Aside from a general predilection for cartoon, fantasy and color, another commonality each of these designers shares is a strong market-base in East Asia. In a country like Japan, where cosplay (short for costume play, a popular subculture in which teens dress up as their favorite manga, anime and made-up characters) and a rich tradition of trends that borderline on dress-up mingled with a strong interest in technology and pop culture, this is unsurprising. “Japan is like a pastiche of lots of different styles, but punk and hip-hop are two of the ones that are very important, and the sort of girl culture—kawaii cute, Lolita-ish is their own sort of indigenous one. But they all sort of coexist and co-mingle,” explains Valerie Steele, Director and Chief Curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, who organized the show Japan Fashion Now at the museum last year. “It’s true especially with [Japanese] menswear brands like Phenomenon, who have been popular with American hip-hop performers. It doesn’t really sell in the US, but when I featured Phenomenon in my show, it was one of the most popular of the whole show because it was so out there, sort of science fictiony and sexy and his range of inspiration was so demented, from insects to bondage, to hip-hop music.” Japan’s fiendish youth culture has exerted a lot of influence on the behavior of the markets in Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan, and on the Gerlan Jeans Facebook page, Marcel regularly reblogs pictures of her designs posted in the popular Japanese street fashion magazine, FRUiTS, which photographer/publisher Shoichi Aoki started in 1997 to document the fantastic street styles he was seeing in Tokyo’s Harajuku district. His rule has always been to photograph kids who put together their own, unique style and weren’t heavily influenced by brands. Interestingly, these designers have also won favor with K- and J-Pop stars, themselves highly manufactured products of the music industry.
For her part, Marcel looks to East Asia as a viable market and perhaps the most logical means to realizing the big vision of Gerlan Jeans. “There are only a few channels for talented designers outside the mainstream to get attention. Namely, win Ecco Domani or CFDA [awards for emerging designers],” Marcel explains. “Vogue understands that they have got to, in some way, embrace some element of [the underground], otherwise they’re not telling the full story, but I don’t think they really understand where the energy is really coming from.” Britain has traditionally done a better job nurturing their up-and-comers, with Fashion Week side shows like Fashion East that helped launch the nascent careers of designers like Jonathan Saunders and Carri Munden. “The London showrooms bring all those designers out for a Vogue dinner after every season, but what advocate is doing that for designers here?” Gerlan asks. “I’m an underground designer, and the irony of all this, of course, is that I’m the least underground, I’m über connected. Everything is like, Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr, and what’s on the street, and what the kids are doing now, which are the most over-ground things. Somehow, Telfar and Hood By Air were all labeled underground, which is supposed to be somewhat flattering, but that’s not what it’s about for me. That’s not what it’s about for any of those kids.” As if to prove her point, this microcosm of the New York scene was given significant real estate in a recent issue of the British magazine SuperSuper. The issue includes a story on Marcel, as well as Kingdom and Venus X, two musician/DJs with whom she has collaborated for her runway shows.
True to below-the-radar form, Marcel launched a Kickstarter campaign in early 2010 called, “Gerlan Jeans: The Return to the Runway” to help raise money for her Gerlan Jeans Spring 2011 collection. The campaign, which featured exclusive online giveaways to backers and regular video updates, exceeded its pledged goal of $17,500. This was in no small part due to Marcel’s indefatigable spirit, and her aforementioned connectivity. In the campaign launch video, she pops up onto the screen, reciting a script that’s as hyperbolic as her hair (a braided, balled-out prosthetic version of that same side pony) while a frenzy of cartoons and prints flash behind her. It’s a mess of high camp and Ryan Trecartin-like delirium, with Marcel driving home the Gerlan Jeans mission: “Become an agent of change, contribute to the global collective of print and color; help shape the future of fashion!” At one point, she even throws her hands up in the air as if she just stuck a backflip off a human pyramid. When Marcel says Gerlan Jeans is where, “the runways of Paris meet the malls of the world,” it’s clear she means something very different than the similar design edict at J. Crew, where designs from the runway are interpreted (or straight-up borrowed), repackaged and disseminated to the mass-market J. Crew customer. Marcel is more interested in distilling the creative approach of high fashion into her own mass-market sportswear basics.