We reported on the Okley “the real pirate of the Caribbean” Leslie video, shot by MIA with clothes by MIA earlier this year—watermelon print hoodies, body suits, little dogs shagging on the beach among other moments of awesome. Those designs are now up for sale on her website as well as on the racks at Opening Ceremony. Of course there were several questions that needed to be answered—who is Okley Leslie? Is a full-blown MIA fashion takeover in the works? And will MIA be making baby clothes anytime soon?
We were reminded about these question marks a couple of weeks ago after spotting MIA looking more stylish than ever rocking a gorgeous preggers belly like it was the best accessory on the planet. So last week we emailed her in hopes of getting to the bottom of it all. In the extensive interview MIA talks about the making of the video and designing clothes (at this stage she considers the collection “extended merch” rather than a clothing line), about JA dance crews and flying boats, and the importance of encouraging your kids to learn the truth about life.
What made you decide to start your own line?
I wanted to tie all my work together. When I make an album, I make a number of artworks that go with it, and now I make some clothes that go with it too. So this Okley run was an extension of my Kala album and artwork. The line exists to get the message across—whatever the aesthetic is that I’m trying to communicate. The Kala artwork and sound and clothes are all about being worldly, and representing the idea of the whole world being mashed up into one.
You’ve always had a great sense of personal style—what was it like translating that into the line?
A lot of these ideas came from doing videos like “Boyz” and “Birdflu,” while I was traveling and I tried making clothes when I was out there on the shoot, like the day before. It’s always been one of those things—I wished I had a bunch of clothes ready-made that expressed my ideas. When you’re ahead of things no one knows what you’re talking about at the time so it’s hard to get it made. Then a year later it’s everywhere. It’s like that on tour too—you run out of clothes and it’s better if you have your own.
What pieces did you have in mind as staples for the line before you started designing?
I haven’t gotten to a point where I can call it a line yet, but I’m still figuring out what this is. It is directly tied in to the cycles of my albums. I was wearing a lot of my throwback ’90s bomber jackets, leggings, bodies [leotards] and hoodies on tour, which is what I ended up making.
How has the fashion creative process been different from making music?
It is different, but it can be even more different! I don’t want to start a line and do what the fashion industry does, like everyone gets stressed up around February and September, then dressed up in March and October and then pressed up to do the next cycle again. I would like to link my collections to something else other than seasons.
You’ve worked with a lot of designers in the past, including Carrie Munden and Marc Jacobs—did anyone have any advice when it came to designing clothes?
No I haven’t asked them. I wear a lot of Ashish too. He is so underrated.
Why did you go for a short film instead of the traditional lookbook?
Because I like films, and clothes are more realistic in moving image than glossy stills. With clothes you have to wear them and move about in ‘em, and I’d like to encourage people to move about. So a film was more appropriate, and you can have music with it. When you look at someone’s lookbook there is no music.
Where did you shoot the video?
I shot it in Saint Vincent where Okley lives, in his natural environment. The idea is that anyone anywhere can bring color to their lives. My clothes are not precious. The dirtier you get ‘em the better they should look.
Tell us a little bit about the making of it?
Okley comes from the rawest place I know, I also mention it in “Boyz,” it’s a place called Sugar Hill where you get white Caribbeans who have lived there for 400 years and they have peroxide hair and a mean streak. They are a lot crazier then the other boys. When I first got to the island all the teenagers were getting drunk and driving their cars off the cliff for fun, because the island is so small and they were all so bored. They have a thing for living on the edge—not in a violent way—but real red neck way. It’s very special. Okley had like five dogs and when we started shooting the film, the dogs started shaggin’ and got stuck. The whole film was shot in the time the dogs took to get unstuck, like an hour. Then we went out on his boat called Watch It, where he has dreams of being a real pirate.
Tell us a little about the prints—they’re all custom made.
They come from bits of my album artwork. All my artwork for Kala was inspired by African stuff, from dictator fashion to old stickers on the back of cars.I used the same designs, because when people look at it in ten years I want them to remember a certain time, and hopefully they get a 3-D sense—the shapes, the prints, the sound, film, technology, politics, economics, everything.
What was the inspiration for the line—and how does the pirate of the Caribbean theme fit in with this?
When I did the “Boyz” video I wanted to do Jamaican retro, which is unheard of in Jamaica. Jamaicans don’t do retro or print or animation. Also, one of the best times for the Jamaican dance culture was when Mr Boggle was alive and we had an explosion back in the late ’80s early ’90s. So I took the clothes from that time, like Cross Colors, Karl Kani Bally boots, Click Suits, (I’ve sung about in “Fire Fire” on Arular etc) and put it on the modern era dancers like TIMELESS, SAMPLE SIX, SPONGE BOB, KADILLAC ETC, who were having a second wave at running the music. See now and again dance gets to dictate the songs and what to do. I felt that Jamaica in 2005, ’06, ’07 was where dance got to tell songs what to do, and I wanted to capture that, so we had a lot of clothes from that time.
Okley Leslie who stars in the film is almost like the poster boy for the line—why did you choose him?
Because he is beautiful, and doesn’t know it. He’s too busy hunting shit I’ve never heard of and eating it raw and stuff.
What do you have lined up for the next collection?
Boats, I’d like to make some boats that can fly.
Have you thought about making some baby-sized pieces? Like MIA onesies?
LOL! No my baby is gonna be naked ’till it’s like two. Then at three I’m gonna make it move to Mexico and start working at a sweatshop, where it can make its own clothes, and learn the truth about life.