficient it is. When I’m working on the form, if I want to change something, I turn to Nicolette and say, what do you think about trying it like this? If we’re working overseas, we have to write it out and it gets lost in translation. Design is personal and I think it has to be that way.