By FRANCEASCA SEIDEN, MAY 2017
If you have been witness to the development of the downtown Los Angeles art scene, chances are you are familiar with the multidisciplinary talents of Victor Wilde. The New York native brought BoHo chic from Brooklyn into DTLA with the unconventional fashion line and lifestyle brand Bohemian Society. But Wilde’s skills transcend mediums seamlessly as he intertwines film, art and couture.
His latest film endeavor, “Miscreants,” premiered last month at M.A.R.S. (Music and Arts ReSound) a ten-day festival held at Art Share-LA and Angel City Brewery. In a collaborative mixed-reality environment designed with artist Jesse Gilbert, Wilde also performed live at the festival with Matthew Setzer, a current member of legendary punk band Skinny Puppy. Another day Victor created a performance inside the installation, making a dress on runway model during a live broadcast.
Wilde produced and costumed “Miscreants” which was written and directed by Joe Rubinstein of Polite In Public and Digital Bolex fame, and which recently enjoyed a two-day screening at LA’s Downtown Independent Theater. It is a silent film as in the sense there is no dialogue, the story is told only through dance, set to music (there are actually two scores, one a band and the other electronica), and with art direction that is comparable to a Wes Anderson film about the Bolshoi. Each scene is as beautiful as the next as pale hues of Wilde’s diaphanous “parachute dresses” are carried throughout setting a classical, hypnotic tone.
By definition, a miscreant is a person who behaves badly or in a way that breaks the law. After meeting with Victor, the film’s title makes more sense as part of his life as a whole. For instance, at three years old Victor denounced meat when he refused to eat his grandmother’s meatballs. Anyone who comes from a traditional Italian family, especially from the east coast, knows you gotta have brass ones in order to reject your grandmother’s cooking. As an artist he is diverse and fearless producing unified results across everything that he creates. Wilde’s got pizazz, swagger, a sharp wit and a secret streak of the romantic -- all traits that carry over into the personality of anything he creates, especially fashion. He uses clothes like canvas and sees design choices like brushstrokes. Increasingly, he displays unique fashion-based sculptural works in art galleries, for example, the wedding dress he blew up in the desert, or the mixed media set of his-and-her suits riddled with bullet holes and dedicated to JFK, Jackie and Marilyn -- the chicest love triangle in history. Both were displayed in last year’s “Feminine Variations” a well-received group exhibition at The Loft At Liz’s in August 2016.
Victor’s irreverent style is found in his ability to blend several mediums together, delivering a fresh, subtle, evocative experience. His unconformity allows us to embrace inventive ways of playing with unconventional materials. Wilde produces the eccentric yet sophisticated out of the simple. As the founder and designer of the international clothing line Bohemian Society he has shared space at Nordstrom, Lisa Klein and Patricia Fields. He even has his own unisex fragrance out called Sex Tape. And he is documenting his experience by writing a memoir.
In a far-ranging, epic and intimate interview for Whitehot Magazine, Wilde opens up about his roots growing up in Canarsie, Brooklyn, his many incarnations as an artist, and his long road to reclaiming himself after losing his mother to gun violence as a young man.
How did you get into film?
In the fourth grade I was cast in “Radio Days” -- one of Woody Allen’s classic films. I took direction from him and watched him work, that’s when it all clicked. I knew I wanted to be behind the scenes. I wanted to be the director.
Did you have a speaking role? Or were you bitten by the BTS (Behind the Scenes) bug?
I didn’t have a speaking role, acting is whatever … fuck that … it’s in directing. He’s got this vision, he’s commanding his vision. That sounds more like me. I really am a director. I just felt like a dancing monkey when I was auditioning. I would love to act in my own films or perform. If someone asked me today, I would gladly do it. I just knew that even though I enjoy it I wouldn’t consider myself to be an actor. My grandmother always told me when I was a kid, “You know what, you’re a leader, you’re not a follower.” I was like, “Thanks, Grandma.” She just called me today actually.
There are very few people that can pull off, blending mediums into one medium. Specifically, film. When I first saw your short film for Bohemian Society, I watched it several times. I knew it as a fashion piece, but then was also an homage to LA, captured in a love story with an excellent track. Then I remembered the wedding dress at Feminist Variations and made the correlation. So, to switch gears for a second, you recently collaborated with one of the members of Skinny Puppy at M.A.R.S. Festival?
My friend Matthew is the one in Skinny Puppy, he and I worked as part of his other band, Timur and the Dime Museum, doing all the costumes for this Rock Opera that was a “Requiem for the Earth” called COLLAPSE, it was at REDCAT in 2014. It was all about going on vacation to this place called Garbage Island.
What’s Garbage Island?
The Pacific garbage island aka the Pacific Trash Vortex is the northern gyre of the Pacific Ocean. There are several of them around the world. It’s an island of garbage, the size of Texas, swirling around the middle of the actual Pacific Ocean. That’s what the songs were about. I didn’t go there. I’d like to go there. I saw documentaries on people that do sail out there. This 19-year-old kid devised a way to collect it. They are trying to clean it up.
Are you the type of artist that has to switch your brain up? Or do you finish one project and then go onto the other one or does everything just flow?
Since this past February, I designed a new line of jackets while I was producing Miscreants. At that time I was really on crutches and was also performing and creating an installation at a weeklong festival. I really approach everything from the same perspective, and that allows me to do it all simultaneously. Like when I was painting a jacket, I was also writing the story of Miscreants with Joe, while also creating the costumes, styling it and producing the film.
How long ago did you start designing clothes as a profession?
Since 2003. I never studied it. I was dating a model at the time who was working at Lisa Klein on Robertson. Klein was one of the biggest retailers at the time. I went to visit her and I saw these young kids bringing in clothes that looked like they were made in their bedroom. I was like, ok… really? If they can do it and clothe celebrities, I think I’m going to come up with a t-shirt brand. That’s how I developed Bohemian Society, and I based it on the whole mystique behind Bohemian Grove.
What is Bohemian Grove?
It’s a boys club made up of elite men (no women allowed) who gather every year in the woods above San Francisco to do rituals and kind of tell you what’s going to happen throughout the year. It’s been around for a while, even Nixon would comment on it. They claim to be “Bohemian” like with a carefree attitude, but they also have this elite mystique of global power, so I thought… Let’s take that away from them.
Sounds like club paradise meets the Illuminati. I thought it was some kind of underground sex club.
No that’s Berlin. When I produced my first line of t-shirts under Bohemian Society, Lisa (Klein) bought them all outright and within two weeks I was in the window and selling. A month later, Davis Factor, from Smashbox, offered us a slot at LA fashion week. Within, two weeks, we designed and found contractors to create over 100 pieces and we put on our first fashion show. Sewing contractors made stuff for us and we hand painted, stitched and I then I came up with the trend of the fucked-up blazer. It was like Hey, you wanted a show, now you got it, we were like … Great. We had no idea what the fuck we were doing.
Kind of punk rock. What was the fucked up Blazer trend?
Yeah it was very punk rock. Ha. I would do stuff like blowtorching the fabric, ripping off the sleeves, pinning lapels, putting on patches, ripping holes, very distressed. Then it just kind of blew up. People saw that I was selling out in stores in SoHo in a day. We did pretty well with it for a while. All I knew was I had a fashion show to put on and I could steal blazers from the Good Will and I could hand paint them because I knew how to use clothes as canvas.
Do you know how to tailor clothes now?
I taught myself how to sew. I can drape. I do it my way. I can do patterns on a mannequin or by eye. I do have seamstresses and sewers that do a lot of that work.
When did you find your passion for creating?
I got “best dressed” in junior high and in high school people always told me I should be a stylist. My personal sense of style came from wearing a pair of fake Air Jordan’s to school one day and the kids made fun of me. So I threw them in the closet and vowed I’d never wear them again. Although I wish I had them today, I’ve been looking for a pair so I can wear them now. I was like, fuck this, I’m not going to let people make fun of me, growing up in Brooklyn you had to look stylish. I always did, so people would tell me, you should be in fashion. I never really thought about it until I started doing it. It doesn’t mean I’m not a filmmaker, just adding another medium to what I do and it just went from there, it took off and it was something I was meant to do.
Seems like you have lived a lot of lives.
I was also a street performer and I ran for mayor of New York City as the Mercury Man. The Mercury Man was living statue so I was wearing costumes everyday. My friend and I were the Mercury Men that had a cable access show in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Then I started a band with my ex-girlfriend where we toured Japan and America a couple times.
What was the name of the band? What kind of music?
It was called Gemini. We would wear all black and white and I designed my suit. It was elements of hip-hop, repetitive beats, we would sample a lot and have weird songs like “Don’t Stop, Don’t Steal the Lollipop, Kleptomaniac Put It Back” those were the lyrics and we would do repetitive choreographed moves. We had the twin backup dancers, because we both are Geminis. We would shine a strobe light at us all in black and white including our faces. We were like a psycho broken television that was about to give you a seizure.
You should make your life into a movie.
I’m working on a novel now actually. It’s a memoir. I did write a screenplay about my childhood growing up in Canarsie. It’s a Christmas movie.
Is it a comedy?
It is… It’s a tragic comedy. It’s a comedy still. One of my first jobs, maybe actually my first job, my aunt and uncle lived across the street from a funeral home that was run by the mafia and my uncle ran it for him. Every year, starting around Thanksgiving we would take all the supplies from underneath the funeral home to build the North Pole on the corner of east 93rd Flatlines avenue which consisted of plexiglass with the motorized eight reindeer, candy cane train with like a roller skating penguin, two 20-ft. tall animatronic toy soldiers that stood on each side of the front door. A huge stage that was literally the North Pole with Santa Claus and everything that comes along with that and it wrapped around to the other side of the house. On top of that there was a sleigh with a Santa and Mrs. Claus giving out toys, it was my job, along with my cousins and the other kids in the neighborhood, to put on those Disneyesque costumes and entertain the hundreds of people that would gather at my aunt and uncle’s house every night.
And you enjoyed it?
It was the best. I mean it was a production. The house was like backstage. To the point that people would come in and sit in the living room and ask what time does the show start? We’re like the show’s outside, Get out of here. We had punk rockers, Rabbis, people from all walks of life just hanging out. My grandma would be cooking for everyone. That was my life really. That’s what I come from.
It makes sense that you chose this path. It really is a passion to continue innovative ways of designing that actually work, and are well received. You make these out of the box choices that most people would resist to experiment with, it seems like everything is a canvas.
One of the first pieces of art I created was an owl that I made out of pillow stuffing and my mother’s stockings that I sewed with buttons when I was around seven. My grandfather died around that same time. I would go into the garage and start taking out his paint and start messing around putting assemblages together, so I have always had the tendency.
Were you an introvert as a kid?
I was a little bit. I was an introvert/extrovert. I can be the life of the party or I could be standing on the wall. It really depends on the mood. Gemini.
So when did you start taking painting seriously?
In high school I did oil paintings and I would draw freehand a lot of cartoons, always freehand. I went to Catholic school, because my parents didn’t want to pay for private school and public school was too dangerous. I would cut school and go to private school with my cousin because that’s the school I wanted to go to, and they were like, okay. He went to St. Anne's in downtown Brooklyn.
And what about film?
Filmmaking, when I was 8 years old. My grandparents gave their three daughters, one being my mother, the option of money or a video camera. When I got wind of this, I lobbied for that video camera as hard as I could. My mother agreed and of course I commandeered it as soon she got it and proceeded to make a variety show called C&C show. Which focused a lot on wrestling my brothers. There were a lot of interviews and video games, short films and fake commercials.
Do you still have those tapes?
You’re like James Franco to me right now. Do you ever sleep?
Not too much. I never liked sleep.
You do well as an artist.
Yeah, I don’t live a lavish lifestyle, I spend my money on experiences, like travelling and going back into my art -- which is why I confine myself to a room and I have my workspace. I figured it out in my own little way.
And now you’re writing about it.
I’ve been writing. A lot of the memoir starts when I was a kid and it goes to Mercury Men years, which is when I kept extensive diaries.
How was it when you moved here?
It wasn’t the same. You made much more money in New York. People were much more into it. It’s part of the culture. Also in 2000 there was a lot more money floating around right before 9/11. I mean people would hand me $100 bills and I was just some statue guy. I would work 4 hours a day. In our film the “Miscreants” Olga is a living statue… I wrote that part as an homage to that time.
The film is breathtaking from the hues, art direction, costumes, the sets, and cinematography, and of course the dancing.
It’s all told in dance. Joe Rubinstein, the director, is really good. He’s a genius really. Joe invented the Digital Bolex.
The Bolex was my first camera. I mean not the digital one, the film version.
It was a lot of people’s first camera. Which is why he did that. The nostalgia if you’ve used the old one, you can use all the old film lenses. He raised 200k within a day on Kickstarter. I helped him start a party photography company called Polite in Public. We used to do the hipster parties and they would bring sets and light the set and I would dress people at the party. Camel cigarettes came in one day and saw them doing this and there were like this is really cool, do you guys wanna go on tour with us? And we were like yeah, so they got the fashion element of it and they took their sets and then Camel started doing their thing and then Joe being Joe, came up with idea of building sets, he just created this semi-circle where you can create anything you want in the background and he created the bot. It was a computer camera and internet hookup and he would ship these bots all over the country. He’s like an evil genius.
How did you guys hook up?
I’ve known Joe for over ten years. I think we met through a girl. We know a lot of the same people and he lives a block away. We started working together a couple years later when we did the party photography stuff and we’ve done a few projects together here and there. Joe’s done a lot of photography for me; we’ve done gallery shows together. I used to have a 12,000 sq ft. gallery off of 2nd and Spring until my business partner started shooting heroin and we lost the gallery and he died. It was around 2005. It was before Art Walk was even really a thing.
I had my first solo show there, Joe had his first solo show there, it was called the “Integrated Circus” which I never liked -- but it was a really great space -- it was more his thing. He brought me in as a partner and I curated. The owners gave him the space and I went to my brother’s wedding and I got a call from my assistant and said that the guy had barricaded himself in the room, he broke through the wall with a hammer, he said he heard his mother’s voice saying he was sick or something like that. And where he broke through happened to be LA city planning office so he got arrested and that didn’t go over too well. It was pretty crazy. I ended up homeless for a while; actually Joe let me stay at his house for a week. I had no place to work so Joe let me use his open attic. When I had nowhere to create he let me and my assistant produce an entire line of clothing for LA fashion week.
Within your many lives it does seem like fashion has been the most prevalent element.
It’s been the longest I would say. But I always incorporate all the other elements into it. For me it’s all the same. I’ve always done things my way. Bohemian Society has never really been just a fashion line.
Did you ever try to study any of your craft?
My second year in film school (School of the Arts in North Carolina) the Dean called me into his office and was like “Victor, you are nonconformist, and a weirdo.” He went on to tell me that school was more of a business than an art because I was doing my own stuff. I didn’t sign up for business school… so they kicked me out. They were more into the “Eastbound and Down” type of school. In fact all those guys came from there.
Like Danny McBride?
Danny McBride lived in my bedroom right after me. Those guys all took over my house when my friends and I left. School wasn’t for me, they nurtured more of the southern artist life, but getting out of the city was good for me at the time. Talk about culture shock, ‘94 the Internet wasn’t a thing. Here I come, I was all hip-hopped out with an afro, people were scared to death of me… and I loved it. I played up every minute of it.
What’s after Miscreants, premiering and screening at film festivals?
Joe and I will continue to do more films together. I also want to do a gallery show called Gun Show. Which reclaims guns from like buyback programs and I’m going to make them into pieces of art and give the proceeds to the victims of gun violence. Which is important to me, because when I was 18, my mom was killed by a gun. That’s why I use guns in my work, it’s been a very big thing for me. It’s my way of reclaiming it.
There is really no great way of reacting to something so unexpected and deeply intimate; it’s a part of him and his art.
I was eighteen. It was in my house. We think they were trying to rob my parents. My dad came home late at night, he owned an auto parts store and we think he was followed home. He fought back and survived and my mom didn’t.
Were you in the house?
I was. I had chased him with a machete. Trying to cut their arm off but I missed.
So you saw this?
No. I saw my dad shot. Then I went upstairs and my mom was already on the floor. I called the police. It’s not what defines me but it’s definitely a part of who I am. Instead of going crazy it became a motivational experience. Yeah. It’s intense. It was on the news. I was in the hospital waiting room, watching it on the news. It was surreal. Brooklyn. Wasn’t the best area really, Canarsie, my dad owned that store so people would target them or whatever. It’s not uncommon.
You have so much to say and you’re fluent in several mediums. So the movie, the memoir and...?
Hopefully It stays this way. There’s no turning back. I want to start blending fashion and art more and doing more art shows. Getting back into film and starting like a BoHo network, where I have programmed content. I’d love to do a high end QVC where there are models in a boudoir setting and you can buy the clothing off their backs. When you buy it they have to take it off. That kind of interactive performance. I was very obsessed with infomercials when I was a kid.
That’s the kind of stuff I love to do and we got a taste of that when we did it at M.A.RS. One day we had Matthew, one day we had the choreographer from our film, another day we had a model and I made a dress live on the Internet that we broadcasted. She walked around the festival with it. And then we did body printing. What I do is I paint people’s bodies and then I print them onto t-shirts. When you buy the t-shirt you get a video of how it’s made. Pretty much have to be eighteen to buy it. Basically it’s imprints of people’s bodies with ink onto the shirts. WM
His text goes off.
I have to go downstairs and buy some pot. WM
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Franceasca Seiden is a writer based in Los Angeles.