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Generation Next: Telfar

The up-and-coming designer on his collection.

Most people claim they’re well-traveled, but not many can claim they were born in Queens, New York, raised in Liberia, and is now based back in New York – unless you’re Telfar Clemens of TELFAR, that is. Instead of conventional designers who create pieces that they hope their customers like, Clemens delivers clothes that he knows his customers want. The 26-year-old takes elements from his own experiences and mixes it with modern and fresh touches, like unexpected drawstrings, contrast stitching, and multiple pockets. His hard work has created a cult following of his detailed, functional, and avant-garde-but-not-too-much clothes. But don’t take our word for it, check out our Q&A with the designer himself to see what’s all the buzz!

ESSENCE.com: It’s been nearly a year since we last interviewed you, so what’s happened in the past year?
TELFAR: For Spring/Summer 2011, I presented my first fashion exhibition at White Box NYC in collaboration with artists Lizzie Fitch, Rhett LaRue and Ryan Trecartin. This exhibition was also a part of MOVE! at PS1 MoMA which featured designer/artist collaborations through performances. I also released my Autumn/Winter 2011 collection which debuted during Men’s Paris Fashion Week as a part of RA Antwerp’s designer showcase. I also hosted a exhibition andpresentation back here in New York which was a collaboration with the artist at DIS magazine. We created a webTV pilot called DISH in which was I did the entire wardrobe and we used the footage as the platform for my A/W11 presentation. This year was very satisfying creatively and each process helped me realize the direction I would like my design career to follow.

ESSENCE.com: On your website, most of the press clippings are from international magazines, international success is quite the feat. Do you attribute your success to being a designer of “color”?  
TELFAR: I don’t try to base my success on any other factor besides talent and hard work. I feel my race has nothing to do with my work. I design for people as whole, the common interest by my consumers, fans and community is fashion and my style of design.

ESSENCE.com: There are many Caucasian designers out there, have you faced any obstacles, roadblocks, and tribulations as a designer of color?
TELFAR: I can’t say that I have, my work speaks for itself and is bigger than me and my background. My biggest obstacle is finances. As an independently owned design company and artist, to produce two collections each year and present them in a satisfying manner is very costly independently. Yet I feel this is a small factor if you have ambition, drive and goals of being successful.

ESSENCE.com: Can you tell us a bit more about teaming up with Lizzie Fitch on “SHOP-MOBILE”? What can your customers expect?
TELFAR:  SHOP-MOBILE is a mobile shop which was built in relation to the new collection #GETACTIVE, which is for active individuals on the go. Each design incorporates the comfort of sportswear with functionality of activewear and streetwear.  I wanted the shop to mirror this idea in terms of function and design. So Lizzie designed the store so that it’s a collapsible structure that can be built or taken apart in less than 10 minutes and is mobile to encourage consumers to get active and find us in various locations; locations will be updated on our Twitter page. This idea for the TELFAR mobile pop up store came about since so many consumers would ask me when I’d open a store – so this is it. It’s built to function on-the-go and can be recreated anywhere at any time. The shop sell exclusive limited edition TELFAR 2012 memorabilia and sell the Spring/Summer 2012 collection in advance so consumers can purchase items during Fashion Week before the shops and on-line stores get it next spring.  

ESSENCE.com: What are your plans for this season and  the future?
TELFAR:  On September 8, SHOP-MOBILE opens at Ramiken Crucible NYC in Manhattan’s Lower East Side to usher in the new shop and the spring collection. We will presenting the runway of the collection for attendants to view exclusively, but we will also host a live feed on the web so you can catch the show wherever you are, get the most updated information about the live feed on our Twitter! We’re also working on a new UN.der T collection, which is our diffusion collection of jersey basics and collaborations with art and music. I’m also hoping to visit Africa in December in hopes of expanding TELFAR and exploring new projects.

Catch more of Telfar on his Twitter and Facebook pages!