Imagine a trench coat long enough to brush the ground even while you were sitting on someone’s shoulders à la The Little Rascals. Or a handbag you could fully mistake for a real trash bag. Or how about a polo with three collars for all your necks/multitudes? These may sound like things you hallucinated after your wisdom-teeth removal, but they are in fact very real products for sale from ironic Instagram darling Fashion Brand Company.
I discovered Fashion Brand Company, founded in May 2018 by Penelope Gazin, when my friend DM’d me one of her particularly magnetic sweaters last summer. I closed the deal with an immediate follow, though I’ll always regret not buying it—it sold out shortly after. Since then, Fashion Brand Company has surprised and delighted me with not only the most absurd of styles, but also hilarious organic “marketing,” including dance, dramatic photoshoots, living life like a 3-year-old, and lizards. It—or rather, Gazin—consistently makes me laugh, which is not only unusual for a fashion brand but extremely difficult to do in this villainous news cycle!!!
Gazin, the founder and creative génie behind the brand, says she’s first and foremost an artist. She’s always dabbled in different artistic mediums, starting with a career in animation, then switching to illustration, then finally finding painting (her work has been featured in a number of LA galleries). Despite having no experience in fashion, the inspiration for a clothing line struck f after a show with one of Gazin’s bands (did I mention she’s in bands and is a member of a dance squad?). She pulled a frenzied all-nighter getting the ideas to paper, some of which would become this Bikini Knit Dress and this shrunken pom pom-dotted Clown Sweater. Unsure what to call the brand, she bought a handful of absurd domain names on GoDaddy, before finally landing on Fashion Brand Company, which she found funny in its obviousness..
Gazin’s brand decisions and designs—which she produces in inventory counts sometimes as low as 50—have a tongue-in-cheekiness to them. I mean, she has an entire section of her site dedicated to her custom Lizard Clothes, which the URL deems “Boyz-Corner.” She says the dry humor imbued in her work is central to it: “If I’m not actively making myself laugh and having fun with it, then I know I shouldn’t pursue it. If I’m saying ‘this is too ridiculous,’ then I know I’m on the right track.”
Thus, lots of room to play.
As a long time fan and first time caller, I got on the phone with Gazin this week and asked her to walk me through the genesis of five (yes, I narrowed it down) of my favorite Fashion Brand Company designs, and share some of her plans for the future, too.
“This one came to me in a dream almost two years ago. I’ve always been obsessed with the famous conjoined twins Abbie and Brittany Hensel, and particularly their style, so I think that might have manifested in my subconscious in this weird way. After the dream, I instantly started Googling to be like, ‘Has this been done before? Did I get influenced or was this really my own idea?’ Turns out it was just me.”
“I found this potholder pattern from the 70s on Etsy and I just really liked how simple and graphic it was. And, at the time, I had just done a painting of a cross section of a doll house that had a bunch of people having sex in it, and had called it ‘Sex House.’ And that tickled me. So I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll combine my perv art with something very kind of innocent and genuinely kind of nostalgic, or something.’ And that photo featured on Subway Creatures? [Above]
I loved it, because he actually turned out to be a friend of a friend. And he’s this cool artist. But I liked that you couldn’t tell how aware he was of the sweater, just because he kind of fell right in that sort of gray area where you’re like this could be a hipster or this could be just some random guy. And I think people couldn’t tell. That’s what I want a lot of my clothes to do, where you’re like, ‘Is this garment super cool, or is it oblivious?’ No one knows. I mean… I know, but people on the street don’t.”
“I’ve always been drawn to lizards and the idea of dressing lizards. So, there are maybe three people who have stores devoted to just making lizard clothing on Etsy. One of them is this lovely woman who has a store called ‘Penelope’s Closets.’ I give her my designs and she makes them for me. It’s fun to see how she interprets it. I view her as an outsider artist, and I’m just a huge fan of outsider artists in general. Every time she sends a shipment, she always types out a little letter to me in Comic Sans, and she’s just like, ‘Dear Penelope, I have so much fun making these as always. I love your kooky designs.’ I just love what she does and the customers love it, too.”
“So my Dad was a magician and he collected vintage circus costumes from the 30s. He specifically had this one butterfly costume that was gold and beaded–super heavy and detailed. It had a similar shape to the Moth Dress, but different colors and it didn’t have eyes, and I used to love to put it on as a kid. Kids just love to wear wings, and we never really outgrow that. (Side note: I’m learning from this interview how much of my designs are really based on nostalgia?) Anyway, so I designed this, and it’s been one of the most popular pieces. I saw two people wearing it at a New Year’s Eve party I went to.”
“This was actually one of the first pieces I designed. I used to have a cat that would suck on our sweaters when I was a kid. And then my mom would laugh, because it just looked like we have like little nipples all over the sweater. We just had these like soggy little nipples. And I thought about how sweaters with pom-poms are really just missing areolas. That was that!”
So where does Fashion Brand Company go from here? A brand so original in an era of sartorial fatigue feels like something that can’t stay small(ish) for long. It’s already being worn by the likes of Brie Larson and Trixie Mattel. But she’s mixed on whether she’s looking to build the business further. “I do need to expand,” she says, “but I hate the idea of managing other people or being a boss. I just want to be able to enjoy making clothes. The size it is right now is kind of perfect, because it’s just manageable enough. I love that I have a niche audience and don’t necessarily want the ‘big’… I guess I’m dreaming small.”
The last thing I ask her before we wrap our conversation is about a pair of three-legged pants she posted on Instagram the other day. Gazin laughs. She knows no one is going to buy them, but she wanted to make them so people on Reddit could say, “Oh my god, fashion’s become so stupid!” (I urge her to make them, just because.)
“It’s not always the case or the intention,” she says of her pieces, “but sometimes I am just trying to fully make ugly clothes.”
Photo by Lucy McDonald via Fashion Brand Company.