There are certain artists and designers who seem to exude a magnetic pull, creating communities around them. JF & Son, the five-year-old design team of Jesse Finkelstein and Katie King, are one of them. On any given day at their boutique and workshop on the Lower East Side, you might get a manicure from up-and-coming nail artist Abby Walton, catch Grimes giving an interview on one of their pieces at a gallery a few blocks away, buy a shirt printed with psychedelic photos by artist Travess Smalley, or create your own custom garment with the designers, right down to the print.
The concept behind Finkelstein and King’s work is complete transparency: Customers should be able to meet and talk to the people designing their clothes, and vice versa. The idea extends to the production process, too: The duo keeps a 60-person textile studio in Delhi, where weavers play a central creative role in developing the pieces. They regularly hold contests on their blog, asking users to submit photos for use in their textiles. Two spin-off lines make their work accessible to a wider audience: JF 150 (everything under $150) and the newly launched sweatshirt line family (modeled, appropriately, by local siblings).
The clothes are simple and strong: Collars are a defining element for the duo, who make them in contrasting neons and perforated leather. Sheer iridescent tops and maxi skirts, sometimes paired with shower sandals, are somehow unpretentious and futuristic at the same time. Everything is anchored in their textiles, which range from psychedelic palm-tree prints, to gritty handwoven fabrics that look like corrupt image files, to hand-painted leathers.
This fall, the pair is temporarily closing up shop to focus full-time on their recently announced residency at the Museum of Arts and Design on the Upper West Side. At MAD, they’ll take their practice further down the conceptual path, investigating production, manufacturing, and the increasing democratization of the design process. Over the next 12 months, the duo will carry out three major experiments, each resulting in a series of events, lectures, and shows.
Finkelstein and King explain that they’re interested in the risks and failures associated with global manufacturing. “The opportunity for accidents increase when the process of production is so segmented and designers are a continent away from their manufacturers,” they write. “However, what happens if, rather than fight these accidents, we embrace their potentiality? What if accidents are representative of a truly democratic design process?”
Though details are still somewhat scarce, the proceedings will include the first-ever “design hackathon,” where Finkelstein and King will invite Tumblr users, online garment-makers, and artists to work together to create a “new aesthetic.” In another happening, they’ll create several pieces and then let Yemenwed, the incredible performance group, have their way with them in a live performance. “Unlike most utopian projects, fashion is malleable,” the duo explain. “Once a person comes into contact with fashion, it becomes an open project, whereby she/he can intervene in all sorts of interesting ways.”
The ideas may be conceptual, but they’re rooted in a simple goal: to give their consumers a look at the process behind their fashions. “People want to be more connected to how their things are made and what they wear,” King told Fashionista back in 2010. “It comes down to this principle of openness,” Finkelstein added. “Customers today really want to be involved in the product they’re buying–it’s like the food industry.” Stay tuned for more on when and where they’ll be launching their first experiments–in the meantime, they’re holding a massive sale to liquidate the store.