Bootlegs are Best: Whatever 21 Designer Brian Whateverer [Exclusive Interview]


Interview by @LILINTERNET

When I first saw Whatever 21, I fell in love… Huge logos hand screen printed across athletic wear, but with a twist.  All of the logos are just a little bit “off.”  Fila with no “F,” a Nike swoosh that’s uncomfortably too curly, and lots of motifs that look like temporary tribal tattoos.  I thought the designer just had a wry sense humor, but after talking to Brian Whateverer, the creator of Whatever 21, I realized the influence goes much, much deeper.  Brian and I talked brands and retro cycles, and I learned that there’s an actual culture in China surrounding counterfeit products called “Shanzhai…” 


@LILINTERNET:  Brands, brands, brands! From your name to the logo references, do you feel like today’s generation has just “given up” in a way and fully accepted that we are a hyper-mediated, over branded society? Are you accepting it, or subverting it?

Brian Whateverer:  I’m both accepting and subverting it, if that doesn’t seem like its dodging the question. There was this period where people who considered themselves “smart” or “artists” really were opposed to the idea of giving brands any attention whatsoever. Now I think we’re accepting the fact that corporate sponsorship and advertisement seeps into every facet of our lives.

The old master painters used landscapes and still lifes as their subject matter, it was their environment. This is what I see when I look around “my world”. Its a way of responding to the environment we are a part of. Funny though, just as you asked me that question I was installing a new ad blocker on my browser.




@LILINTERNET:  It seems retro cycles really do follow sequentially- the 70’s were cool in the 90’s, the 80’s were cool in the early 00’s, now you see the 90’s alot- but I’d almost place you right around the beginning of the 00’s already- the “Y2K” era as I call it. Do you pull retro influences? What year do you put your “retro cycle?”

 Brian Whateverer:  It’s hard to say, but I think the tribal/sport/cyber influence is very late 90s/early Y2K. That’s when I was in high school and listening to bands like Korn and Marilyn Manson, so that definitely had an impact on me stylistically. I actually think that the gap has been rapidly closing with every cycle- it used to be 20 years, then it was 15, now its getting closer to 10. People want 2005 mall styles back already. I’m seeing lots of rhinestone Bebe tops lately. I’m interested to see what happens when the nostalgia gap catches up to the present day.

@LILINTERNET: Do u think that it will eventually happen? A singularity of retro cycles? What will that look like?

BrianWhateverer:  Its hard to say…I blame the internet because I think that people’s attention spans are growing shorter and shorter, I think we get bored more and more quickly and move onto something else. I like to imagine that when the past catches up with the present, retro fetishism could die out completely and people will have to focus on completely new, original ideas and aesthetics instead of relying on those of the past.

@LILINTERNET:  Was there a singular major influence that made you want to start a clothing brand?

Brian Whaeverer:  I’ve had a longtime fascination with Shanzhai culture, the Chinese culture of bootlegs and knockoffs. There are people in China who spend their entire life thinking about how they can change a brand symbol or a logo and turn it into something just different enough that they won’t get in trouble. Its sneaky, and its brilliant. Its very punk. I want to have the chance to get to meet some of these designers and see how their brains work. I would love to collaborate with them!

Whatever 21 was started as an homage to bootleg culture. I actually started off selling some of the early designs on the streets of Bushwick and Williamsburg. People responded well to it and it started getting to the point where people were hitting me up to get my shirts online and I had to open a webstore. I guess it is still pretty bootleg, I still print almost all of my goods by hand at my place in Brooklyn.




@LILINTERNET: What other items would you want to get into? What kind of sneakers for instance would you make?

Brian Whateverer:  I want to get into doing some more high end pieces, one-offs. I don’t wanna give too much away but I’m definitely working on some unisex kilt and skirt ideas, as well as some hat designs.

I haven’t really put much thought into a shoe line, but I did have this idea last year where I wanted to see modified Crocs with LED lights in them… I just saw pictures of DEGEN‘s show and it looks like they’ve done it. They’re amazing! I’m glad someone did it and did it right. I don’t know DEGEN but would be interested to do some kind of collab with her. If we’re moving into mid 00’s territory I would say someone needs to get on the game of making some super fly decked out Tom’s.




@LILINTERNET: So right now we see clothing reflecting the barrage of images and brands surrounding us at all times, but what do you think will be next?  Do you foresee a reaction to this aesthetic coming along?

Brian Whateverer: I think in fashion, music, art, everything is a backlash against something. The overbranded aesthetic in itself is a backlash against the plainess of an American Apparelized turn of the century. I think the current obsession with 90’s club kids and being “ratchet” is going to be gone soon and people are going to look towards a cleaner, more sophisticated look.

@LILINTERNET: I hope not!!

You can find Whatever 21 at their website

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