Vance Studio is Zoe Vance’s wearable art
BY: JACK SUNNUCKS | ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF VANCE STUDIOS
If you frequent the right sort of place (not that we’re entirely sure where that might be), you’re probably already acquainted with Vance Studio’s t-shirts. Vaguely ‘70s cherries are expertly placed over nipples, a nervous looking duck is underlined with the words “American Prayer,” a skipping dog yelps “Happiness” while being struck by lightning. These vaguely surreal scenes are the work of Zoe Vance, an artist who after moving to Los Angeles felt like her work might be better on someone’s chest than on the wall of a gallery. Vance started her line in 2016, encompassing the aforementioned shirts, stenciled denim and the odd dress. Next spring however will see the launch of a much broader collection. Here, she talks the t-shirts that inspired her, how bizarre the fashion industry’s idea of seasons is, and what it means to be a unisex brand.
What was it that made you want to start with t-shirts?
I moved out to LA five years ago. I grew up painting, but I hadn’t painted [for a while]. I got to LA and I was like, I don’t know how to do that anymore, because I had kind of lost touch with it. So I just started making t-shirts as a way to get into it without it being super scary, and it kind of snowballed from there.
It’s nice because you can get someone something, like a t-shirt, and you don’t have to explain it in the same way. Even though t-shirts to me, especially now, are more interesting than a lot of the art that’s going on, I feel like it’s a way for everyone to enjoy something without it being precious or anything like that. It’s just easy, a t-shirt with jeans. You can’t fight either of them.
Where do your graphics come from?
I spend an inordinate amount of time sourcing images. I go to the library, I go on the internet, I draw them myself. For a very long time was super into old animations. And it’s funny because when I draw something, it’s a subconscious thing where it’s very anxiety-driven. You have something where, this is going to go here, and then you go here, and you look at it after you’re finished and you’re like, oh, this is about this feeling I’m having, or this anxiety about this, or what’s going on in the world over there. Which is funny because cartoons are kind of the perfect platform for that.
Had you done fashion stuff before?
No, hadn’t. And that was another reason that the t-shirt thing was just another way to try and get into it without it being scary. Because I’ve always wanted to design clothing, and now in the spring I’m doing a full collection. And it’s really exciting to finally have gotten to that point, but no, I had not before then.
The cycle of clothing is a real mind fuck, where you make something and by the time it’s a finished product and you have to wait to show the world, you’re like, I’ve already dealt with this.
Where do you sell through?
I mostly sell through my website. I was really scared to do it at first, but it actually has been really helpful. And there’s this store in LA called Shop Super Street, and the owner is amazing, she’s a friend. But the thing is, it’s hard for designers. I feel like there’s a bit of a gap between what our generation wants and what stores are selling. You go in and you’re like, “This looks like something from a thrift shop and it has weird buttons on it, and there’s a weird thing on the back, and I don’t know why it’s $7,000.”
I understand having craftsmanship, like Valentino, you go in there and you see how it’s embroidered and you know that it probably took two weeks just to have this panel made. And that I totally understand, but just the parka, there’s no reason for it to be that expensive.
Was there a t-shirt of your own where looking at the cotton or the quality or even the design of it, you were inspired to have your own work look the same way?
This goes back to image sources, because I have so many photos on my computer, it’s insane. There’s that book, Brooklyn Gang, and there’s that one photo of that kid with the glasses getting up from the table, and his t-shirt is just a white t-shirt. And it’s just rolled up and it’s just a t-shirt, but references like that. Where it’s not so much the t-shirt itself, it’s just the way that it feels.
The reason why I started was because there are shirts that should exist, but don’t. It’s just like a band t-shirt that doesn’t exist. I listen to reggae music a lot, there are a lot of amazing recording artists, and the artists that did all the records from the ‘60s to early ‘80s, and that whole era of reggae where the covers and the typography are so amazing. It just looks like the most beautiful thing ever.
The reason why I started was because there are shirts that should exist, but don’t.
I really like your lookbook images on your website. Who do you get to be in them? I like the people.
All of the people I have used so far are girls that I just know from being around. The first look book that I shot, I had no idea what I was doing. My friend Stevie shot it and my friend Annabelle modeled for it, and we’re all super tight. My friend Clara did the look book for all of the bleached denim, the kind of the skinhead ‘60s mod culture, which is the collection that I did last year.
It’s one of those things where I collect images all day long and I love looking at them, so it’s really exciting to be able to create your own, even though I literally cannot take a picture to save my life. When people on the street ask me to take photos of them, if I have a friend with me, they’ll be like, “I’ll do it, don’t have her do it, she’ll ruin it, please don’t.”
And you have both men and women in your shoots it seems.
I just started having men in the shoot, because I like men’s tailoring and detail so much more than women’s. Men’s clothing is just made better for some reason. It’s really disappointing. Even the difference between a women’s Barbour jacket and a men’s Barbour jacket is mind-boggling. It’s round, and the cord is very thin, versus a men’s jacket has a nice beefy beautiful thick rope cord and a bright green against navy that’s so beautiful. You’re like, “Why can’t it just be like that? Why does it have to change?” It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot.
I’m a white woman, and I have a boyfriend, I don’t have an alternate point of view, so when I think about unisex clothing, it’s not like Eckhaus Latta. But at the same time, trying to go about dealing with unisex clothing without it necessarily being stated that it’s unisex, I’m still trying to figure it out. Because people write to me and are like, “Do you make women’s clothes or men’s clothes? I really don’t understand.” But I always get so excited, because men do like wearing my stuff and it’s nice to have it be that unisex quality. And then there are certain graphics, the cherry tee is definitely my best seller. And men write to me about it all the time and it has cherries on the nipples! It doesn’t make any sense to me, but men really like it for themselves.
Trying to go about dealing with unisex clothing without it necessarily being stated that it’s unisex, I’m still trying to figure it out.